Dr. Eric F. L. Ray

Dr Eric Ray, Sofer

Artist- Scribe/Sofer – Scholar – Teacher – Renaissance Man

August 22, 1926 – July 8 2005
12 Elul 5686 – 1 Tammuz 5765

Parshat Re’eh — The Ray Name Connection

Rabbi Hale’s mentor was Rabbi Eric Ray (z”l), a world-renowned sofer, artist and authority on the provenance of torahs scrolls, who could identify and write 2,000 distinct Hebrew scripts.

The week in August during which parshat Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17) is read from the Torah includes Dr. Ray’s birthday.  The story of the connection between Re’eh and the Ray family name was one Dr. Ray enjoyed telling. When his grandfather Jacob Effenberger, a pioneering hairdresser, emigrated to England from France (where he was known as Jean Francis), the week he visited the synagogue for the first time in his new country, he was urged to take on a proper English name. And so he adopted the name of that week’s Torah portion as his surname and Jean became Eugene.

There is, of course is another, less romantic theory to explain how the family name changed to Ray. In England, the surname Ray and its variant spellings was one adopted by Jewish émigrés (see conservativetendency.blogspot.com/2012/03/english-jewish-surnames-revisited.html). For a hairdresser, the name Ray was a good one for Eugene’s salon. It was short and could be greatly enlarged on a sign promoting his business (Re’eh = See!)

Incidentally, Effenberger was not the family’s original name in Budapest. When members of the Gemperele family emigrated to Germany they were called “Effenbergers” a name given to people who came from Hungary.

Cover of Dr. Eric Ray's book (published 1998) "Sofer: The Story of a Torah Scroll"

In 1998 Dr. Ray published his book, Sofer: The Story of a Torah Scroll, in which he describes the work of a sofer. Dr. Eric Ray wrote this book as a  way to teach about how a Torah is created by hand. This volume, formatted in full color, follows Eric Ray as he works on Torah, tefillin and mezuzah scrolls.

Eric Ray creating a quill pen

Writing a Torah takes love and patience, knowledge and skill. Eric Ray was a gentle, wise man, a skilled artist, and a learned Jew. In this read-aloud text and photo essay, both his craft and his passion are shared. Students watch as Eric makes mezuzot, tefillin, and the sefer Torah, and they learn to love the Torah a little bit more.



Eric has trained scribes here and in England and, through the efforts of current students, The Ray Torah Institute was established to train scribes for all branches of Judaism and to preserve the Eric’s life-work.