Beyond its practical usage in pointing out letters, the yad ensures that the parchment is not touched during the reading. There are several reasons for this: handling the parchment renders one ritually impure and the often-fragile parchment is easily damaged. Moreover, the vellum parchment does not absorb ink so touching the scroll with fingers will damage the lettering. While not required when chanting from the Torah, it is used frequently and is considered a hidur mitzvah ("embellishment of the commandment" of reading the Torah).
A yad can be made of any number of materials, though silver is common, especially used in crowning the yad. The yad is often shaped like a long rod, capped by a small hand with its index finger pointing from it. In some cases a yad is covered with fabric.