The three great Abrahamic faiths see their scriptures in somewhat different ways. For most Christians, the Bible is the Bible in any tongue or format. The most popular smartphone app, YouVersion, offers digital versions of this holy book in more than half a hundred languages and many different translations.
But in Islam, the Quran is only truly the Quran in its original, classical Arabic, which the faithful are encouraged to learn to read and to memorize. Wooden book holders in mosques prevent physical copies of these holy writings from contacting the floor.
In Judaism, the scrolls of holy scripture, the Torah, are a central focus when each congregation gathers for worship. Securing an error-free, hand-written copy of the Torah is one of the main missions for each new congregation.
Clear Lake’s Congregation Shaar Hashalom is celebrating the return of one of their Torah scrolls with joy. Here’s their story.
Wendy Kane, who grew up here and was instrumental in securing the special repairs, explained.
“The Torah is sometimes called the Tree of Life and it is central to Judaism,” she said. “It is the written word of God delivered to Moses on Mount Sanai. We Jews chose to accept, to honor and to obey the yoke of the laws given to Moses thousands of years ago and that still guide our daily lives today. Few things are considered holy items to Jews except the Torah itself. The Torah is a holy object because of the words that are hand-written with a feather quill with special vegetable ink on the parchment (kosher animal skin) with the message and commandments that shape our daily conduct.”
Kane noted that after each reading from the scrolls, they are lifted up so that all present can see the holy words displayed. The scrolls are encompassed by a velvet band and cover, adorned with a silver breastplate and have silver-accented decorative handles.
“As the congregation stands with respect, the Torah is carried through the synagogue twice during a Shabbat (Sabbath) service before and after it is read,” Kane added. “People come forward to touch and kiss the Torah as a sign of love and respect.”
Shaar received these scrolls as a donation in 1999, but in 2007, a few mistakes in its text came to light. Since even a single wrong letter invalidates a copy, repair was essential. And such corrections can only be performed by a modern-day scribe, known as a sofer.
Rabbi Meir Granitsky, of Houston is one of these highly-trained, meticulous craftsman. On a Sunday afternoon in December, Granitsky, came to Shaar to correct these mistakes and to hand write the first and last letters of each book of this Torah, as well as to fix a separate error in the congregation’s next larger Torah.
“I always imagined myself learning to scribe as a hobby,” Granitsky said. “I saw it as a privilege to be able to write the Torah in its original form as Moses did when he first wrote the Torah for the Jewish nation. I ended up a neighbor to a well-known sofer in Israel, who felt I would benefit from learning to be a sofer on a professional level.”
The scribe studied this transcription art for five years before he felt he was ready for primetime work. Now, he sees his special calling as a gift to the Jewish community, though with the nature of the highly repetitive work, avoiding burnout remains a challenge.
“I have mixed feelings when I complete a Torah,” Granitsky said. “Each one has 304,805 letters. Each one needs to be handwritten in a very specific way. That takes a lot of work and concentration to complete--such a work of art. It takes me usually at least one to two years to complete a Torah. After putting so much time and effort into it, I feel so connected to the Torah scroll that it’s hard for me to let it go, knowing that probably, I’ll never even see it again. On the other hand, it is an incredible feeling knowing that something that I wrote and put together with my own two hands will be used in a synagogue for holy purposes for many years to come.”
Technology isn’t completely out of the loop though. It is useful for error-checking and uncovering errors that even the best scribes might inadvertently make.
“Today we can use technology to scan Torah scrolls for mistakes, missing or broken letters and words,” Granitsky said. “If you have an old Torah I highly recommend having it computer checked.”
Next week: One in five faith leaders have nothing set aside for their post-pulpit life. What clergy need to know about retirement planning.