In Jewish tradition, a Torah scroll is a sacred document containing the five books of Moses that is handwritten in original Hebrew on parchment.
Rolled up in two ornate wooden shafts, the words given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy — are read multiple times a week and on holidays and include the 613 commandments that Jews live by.
“Our Torah scrolls are really the most important item in our tradition,” said Rabbi Sam Spector, rabbi of Salt Lake City’s Congregation Kol Ami.
But every few years the historic scrolls need maintenance and repair.
This week Kol Ami, Utah’s largest Jewish congregation, is hosting a sofer/scribe who specializes in restoring these ancient scrolls, often hundreds of years old.
Rabbi Moshe Druin, of Miami, Florida, has restored ancient Torah scrolls all over the world.
“I’m a conservator. There is extremely few of us. I’m talking about you can count them maybe on two hands,” he said. “It’s a very specialized art, mastering that Hebrew calligraphy on parchment. We use feathers and ink in the same way it’s been done for thousands of years and I’m here for the whole week. I’ll be going over all their Torah scrolls and hopefully restoring a large number of things.”
Rabbi Druin will be working on Kol Ami’s 10 Torah scrolls at its synagogue this week. His last visit to Kol Ami was in 2017, when he remembers fixing two or three scrolls. Members of the congregation and community can sponsor or contribute to the restoration effort by donating to dedicate a letter, word, verse, portion, book or Torah for themselves, family or friends.
The public is invited to visit the synagogue and observe Rabbi Druin in action as he repairs the Torah scrolls on Wednesday, July 20, at 6 p.m. Learn more at conkolami.org.
Some members of the community visited the Kol Ami synagogue Monday night to see the Torah scrolls and meet Rabbi Druin, including Michael Mower, Utah’s senior adviser of community outreach and intergovernmental relations.
“There are 304,805 letters in a Torah. All hand written. By someone like Rabbi Moshe Druin. So inspiring,” Mower wrote in a tweet. “Thanks Rabbi Spector at Congregation Kol Ami for the chance to see this 3,314 year tradition continue.”
“I think it will be an interesting thing for anybody who sees it and kind of a neat thing in the Salt Lake Jewish community, for Christians, Latter-day Saints, everybody,” said Rabbi Spector. “For people to have an opportunity to see a Torah being repaired and written as it was thousands of years ago, I think, can be a meaningful experience for everyone, whether they’re Jewish or not.”
Rabbi Druin is at Kol Ami for the dual purpose of both evaluating and restoring the scrolls. He said the trick to maintaining the scrolls is to repair them often before things get “complicated.” For him, it’s a labor of love.
“I am blessed to be able to work with Hebrew letters,” he said. “I am everyday working in a wonderland of knowledge and wisdom, which is always inspiring. ... Surely anytime we are exposed to one of these books, it is miraculous. It is something that really is and can transform who we are. As I said, ‘Who’s talking about working?’ I’m enjoying every moment.”