Video: 300-Year-Old Torah in Mount Laurel restored - Burlington County Times
Sunday, May 25, 2014
MOUNT LAUREL — More than 50 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed, a scribe penned a Torah scroll, copying onto parchment the sacred scriptures written by Moses that have formed the foundation of the Jewish faith, passed down from generation to generation for more than 3,000 years.
The Torah the scribe wrote in Hebrew lasted two centuries, then survived the Holocaust, hidden away in a Czechoslovakian basement during the atrocities of World War II.
After the war, it found its way across the Atlantic Ocean to a new home at Adath Emanu-El, a reformed Jewish congregation on Elbo Lane, where the 300-year-old Torah was recently restored.
"It's really miraculous," Rabbi Benjamin David said. "It's a testament to faith, continuance. I think it's a symbol of the Jewish people. It shows a level of resilience, fortitude."
On June 3, which marks the beginning of the Jewish feast of Shavuot - a holiday that commemorates Moses receiving the religious instructions from God on Mount Sinai - the Torah will be rededicated at 7 p.m. service.
Adath Emanu-El was formed in Willingboro in 1959 and moved to its current location in 1997. David has been its rabbi since 2012. He wasn't sure how the old Torah came to belong among the six scrolls the community has, but it hasn't been used in services recently because of its condition.
The Torah "has to be in a certain condition to be considered kosher, to be usable, and this scroll hadn't been because of its age, and it was quite worn," David said.
So the Adath Emanu-El community decided to take on the project of restoring the scroll. They brought in Rabbi Moshe Druin, a Torah sofer, or scribe, from Florida who professionally refurbishes old Torahs.
"He has years of training to do this work. He spent a full week going through the Torah letter by letter, touching up those letters, some of which had not been repaired since it was first written most likely 300 years ago. Many of the letters were cracked or crumbling. He did that painstakingly over the course of a long week," David said. "There were holes and tears. He fixed all of that."
Although the exact history of this Torah is not known, David said its style points to an origin in present-day Czechoslovakia.
The Torah is rolled between two wooden posts as passages from it are read throughout the year. As he talked of the Torah, David adorned it with a silver mantle and "crowns" to show that it is of royal heritage, as well as velvet cover before placing it for storage in the "ark" at the front of the synagogue with the other Torahs.
The rabbi said the June 3 service will be "a celebration of community. It honors a past grounded in tradition. I think it will be very special."
Peg Quann: 609-871-8057; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @pegquann