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July 23rd, 2011
01:00 AM ET

New York synagogue restores Torah that survived confiscation by Nazis

The Torah from Kolin, in the former Czechoslovakia.

By Philip Rosenbaum, Matthew Moskowitz and Jonathan O’Beirne, CNN

New York (CNN) - Help wanted: Someone who can sit in one place for hours on end, has the hand-eye coordination of a brain surgeon, a yogi’s power of concentration, a linguist’s knack for languages – especially ancient Hebrew – and a monk’s ability to work alone in contemplative silence, all while avoiding impure thoughts.

The hypothetical job posting, which you’re not likely to see in the classifieds, is for a sofer, or Torah scribe.

Every day, scribes around the world spend painstaking hours writing new Torahs – which contain the first five books of the Bible – by hand and restoring damaged or old ones that show the natural ravages of time that could make the scrolls unusable for services.

Such was the case for a Torah at Manetto Hill Jewish Center in Plainview, New York. Until recently, the Torah sat in disrepair in a showcase in the suburban Long Island synagogue after the congregation adopted it in 1974.

It is one of 1,564 Torahs from the former Czechoslovakia that made it out of the ashes of the Holocaust into Jewish hands, in the form of the Westminster Synagogue in London. From there, the Torahs were distributed to synagogues around the world.

During World War II, the Nazis confiscated this Torah, also known as number 559, from a synagogue in Kolin, about 35 miles east of Prague. The Nazis were known to confiscate sacred items.

The town’s Jewish community was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic, where most were killed.

Rabbi Yochanan Salazar, a scribe with Sofer on Site, a North Miami Beach, Florida-based organization, restored the Kolin Torah, which he calls a “survivor of the Holocaust.”

He cleaned some sections that had been damaged and completely rewrote other parts.

For Salazar, the restoration carried deep personal meaning. His grandfather was the only one from his mother’s side of the family in Poland to survive the Holocaust. Salazar was born in Ecuador and moved to the United States as a teenager.

“I’m able to take this Torah and to re-use it and say, ‘I’m not giving up on my heritage,’” Salazar said. “‘I’m not giving up on who I am, I’m not breaking that chain of our tradition, of our history.’”

Based on font style, type of parchment and other revealing details, Salazar estimates the Kolin Torah is at least 200 years old.

“Each time the Torah is used, not only is it a living part of our community, it is a testament to the continuity of Jewish life and the failure of Hitler’s Final Solution,’” David Ross Senter, Manetto Hill’s rabbi, wrote on the synagogue’s website.

Over the years, many Torahs from Holocaust-torn Europe were stashed in damp storage rooms, where they suffered damage.

“If there is anything that prevents the Torah from being used, we restore it back to its valid status under Jewish law,” said Salazar, who works with a quill and black ink.

The quill must be made from a kosher bird, such as a goose, turkey, or other animal so that the words in the Torah “will be in your mouth,” Salazar said. “Therefore it must be something that has to be allowed in your mouth.”

Jews believe that the Torah was handed down from God. It contains the Pentateuch, which begins with Genesis and ends with Deuteronomy.

Handwritten on the skin of a kosher animal, such as a cow, goat or lamb, the long scroll has two wooden rollers on each end. Each text contains nearly 305,000 letters, more than 79,000 words and 5,845 sentences, according to a video on Sofer on Site’s website.

Holes or other defects in the parchment are patched with white glue and Salazar uses soft tissues to remove dust and high-polymer erasers that don’t leave much residue.

“You really only have one chance to get it right,” with a very old and delicate Torah, Salazar said.

“Once you write that letter, you don’t have another opportunity to correct it,” said Salazar, who was trained as an electronic engineer and who became a sofer in 2004. “Every letter is written carefully and slowly.”

If a mistake is made in writing a Hebrew letter, the sofer must wait for the ink to dry and scrape it off. If a shadow remains, it is not considered ink and may be written over. Restoring the Kolin Torah took about six months and cost about $14,000.

Most errors can be fixed. But a few, such as if the scribe were to forget to sanctify God’s name aloud while writing it and can no longer remember where the reference was, require that the Torah be buried.

Nothing of the sort has happened to Salazar, who, like any scribe, makes mistakes. He could not recall any slips of the hand while restoring the Kolin Torah.

The Kolin Torah was re-dedicated at Manetto Hill, a Conservative synagogue, on May 1, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

It will appear on the synagogue’s podium for use during high holidays, bar and bat mitzvahs and weddings.

“We’re sort of like saying to ourselves and the souls of the departed, ‘You know we haven’t forgotten you. We know you’re there. We know you’re watching us. We know what you went through,’” Salazar said.

Every Torah holds 613 mitzvot, or commandments, governing prayer, food, dress, work, travel, treatment of animals, personal relations and more.

The final commandment says every Jew must write a Torah.

Scholars say that taking part in restoring one, as the members of Manetto Hill have done, counts just the same.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Judaism • New York

soundoff (156 Responses)
  1. Oorah

    The article is really well-said. The comments are totally off the mark. Torah Jews value the works and the words of their ancestors. That's what the article was saying. End of story.
    Oorah Torah Studies Programs

    July 27, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  2. Reality

    o Reiteration is great for the learning process. As is reading and rational thinking followed by conclusions based on all of it.

    A reiteration for posting on all refrigerator doors:

    SAVING 1.5 BILLION LOST MUSLIMS:
    THERE NEVER WAS AND NEVER WILL BE ANY ANGELS I.E. NO GABRIEL, NO ISLAM AND THEREFORE NO MORE KORANIC-DRIVEN ACTS OF HORROR AND TERROR

    SAVING 2 BILLION LOST CHRISTIANS:
    THERE WAS AND NEVER WILL BE ANY BODILY RESURRECTIONS I.E. NO EASTER, NO CHRISTIANITY

    SAVING 15.5 MILLION ORTHODOX FOLLOWERS OF JUDAISM:
    ABRAHAM AND MOSES PROBABLY NEVER EXISTED.

    Added details upon request.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • Gita Lev

      To have FAITH is to live a LIFE without limitations, to remember mankind's past actions, and to consciously feel obliged for teaching moral VALUEs, in which future generations are responsible, to guarantee, the continuity of mankind!

      July 26, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  3. Beatrice

    All Jews should read and study Torah seriously instead of decorating it. Catholics and the mainline churches fall into the same fallacies. God's Word is to be read and carried out. Jesus loves the Jews and died for their sins. Jesus is their Messiah forever. Israel will find it out soon.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  4. Beatrice

    All Jews should read and study Torah seriously instead of decorating it. Catholics and the mainline churches fall into the same fallacies. God's Word is to be read and carried out. Jesus loves the Jews and died for their sins. Jesus is their Messiah.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  5. fernace

    This blog is about restoring an old beat up copy of the Torah, previously thought to be lost. I'd say maybe 5% of comments have something to do with the actual thread, the rest are christians & atheists jockeying for position as to who is smartest, has the best take on religion & who's position makes most sense. Nothing but arguements & tacky namecalling! I'm not an atheist, but many of their comments make sense. The christians "preaching" about Gods love & how necessary it is to have in ones life do nothing to model that stance! In fact it seems to really be about how right they are & how wrong those who dare think anything different, are! There is alot more hate being spread than the light & love of Gods word, & the happy news of Jesus gospel! If you really want to spread Gods word, live it, don't just talk it, listen to people, don't shut them off & out & if you make a claim, don't get pi.ss.ed. if people want to know where that information came from! Just a bit of advice that works for me!!

    July 25, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  6. Albert Martino

    An uplifing story. God bless the Children of Abraham.

    July 25, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  7. AvdBerg

    A number of people that have written to respond to this article have spoken of the interpretation of the Bible, which is the number one problem in this present world as the Bible itself teaches us that no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20). Only few people (Matthew 7:14) are able to understand the Bible and as long as mankind remains separated from God, the Word of God will remain a mystery.

    Mankind in his natural state is unable to understand the Bible and unable to receive the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).

    There is a natural body and a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44). The only thing that separates the Natural body from the Spiritual body is the Baptism of Repentance (Mark 1:4). To repent means: to change spirits and to turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan, whose spirit mankind is of (Luke 9:55), unto God (Acts 26:18). This is not an interpretation. Many people search the Bible for in them they think they have eternal life, but when we bring them the Scriptures they don’t believe us (John 5:38,39). Confused? There is no need to be confused any longer. For a better understanding of the mystery of God we invite you to read all the pages and articles of our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    So, before mankind will be able to understand the Word of God, mankind requires to be converted and transformed by God (not by any religion) and only then mankind is able to understand the Bible, as it is God (John 1:1).

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how this whole world has been deceived as confirmed by the Word of God in Revelation 12:9. The Bible is true in all things and is the discerner of every thought and the intent of the heart (Hebrews 5:12).

    July 25, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      1. This article is about the restoration of an artifact used in a religious ceremony, and about the care and religious nature of that restoration. It is not about one faith over another.
      2. The early Church Fathers were hesitant about putting any of the "Revelations of .." texts in the Canonical volume they were assembling as a testament of faith, due to the way people were already interpreting them. "John" was selected because it was the least terrifying of the texts.
      3. Every book in the Bible, both Old and New, whether ascribed as canonical or apocryphal, was written by man and interpreted by man. The authors of those books may have been inspired by the Holy Spirit, or not. Another group of men assembled these texts into the various versions we know today. Translations from the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek was accomplished by men. The most common version in the English language (King James) was a translation of a translation of a translation, and edited to be acceptable to the monarch.

      Given those three – your argument is invalid.

      July 26, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • .....

      Avdberg stop trolling your cult and garbage, it's not worth your time people, click the report abuse link to get rid of this troll.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  8. Lycidas

    Ah..a nice story 🙂

    July 25, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  9. Edward

    I live in Kolin, less than a block from the synagouge mentioned, and pass it nearly every day. I'm no fan of Israel, or religion in general, but I'm glad my town made the news in a good way for once (Kolin was where most of the Zyklon B was made too 8-[....)

    July 25, 2011 at 6:06 am |
  10. Beatrice

    The first prophecy of Jesus in Torah – Genesis 3:15. Read John 3:16 in the Gospel along with it. Torah cannot be understood without the Gospel.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • Reality

      Beatrice today and ten other aliases in the past ten days. A prayer just for you:

      The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians during the past 200 years)

      I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven.

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
      Jerusalem.

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
      ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

      Amen

      July 25, 2011 at 12:27 am |
    • Beatrice

      Insane atheists repeat the same rhetoric that nobody reads except for their fellow insane atheists.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:05 am |
    • Reality

      As we "thu-mp" along with rational thinking, conclusions and reiteration to counter the millennia of false and flawed religious history and theology!!!------––

      July 25, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Lycidas

      "and still lies a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of Jerusalem."

      Beyond the spiritual...you are wrong Reality. Go do a little bit of research on ossuaries and their use in the 1st century Judea.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Reality

      Jesus was a poor peasant/carpenter/preacher-magic man i.e. a poor Jew.

      http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/burial357907.shtml

      "Private burials were common among Judean Jews during the Second Temple Era (STE). 1 A pre-condition for a private burial was land ownership. Thus, only the well-to-do could afford for private burials, while the others were buried in public cemeteries, in regular trench graves. Land ownership was just one facet of the financial problem: carving a proper space into a rock or building a Mausoleum, were expensive. Researchers usually find tombs since nature and time take their toll on trench graves.

      Thus, when we discover a tomb, we assume that its interments were mid-upper class or simply rich. The number of rock-cut tombs we find is larger than stone-built tombs; the reasons may be that 1.) Time and nature affect rock-cut tombs less than stone-built tombs and 2.) People preferred rock-cut tombs over stone-built tombs since the latter were expensive compared to the former and harder to control.2 Tombs are scattered throughout other areas in the former, larger province of Judea. Rabbinic Literature (RL) testifies for tombs as a burial practice in the second half of the 3rd century CE in Galilee.3"

      July 25, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Soooo...you are just going to ignore the unspiritual parts of the texts as well. Ok but forgive me if I consider you very stupid.

      July 25, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Reality

      Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

      The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

      earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html

      For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

      July 26, 2011 at 12:22 am |
    • DenverGrl

      Funny, I have understood Torah just fine w/o the Christian Bible. Can't we just agree that we follow two different religions with different holy books? Your interpretation of Torah is designed to point toward Jesus. Mine is designed to give me a structure for life within the Jewish community. One is not better than another, just simply different. I understand Torah just fine. Thanks.

      August 8, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  11. Beatrice

    People should read and study Torah and find Jesus instead of showing it in a museum. The reason God did not spare the copies of Moses' hand-writings or His.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  12. Yankees1

    It is unbelievable to me that human beings can hate other humans for nothing more than their religious beliefs or the color of their skin. We Hebrews have been the most hated people on this planet for well over 5000 years yet ask one of these bigots and all they can say is "cause they're Jewish". It is further baffling to me that some of these religious bigots have been persecuted themselves for things like the color of their skin yet they can still hate others for nothing that they have done to hurt them! Where does all this hatred come from? We Jews are not perfect!!! Israel has done some terrible things in the name of survival and freedom against the Palestinians (as well as other Arab groups). On the other hand they do look at each and every day as a question of their very survival, unlike us Americans look at our days.

    Imagine if the USA were Illinois and the rest of the US and Canada were our hated enemy for thousands of years sworn to our ultimate destruction. Also, they were using the weapons at their disposal almost on a weekly to monthly (and sometimes daily) basis to kill as many civilians as they could in a covert war. Also imagine that the rest of the world was telling our government to be "cool" and not to retaliate but to negotiate AND on top of this there is continued hatred for us all around the world every time we did retaliate.

    Now, I agree with anyone who states that Israel has missed a number of opportunities for peace, some that were "set-up by the government of the USA (look back to the Clinton administration years). I also feel that the rest of the Arab nations have not exactly done much to contribute to peace in the area. I congratulate the efforts of Egypt in eventually making their own peace with Israel!

    I am just an average guy working to live out my life in peace an harmony with my fellow humans but I just do not understand all the current hatred and animosity going around in this country right now. I worked very hard to teach my children not to hate but so many in this country are working just as hard to teach them the exact opposite.

    Let's give our neighbors a chance to show who they really are to each other and we might have a chance to get along as a species! We are not, I repeat, WE ARE NOT ANIMALS! We are human beings with the ability to think and reason and learn from our mistakes. We will make mistakes but we MUST learn from our mistakes! To the people who ask the question – why do we keep bringing up the nazis – for the very reason that we must learn from our mistakes. This is absolutely essential to our survival as a species. This is one of the reasons why history is taught in school.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  13. fernace

    I am so interrested in finding out what this text said! So many different text were banned by Kings & religious leaders, Mostly due to keeping control of the masses! We must know the true word of the Bible, Quran, & all other religious texts, so that we can forge some sort of real religious togetherness! We are the people of planet earth, we are together in every thing that happens!!

    July 24, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Lycidas

      It's not too hard to go an find a Torah.

      I also recommend for research a study on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  14. Joe Shmoe

    yeah...let's restore a hebrew fairytale..........sounds newsworthy........I have an even better idea..........how about you restore a palestinian home you destroyed????? Yeah I guess restoring another human being's stolen dignity isn't newsworthy....... enjoy the brothers grimm fairyta.......I mean the Torah recitations.......and keep throwing that Nazi word around.....you probably still have a good 100 years to keep playing on people's sense of guilt with that one.....and hey...when that eventually get's old just blow something up and blame it on the "terrorists". Oh, I'm sorry............I forgot....you are GOD'S CHOSEN PEOPLE............too bad he forgot to tell the rest of us.........God.....this Goyim is sooooooo sooooo NOT SORRY

    July 24, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • GIJEW The Real American Hebrew

      What a sweet article about these warmongering lizard people............. Who is there Messiah again??????? Could it beeeee.......THE ANTI CHRIST.........................ding ding ding......pretty much............so I guess pitting Christian and Muslim against one another ( both of which believe Jesus is the Messiah.......is a great way to prepare for the coming of their demon.....................boycott bagels

      July 25, 2011 at 11:30 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.