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Temple Beth David is having a new Torah commissioned for its sanctuary, something that is both rare and exciting for the congregation.
The Torah, which comprises the five books of Moses, is the holiest of scriptures in the Jewish faith. While some are bound in books, many used in religious services are kept as scrolls.
Production of the Sefer Torah must follow strict guidelines and standards. According to Rabbi Josh Whinston, the Sefer Torah is handwritten on pieces of kosher animal skin. The ink, as well as the parchment, is all natural material, Whinston explained. It could take years to write. The pieces of parchment, which could be one to two feet in length, are sewn together to form one long continuous scroll. It is held together and wrapped around two pieces of wood.
“The scribe writes it word by word. The process to create a new Torah is labor intensive and quite extraordinary,” Whinston explained. “Care and upkeep is important considering the material it’s made from.”
Temple Beth David had three Torahs; and a Sofer, or scribe, came out to view them in person around four months ago. It was his opinion that two were so damaged they could not be repaired. The third had minor flaws and needed some upkeep. Whinston said Temple Beth David needs at least two Torahs for services, so the process was started to secure a new one.
Sometimes Torahs are passed down from one generation to another, or can be purchased used, but Whinston and the congregation decided to commission a new scroll. The scribe who inspected the three Torahs had a connection to a new Torah that was already in the process of being written. Was it luck? Coincidence? Whinston said that it might have been a little bit of both.
“To find a new Torah being scribed was a bit lucky for us,” Whinston said. “We wanted a new one. We wanted its birth to happen with our community.”
After a while, the ink on the Torah can actually fade and fall off, making it impossible to read, Whinston said. Repairs to the old Torah include new ink, patching of certain pieces of the scroll, and cleaning. The new Torah is expected to be delivered next month, with a special dedication ceremony scheduled for June 5. Whinston said they view the Torah as a living document, and the idea that it will be read for the first time in Cheshire, at Temple Beth David, is “very moving for us.”
“I am honored to know that I will have the opportunity to have my eyes and hands be the first on the Torah,” Whinston said. “It’ll be a very meaningful thing for myself and the congregation as it happens. We’re very excited.”
Whinston said that the weight of the Torah is also a key factor, and this scroll will be under
eight pounds, which is very light. “It was a big selling point,” he said.
Temple Beth David has been fundraising for the last few months to cover the costs and Whinston stated that effort is continuing.
Whinston explained that they will also be fulfilling one of the Jewish commandments on Sunday, June 5, for members of the congregation. Before the dedication ceremony, members of Temple Beth David will help finish the Torah by completing certain characters. He said it is a “long tradition” to have members of the congregation finish up some of the letters.
Since Torahs last so long — without much use they can last hundreds of years — it’s rare for a congregation to acquire a brand new one. Whinston admitted that he is excited, as are others at Temple Beth David, and it will be a welcomed addition to the family.
“Only every so often a congregation gets a new Torah for the sanctuary,” Whinston said. “It will be like a new member of the congregation.”
The new Torah will be dedicated at a ceremony on Sunday, June 5, at 3 p.m. All members of the community, regardless of faith, are welcome to attend.