Today is February 17, 2020 -
A Torah scroll contains the five Books of Moses handwritten in Hebrew by asofer s’gan (a highly-qualified scribe), using quill pens and ink prepared according to a unique natural recipe on a parchment scroll. The Torah contains the central teachings of Judaism and the scroll is the one essential item required in a synagogue. A synagogue has no images or statues. The central object is a work of art which records G-d’s word in beautiful calligraphy in a form directly transmitted from ancient times. The format of the Torah scroll is truly ancient and every Torah must be written exactly, copied letter-for-letter, column-for-column, from another scroll. Every letter must be perfect and no two letters may touch.
For a long time, Temple Sholom has owned three Torah scrolls: a very large and heavy scroll, a medium size scroll and a very small scroll. None of the current members of the congregation knows how Temple Sholom acquired them. The medium-sized scroll was used the most often but several major rips developed in the parchment, some of the letters flaked off with age, and much of the parchment suffered water damage. A sofer (Torah scribe) who inspected the scroll determined that the scroll could not be repaired.
The Board and congregation studied laws and customs concerning Torah scrolls and learned that it is permissible to use a scroll that is not kosher (ritually fit to use) if that is all that the congregation can afford. But the honor of the congregation is greatly enhanced by a ritually proper scroll. After careful deliberation, the congregation decided to undertake a fundraising campaign to buy a restored Torah. Rabbi Yosi Gordon identified an appropriate scroll, which had been recovered from a synagogue in Russia, in the workshop of Rabbi Akiva Garber in Jerusalem during summer, 2001. But the congregation had not yet raised all the money needed. The necessary funds were obtained and the order was placed by email to Rabbi Garber in October, 2001. Many details remained to be worked out such as the style of the atzei hayyim (rollers to which the parchment is attached) and the details of safely sending thousands of dollars to Israel. The scroll was corrected and repaired extremely carefully by the scribe, under the supervision of a rabbi who specializes in the laws of Torah repair. It was also scanned by a computer to ensure that all the letters were correct and that no two letters were touching. Rabbi Garber wrote a brief history of the scroll which was incorporated into the atzei hayyim.
The Torah finally reached Eau Claire on 19 Iyar, 5762, corresponding to May 1, 2002, and was first ritually used on May 18, on the holiday of Shavuot, which celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai.
Rabbi Dr. Eric Ray, a renowned Torah scribe and expert on the styles of calligraphy used in many communities in the world, provided the following information on the four scrolls in the synagogue:
The new scroll was written in Prague by a master scribe on excellent parchment c.1930. The large scroll was written in a Vilna yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) about 1860-1880. The medium scroll was written in a Polish shtetl (rural Jewish settlement) about 1920 and the small scroll was written about 1880 in a Polish shtetl by a scribe who had spent some time in Italy.
Current and former members of Temple Sholom were so generous in donating to the Torah Fund that it was possible to use some of the money to refurbish the synagogue. Stained glass doors designed by Laurie Bieze were placed on a newly constructed ark, the walls and ceilings were cleaned and painted, new lighting fixtures were added and new windows and storm windows were installed. The podia were refurbished and new American and Israeli flags were purchased. Members handmade the accoutrements needed for the Torah: a quilted Torah cover, a needlepoint binder, and a needlepoint lectern cover. A new silver yad (pointer) was donated.
On 6 Tammuz, 5762, corresponding to June 16, 2002, at 2:00 P.M., the Torah was officially dedicated and placed in the Aron Qodesh at a Channukat Sefer Torah (Dedication of the Scroll of Torah). Dozens of congregants took turns reading verses from the new Torah from parashat Balaq. Congregants and guests joyously danced with the new sefer Torah to the accompaniment of klezmer music played by accordionist Mark Stillman.
Thanks to Helaine Minkus for putting together this history. Sadly, Helaine passed away in July, 2015.