A Simchat Torah Celebration!
Your history lesson this week:
As with all of our Torah scrolls, these are easily recognized by their mantles. The Bull Creek Torah Scroll mantle depicts five yads and a crescent moon. Yad in Hebrew literally means “hand”; a yad is the pointer for reading the Torah. Traditionally, the shape is of a closed hand with the index finger extended. A chain is often attached to drape over the Torah when it is stored in the ark. A yad is intended to prevent human skin from touching the parchment which can be damaged by the oils of the skin. While not required when chanting from the Torah, yads are commonly used. A yad is part of the group of adornments for the Torah called the kele kodesh, which fulfills the mitzvah of reading with beautiful, meaningful objects. In fact, the rimonim (finials), the keter (crown), the mantles, the amazing parokhet(curtain) and the ark all enhance the experience of reading on the bimah and are sacred through their proximity to the Torah.
The moon’s significance on this mantle recognizes that the Jewish calendar is rooted in cycles of the moon. A Rosh Chodesh, or new month, occurs when the first crescent of the New Moon appears in the sky. Both Passover and Sukkoth begin at the full moon and last for seven days: this provides extra light from the moon so we can celebrate at night by the greater light.
The 10,000 Faces of Torah Scroll depicts the Etz Hayim (Tree of Life) decorated with the Hebrew alphabet, sprouting from the roots amongst a small number of houses. Our newest Torah scroll’s mantle depicts CAA’s history and future: our beginnings in Austin, our community when the scroll was dedicated in 2018, and our future community. CAA’s roots were in a small group of Jews who came together in Austin one hundred years ago to connect with God and one another, illustrated by the small number of houses at the roots of the tree. We have grown into a thriving, beautiful and diverse congregation (the tree itself) as represented by the different letters on the branches of the tree. Many letters were inscribed on the Torah’s parchment, one letter at a time, with the guidance of our Soferet. Just as the branches of a tree strengthen and grow upward, we too grow stronger, resilient, striving for wisdom.
Bull Creek Torah Scroll
CAA moved from the original location at 10th Street and San Jacinto to a new building at 45thand Bull Creek Road in “suburban” Austin in in 1963. The site is now owned by Westminster Manor, a senior center. In 1989, a new sanctuary was built on the Bull Creek site. CAA took on a project called Siyum Torah, which means completion of writing of a Torah, fulfilling the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah at least once in our lifetime. A sofer in Israel actually wrote the scroll, and it was completed in Austin by a renowned sofer, Dr. Eric Ray (z”l) and congregants participated symbolically. Michael and Susan Dell donated the Torah, and others made donations for writing letters in the scroll. It was dedicated in 1997.
10,000 Faces of Torah Scroll
Opportunity knocked on our door in the late 90s in the formation of the Dell Community Campus, where, with much fanfare, we moved in 2001. Our move to Hart Lane saw CAA grow, change and thrive, and the creation of a committee to obtain the 10,000 Faces of Torah Scroll was created. CAA had become an egalitarian and diverse community of many faces. This Torah Scroll was written by a Soferet (female scribe) named Jan Taylor Friedman, and is the first sefer Torah written by a woman in Texas. She wrote in a style that included “crowns”, “pehs inside pehs” and “tails” on certain letters, indicating that some of the letters with these special adornments suggest that there is more to the word than meets the eye. Many CAA members actually wrote letters in the Scroll with the assistance of the Soferet. The Scroll represents the varied CAA community, Jews and non-Jews alike. The name of this Torah truly reflects the makeup of our diverse and egalitarian community. Rabbi Blumofe wanted everyone to be represented in the Torah—all 10,000 faces in our community.
It was donated by Lindsey and Evan Gremont and dedicated in 2018.
Answers to Quiz number 6:
The majority of sofers are Orthodox men, but there are ever increasing numbers of women who have been trained as scribes. Some believe that since women are not traditionally obligated to study Torah, this prohibits them from writing a Torah. Today, there is recognition that women do study Torah so there are those that argue that this permits women to write a Torah scroll as a soferet (female scribe). CAA was privileged to have a very talented teacher and soferet scribe for our 10,000 Faces of Torah Scroll.
- F all of the above
A yad can be functional, beautiful, personalized and made of nearly any material. The yad with the 10,00 Faces of Torah scroll is made of silver and cast from an olive tree in the courtyard of CAA. The end of the yad is shaped like a branch.
- F all of the above
Etz Hayim is a common word in Judaism. It appears in the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis, and in the Book of Proverbs. The wooden dowels around which a Torah scroll is wrapped are often called etz chayim.
Credit goes especially to Cynthia Winer, and also Dr. Eric Ray(z”l), Roberta Long (a”h) and Robert Cullick for their study of the Torahs and their history.
**The author begs forgiveness for any errors in these articles.