Czech Memorial Torah

SOJC’s Holocaust Torah – Saving the Czech Torah Scrolls

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Certificate for Czech Torah

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Czech Memorial Torah, numbered 478

In Czechoslovakia, in an old, unused Prague synagogue, were over 1500 sacred Torah scrolls from Jewish congregations along the central belt of the country.  Although these communities were destroyed during the war, the torahs were rescued from the Jewish museum by volunteers during the war and were later moved to the Prague synagogue where they lay, unmoved and uncared-for, until the early 1960’s when a London art dealer and later a Judaic scholar, were able to transport them to London.  The London Westminster Synagogue purchased all 1564 scrolls for £30,000.

Each of the scrolls was inspected, scrutinized and catalogued, and then categorized into one of five classes.  “Best” category scrolls were suitable for synagogue use, where “Unusable” were beyond salvage regardless of effort.  The torahs were then distributed to institutions worldwide such as Leeds University, York Cathedral and the University of York, as well as Brandeis University Northwestern University and the University of Rochester.

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Sorting of the ritual objects on their arrival in Prague
Photo: Archive of the Jewish Museum in Prague

“Scrolls graded in between “Best” to “Unusable” required various major and minor repairs before they could be used for reading at synagogue services.  It soon became clear that temporary, part-time scribes would not be sufficient for this work.  A full-time scribe would be required, but the Westminster Synagogue had difficulty in finding a competent individual willing to devote all his time to examining and repairing the Czech scrolls.  In May 1967 such a person was unexpectedly found at the very doorsteps of Kent House.  He was David Brand, newly arrived from Jerusalem, who told Mrs. Shaffer that he had been traveling to many parts of the world repairing scrolls in synagogues and wondered whether the Westminster Synagogue happened to have any scrolls in need of repair.  “I shall never forget the look of astonishment and awe on his face when he saw those three rooms stacked to the ceiling with sifre Torah (Torah scrolls), Mrs. Shaffer recalled.” – from The Story Of The Jewish Torahs of Czechoslovakia, ©2006, The Czech Torah Network

Today the numbered racks where these scrolls were stored since their arrival in 1964, have grown emptier, as one scroll after another has been put back into use by congregations and religious institutions all over the world.  Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation is preserving one of the scrolls, number 478, in its sanctuary.

 

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