It was more than symbolism. For this synagogue, the Torah does more than stand in the place of something. It offers a real connection with God.
So when Rabbi Lynne Goldsmith noticed some of the letters separating from the parchment and others fading beyond recognition, the Temple decided to have the document restored.
“It’s the one thing we want to protect more than any other,” Goldsmith said. “And of course it is more than the scroll itself. It’s what is written on it.”
Goldsmith already knew the Temple’s Torah had an incredible tradition. According to Temple history, Temple Emanu-El purchased the Torah from a refugee in 1941. It is believed to have been smuggled out of Breslau, Germany, prior to Kristallnacht, a series of coordinated attacks on Jews in Germany in November of 1938. Many were killed and thousands of others rounded up and sent to concentration camps.
However, when they took it to Miami for restoration recently, they found there was even more to the Torah’s story.
The Torah was taken to an organization that specializes in Torah restorations called Sofer on Site. When Rabbi Yochanan Salazar began to examine it, he noticed some of the letters were written in an ornate manner, with crowns and other insignia coming out of the top of some of the letters.
Salazar’s years of study helped him identify this specific Torah as coming from Kabbalistic scribes. Kabbalah is a specific school of thought inside Judaism characterized by often mystical religious interpretation. Kabbalistic Torahs are very rare and it is unlikely another one will ever be written. Salazar said the specific style appears to have ended with the Holocaust.
“I was very pleased we were able to see this and to restore it,” Salazar said. “Because we are not able to reproduce it, it makes this special.”
The Torah is the first five books of the Jewish scripture, synonymous with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy in the Old Testament.
A small number of people are qualified to transcribe or restore the Torah. They are called Sofer. Salazar has been a Sofer for several years. The process in transcribing the document is very detailed. It must follow Jewish custom and practice in that it must be written on kosher animal skin, must be written using a quill from a kosher bird or a reed and the ink must be made from all natural ingredients.
Salazar said Sofers spend about 4 to 6 hours per day transcribing. Every word of the Torah must be said aloud before it is written and the Sofer’s mind must be centered on the words he is writing.
Salazar said the local Temple’s Torah was not completely rewritten, but the words that had separated from the parchment or had faded beyond recognition were inked again. Other aesthetic work was done as well.
Salazar said this Torah appears to be about 250 years old and likely originated in what was then known as Moravia and later became known as the Czech Republic. No one knows how it wound up in Germany prior to the Holocaust.
Temple members participated in a Torah writing ceremony Sunday. Individual members held the quill while Salazar filled in a few remaining letters that were purposefully left blank.
“It was amazing,” said Harold Cutler of Temple Emanu-El, who participated in the writing ceremony. “It brought me together with my relatives who were not here to see this today. And it is a proud moment because traditionally it unites us with Judaism all over the world.”
Salazar said the welcoming of the restored Torah held spiritual significance.
“You can think of it as a beautiful tradition if you want, but the reality is that it is more than that,” Salazar said.