Restoring a Czech Torah to holiness in South Jersey

A 300-year-old Jewish Torah, originally from the region once known as Czechoslovakia, is now being restored in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey.

The deteriorated scroll survived the Holocaust, but centuries of damage had made it no longer holy.

 

Rabbi Moshe Druin, of Florida, is a Jewish scribe, or sofer, who specializes in restoring sacred Jewish documents. He was hired by the congregation Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel to bring their oldest Torah back up to snuff.

“It’s not your standard old scroll,” said Druin. “It was written according to the mystical tradition of Kabbalah — the mystical teachings of Judaism. It has very unique characteristics of letters, which is not today even known how to do it, or the reasoning behind it. Which makes this a unique Torah.”

If any part of a Torah is no longer legible, it is no longer kosher. Its text is the basis of the Jewish faith, so if it cannot be read, it cannot be holy.

The leader of the reformed Adath Emanu-El, Rabbi Benjamin David, has been with the synagogue for just two years. He does not know how this congregation came to possess this 300-year-old parchment, but has been reaching out to retired rabbis to uncover its history.

“The story of the scroll somehow reflects the story of the congregation,” said David. “We want to be perceived as a congregation that takes tradition seriously and takes Torah very seriously.”

It costs upward of $10,000 to restore this Torah, most of which came from a single, anonymous donor. The restoration is happening in Adath Emanu-El’s library, where Rabbi Druin was happy to talk with anyone interested.

“These letters in Hebrew are called ‘aut,’ and ‘aut’ in Hebrew does not mean letters. ‘Aut’ in Hebrew means wonder, means magic. Somewhere in the footnotes it also means letters,” said Druin to a handful of mid-day visitors. “We’re writing magic. These are the signs — our guidance. We do kiss Torah, we dance with it, and we hug it.”

Rabbi Druin will not finish the restoration this week, but he hopes to have enough done to make this Torah kosher.

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