Herald News (Passaic County, NJ)
May 27, 2008 Tuesday

A new Torah;
Passaic children, families celebrate

By Heather Haddon


It took $35,000 and more than a year for a scribe to write out the 304,805 Hebrew letters with a turkey feather pen dipped in kosher ink.

But on Monday, a Torah was unveiled in Passaic. And the homecoming for Judaism's holiest book was joyous. More than 100 adults and children danced on Passaic Avenue as the bound scroll made its way to YBH of Passaic-Hillel, a religious school that intends to use it for generations of students.

"It represents the soul of every Jewish person, and every Jew longs to be close to it," said Dr. Jonny Gold, incoming president of YBH in Passaic Park, which instructs 400 students from pre-K to eighth grade.

Jews believe the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, contains the words of God as revealed to Moses. For thousands of years, Torah scrolls have been written by sofers, or scribes, who pen the letters on parchments made from animal skins. Each page is sewn to the next with thread, and then rolled onto wooden rods referred to as the "Trees of Life."

The process of creating a Torah is painstaking. A rabbi writes each letter by hand in 245 columns spanning 62 pieces of parchment. No punctuation separates the words because believers chant the passages. Scribes train for decades to write them.

For Jews, the Torah cannot contain errors, as it is to be written exactly as it was first presented at Mount Sinai in Egypt. Three proofreaders checked the work of Rabbi Zvi Chaim Pincus, of Brooklyn, for the Passaic Torah. Then, each parchment was fed through an optical scanner to ensure the accuracy of words and lettering.

"It is not a new Torah. It is newly written," said Pincus, as he sat before the last page of the Torah during Monday morning festivities for the book.

The Torah was commissioned by Isidore and Sandra Teitelbaum, of Manalapan, whose 5-, 6- and 7-year-old grandchildren attend the YBH school. Teitelbaum dedicated the scroll to Sandra's father, Gerszon, a Holocaust survivor from Poland who died in 1983.

The couple decided to commission the Torah because those used by the school had aged.

They also wanted to give young Jewish children the opportunity to develop their faith. Students read a small section of the book on Monday and Thursday mornings, as is Jewish tradition.

On the Sabbath, an entire section is read in the school's synagogue. The Torah will also be used in local bar and bat mitzvahs.

"It's not like it's written and put away in a box," said Marc Nash, 39, a Passaic resident and the Teitelbaums' son-in-law.

On Monday morning, families gathered at Nash's house to celebrate the new Torah. The book is considered a community effort, and about 50 families paid $18 a letter to fill in the shapes the rabbi had outlined. Writing in the Torah is a mitzvah, or a good deed, and every Jew is expected to help bring a Torah into existence once in their lives.

"Look at all these families," said Sandra Teitelbaum, 57, as two girls dressed in matching pink skirts gathered by Pincus' side to watch their parents fill in the letters. "It's the future of Judaism to bring this kindness into the world."

At noon, Pincus slipped the completed Torah into a felt cover with the date and the Teitelbaums' names embroidered on the front for a procession to the school. Since biblical times, finishing a Torah has been commemorated with dance and music.

Dozens of families gathered on Passaic Avenue to watch the Torah and listen to traditional Jewish music piped from speakers on a flatbed truck painted with Torah imagery. Isidore Teitelbaum walked outside with the Torah clasped against his chest, taking his place underneath a chuppah, or a Jewish marriage canopy, as men in black hats danced around him.

"I'm so thankful to keep my father alive through this," said Sandra Teitelbaum, who cried when she first saw the Torah Monday morning.
Reach Heather Haddon at 973-569-7121 or haddon@northjersey.com