When religious leaders at North Suburban Congregation Beth El , a synagogue in Highland Park, realized they needed to use three Torah scrolls in an upcoming service, they knew they had better check to see if the sacred scrolls – rendered invalid by a single smudge or tear – were up to the standards.
They discovered three of the congregation’s scrolls needed repair.
“We wouldn’t be able to use a damaged Torah scroll, so we’d have to take it out of commission,” said Rabbi Michael Schwab, the senior rabbi of the 28-hundred-person congregation. “The scroll itself represents the sacredness and holiness from which we talk all of those wonderful things about who we are as Jews.”
In the Jewish faith, the Torah – the five books of Moses – is viewed as a sacred living document, handed down from God through the generations, so unlike a standard printed book, the handwritten Torah must be perfect to be used.
“This is an ancient, ancient, ancient tradition that connects us to the holiness of the words themselves,” said Hazzan Barbara Barnett, the ritual director of the synagogue.
So, they called one of the few people on the planet who can do it: Rabbi Moshe Druin. Druin is a sofer, the Hebrew word for scribe, and he is one of only 200 in the world who can write the Torah by hand and one of only 20 or so who is qualified to make repairs inside of an existing scroll.
“My job is to ensure that every letter is there – there are no broken letters, no missing letters, no fading letters, and it takes a lot of energy,” Druin said. “These letters are not, by tradition, manmade letters.
“These are Godly inspired letters. In fact, we believe that the first time these letters were openly revealed and shown were in the Ten Commandments.”
The 57-year-old rabbi from Miami, by way of Israel, runs “Sofer on Site,” and has visited every state in the U.S., as well as every continent in the world. He flew to Chicago in the middle of the harsh February snowstorms and frigid conditions to work with the scrolls in a perfectly quiet room, tucked away on Congregation Beth El’s lakefront campus, where the century-old scrolls had been unrolled onto large tables.
He worked with special kosher ink, and a quill pen made from the feather of a kosher turkey, among other specialized tools, as he repaired rips and re-lettered smudged words.
Druin said in the Jewish faith, the Torah scroll is treated as if it’s the living word of God.
“When a toaster goes down, we chuck it out and get a new one, [but] when a human being gets sick, we [don’t] say, ‘chuck him out let’s have another one,'” Druin said. “Every soul is precious. We do everything in our power to heal.”
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