VAIL — The good stuff never changes.
Take a Torah, for instance.
“It goes back thousands of years,” Rabbi Kevin Hale said. “The fragments found in the Dead Sea Scrolls were written the same way they are today.”
Six thousand years ago, a handwritten Torah was written the same way you’d publish any book, Hale said, and that’s still the way it’s done.
Hale is a Torah scribe and was in town to restore and repair one of the B’Nai Vail Congregation’s two Torahs. One was donated by David and Marilyn Zinn. Al Amaral donated the money for the other, and in 1980 Sharon and Herb Glaser went to Israel to get it.
The one that needed most of Hale’s attention is a half and half (chetzie chetzie). One half survived the Holocaust hidden in Hungary. The other half was from a Torah destroyed in a fire in Eastern Europe.
The halves were laced together to create a full Torah.
“It’s symbolic of the Jewish people in how we come together and weave our fabric of Jewish community,” says a history of B’Nai Vail Congregation.
God is detail oriented, and it turns out there are 613 commandments.
“Everyone knows the top 10,” Hale said smiling.
The last commandment God gave Moses was to write the Torah, Hale said.
And so they have, the same way for thousands of years. To be read publicly, it still has to be hand written on animal skins — like it has been for thousands of years.
To make repairs, Hale and other Torah scribes boil down bits of parchment to create the glue. Occasionally he finds a Torah patched and pieced together with cellophane tape. After all these years it still makes him sit back and sigh a little. Then he sets about putting it right.
He says his prayers and reverently picks up the tools of his trade. He uses one quill for most of the writing. A special quill is used only for writing the name of God. He says special prayers and takes a ritual bath before he picks up that pen.
His scissors are gold plated and his needles are made of silver. Base metals are what weapons are made from and should not touch a Torah.
Masters of the ancient ways
Hale’s mentor was Rabbi Eric Ray, a world-renowned sofer, artist and authority on the provenance of Torah scrolls. Ray could identify and write 2,000 distinct Hebrew scripts.
Show him a Torah and he could tell within 100 miles where it was written. Different areas have styles specific to them, including how the letters are made. Hale said on a good day, Ray could even tell you which Torah scribe had done the work, and most days were good days for Ray.
Along with millions of others, Torah scribes were slaughtered during the Holocaust. Torahs themselves where hidden or destroyed.
When the war was over and the killing stopped, the scribes who survived set about writing new Torahs, training new scribes and pulling Torahs out of hiding places where they’d been kept safe during the destruction.
Not so long ago, Hale was talking to kids in a Hebrew school when he held up a Torah hundreds of years old and passed along this revelation.
“If George Washington had been Jewish, he could have read from this Torah at his bar mitzvah,” Hale said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and email@example.com.