Monday 20 October 2014

MST in the Jewish News!

The Jewish News, co-sponsors of our evening in conversation with the former football Czars, recently posted this report:

Exhibition marks 50th anniversary of scrolls rescue

8 scollsThe Memorial Scrolls Trust is launching its travelling exhibition at Camden’s Jewish Museum on 7 December, writes Joseph Millis. 
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis will be the guest of honour at the launch of the exhibition, which marks the 50th anniversary of the rescue and subsequent restoration and return to use of 1,564 Czech Torah Scrolls.
The scrolls are part of a unique collection brought to Prague from every corner of Czechoslovakia by the Jewish community at the height of the Second World War.
They are now owned and loaned out to synagogues around the world by the Memorial Scrolls Trust, which is housed at the Reform Westminster Synagogue.
Rabbi Mirvis will be the first Chief Rabbi to view the collection since Lord Jakobovits, whose relative Tobias Jacobovits worked at the Prague Museum before he died in the Holocaust in 1944.
Backing the exhibition are two former chairmen of the Football Association, Lord Triesman and David Bernstein. Lord Triesman told Jewish News: “Rabbi Tomas Salamon [Westminster’s Czechoslovakia-born minister] came to see David and asked for help to spread the word.
David asked me and I’m pleased this is working. We must carry these memories across the generations.”
Rabbi Salamon recalled visiting the Czech town of Horažďovice, home to one of the scrolls. “I met the mayor and he told me, unprompted: ‘Our town is poorer for not having Jews. They contributed so much’.”
Trust chairman Evelyn Friedlander said: ”The launch of our educational resource and travelling exhibition means even more people will hopefully be inspired to take action.”
• Tickets for ‘The Other Jewish Religion: the ultimate insiders’ guide to football and the Jews’ on 3 November from £15 for Jewish News readers.
This event is in aid of the Memorial Scrolls Trust’s 50th anniversary year.

MST in the JC!

On the 7th of October 2014, the Jewish Chronicle published the following article about the upcoming launch event for the MST Travelling Exhibition and Education Pack. By the way, please note that the photograph used by the JC is NOT of our scrolls. We do not know its origin, but shall be writing to the paper to point out this mistake and ask them to change the caption in their archives.

Chief to attend 'scrolls' event

By Sandy Rashty, October 7, 2014
The scrolls before they were brought to Britain
The scrolls before they were brought to Britain
Chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis is to be the guest speaker at the opening of an exhibition about Torah scrolls which survived the Nazis, in a move which marks another departure from his predecessor Lord Sacks.
The display will mark 50 years since 1,564 scrolls were brought from Czechoslovakia to Westminster Synagogue by philanthropist Ralph Yablon.
Rabbi Mirvis said: "The Czech scrolls project is a symbol of the post-Holocaust triumph of Jewish faith."
The scrolls were sent by Jewish communities across Czechoslovakia to be held in safekeeping at the Central Jewish Museum in Prague in 1942. They survived the war and were bought from the Czech Communist government by Mr Yablon, a Westminster congregant, and brought to Britain in 1964.
Past events involving the scrolls were not attended by Lord Sacks, thought to be because Westminster is a non-Orthodox shul.
"We're delighted that Chief Rabbi Mirvis is coming - it's a recognition of our work," said Evelyn Friedlander, chair of the Memorial Scrolls Trust, which is responsible for restoring the scrolls and loaning them to communities.
She added: "The scrolls came from rural communities, which did not survive. That's why they are so important."
More than 200 people are expected to attend the launch at the Jewish Museum on December 7. The exhibition will be taken to schools and synagogues around the country. The scrolls themselves will not be on show as they are too fragile.
Last year, Rabbi Mirvis visited the Limmud educational conference, which Lord Sacks never attended.

Monday 13 October 2014

Visit from the Jewish Deaf Association

Last week the MST hosted a group of 27 visitors from the Jewish Deaf Association. After a talk by MST Chair Evelyn Friedlander, and the chance to wander around the museum, we all had a lovely lunch together. Thank you to our volunteers:  Sarah Derriey, Cynthia Landes and Colette Price!

Monday 6 October 2014

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis to be Guest of Honour at the MST Launch in December

We are delighted to share the following news with you:  Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis will be joining us for the launch of our travelling exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Camden on 7th December.
We have just sent out the following press release:
The Chief Rabbi is to be the Guest of Honour at the launch of a new travelling exhibition and educational resource produced by the Memorial Scrolls Trust to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the rescue and subsequent restoration and return to use of 1,564 Czech Torah Scrolls.
Part of a unique collection brought to Prague from every corner of Czechoslovakia by the Jewish community at the height of the Second World War, the Czech scrolls are now owned and loaned out to synagogues around the world by the Memorial Scrolls Trust – housed at Westminster Synagogue.
Since the scrolls were brought to Britain by philanthropist, Ralph Yablon, on 9th February 1964, they have been distributed to over a thousand Jewish communities worldwide, some of which would otherwise not have been able to afford Torah scrolls to host services, and have been used in around 100,000 Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, in the ultimate defiance of Nazi attempts to wipe out the Jewish people.
200 specially invited guests will join speakers Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Magda Veselska from the Jewish Museum of Prague; and Ruth-Anne Lenga, the Director of the Holocaust Education Development programme at the Jewish Museum on Sunday 7th December.
They will hear from Lenga about the creation of a selection of education materials based around the remarkable story of the scrolls, designed primarily for use by Bar and Bat Mitzvah classes in the synagogues which are now hosts to scrolls.  It is estimated that the scrolls have been used in up to 100,000 b’nei mitzvah since their rescue.  The education packs will also be made available to Jewish and non-Jewish schools, community organisations and museums in the UK and the US.
Guests will also have the opportunity to view the Trust’s new interactive travelling exhibition, which will tell the remarkable story of the scrolls their role, their journey and how they are bringing new Jewish life today.    After the launch, it will go for display to West London Synagogue, before travelling around Britain, with a duplicate version produced for use in the US.
Chair of the Trust, Evelyn Friedlander says:
“These scrolls tell a wonderful story but their interest is not merely historical.  Instead, they are living things, bringing new Jewish life wherever they have gone around the globe.   Where once, following the decimation of Czechoslovakian Jewry, there was nothing, there is now new Jewish life from America to New Zealand, Scotland to Cape Town.  And even back in the Czech Republic itself, many synagogues have been inspired to visit to the communities from which their scrolls came, helping to foster understanding and ensure that the Jews of Eastern Europe are not forgotten.”
“The launch of our educational resource and travelling exhibition will mean that even more people will not simply learn their story, but hopefully will be inspired to take action, whether it is to understand our history, confront prejudice, or lead more Jewish lives in the future.”
Rabbi Mirvis will be the first Chief Rabbi to view the collection since Lord Jakobovits, whose relative Tobias Jacobovits, worked at the Prague Museum before his murder in the Holocaust in 1944.

Wednesday 1 October 2014

The Torah in Judaism

The Torah in Judaism

an essay by Rabbi Albert H Friedlander, first published in "The Czech Memorial Scrolls Centre:  A Historical Account", MST 1988.

The "Shrine of the Book" in Jerusalem preserves the earliest known copies of Biblical texts - the Dead Sea Scrolls. Our Czech Memorial Scrolls Centre has a similar task:  it preserves and guards Torah scrolls which have lived through times of darkness and now once again serve the Jewish community. Visitors, Jewish and non-Jewish, come frequently to see the scrolls, and some seem quite puzzled about the nature of these parchments. What is the Torah? What is its function? Is every scroll identical with the others? And why are they so sacred to us?

The word "Torah" is derived from a Hebrew root which means "to teach". It is primarily used to indicate the most sacred text in Jewish life, the Pentateuch, which is also known as the Five Books of Moses:  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The text is written upon parchment by a dedicated scribe, placed between two rollers, covered with a mantle and silver decorations and housed in the Holy Ark of the Synagogue. It is then opened and read every Sabbath and on certain weekdays and festivals, and becomes the centre of worship and Jewish study. The word "Torah" can therefore mean teaching, instruction, or doctrine. Since it contains most of the legislation guiding the Jewish people from the time of Moses until the destruction of the first Temple, Torah is often translated as "law"; and indeed, so much of the ethical and religious teaching in these first five books of the Bible continues to make moral demands upon us that the term is not incorrect. Moreover, traditional Jewish life is based so largely upon the ceremonial law found in these pages - the dietary laws, the customs presented as divinely inspired - that "Law" is precisely the sense in which the Torah is understood by most Jews. But it is a law to which individuals commit themselves freely, out of their understanding of what God requires from each human being. At that point, knowledge and study become crucial to our free assent, and the translation "instruction", "teaching" becomes even more relevant.

How did the Torah move through three millennia of Jewish life to achieve such centrality? There is, first of all, the text. The tradition states that Moses received it in its entirety more than three thousand years ago, high on top of the Mountain. There, on Mount Sinai, Moses listened to every word of God and recorded all that he heard. Each word is therefore considered sacred and may not be changed, and the laws are also immutable. Yet interpretations can change over the centuries. Farming and commercial legislation of that early time was radically re-interpreted a thousand years later, with the rabbis engaged in that task confident that they were doing no violence to the basic intention of the text. Their interpretations came to be called the "Oral Torah", found in collected writings called "Talmud". It is the Talmud, a work of many volumes, which is today the basic text in traditional places of learning.

This did not mean that the Torah was forgotten; it remains our central book of instruction, far more so than other words in the Bible. According to tradition, it was first read by Moses to the people; and it is significant that when the Jews returned from Babylonian exile, Ezra the Scribe again assembled the people to read the Torah to them, even though some had forgotten much in captivity and required a translator to render the text in Aramaic. Around the Temple in Jerusalem, synagogues were beginning to emerge, and in these the reading of the Torah was the central source of revelation. When the Romans destroyed the Temple, the Torah and its study replaced the Sanctuary, despite Roman hostility. Rabbis were burned wrapped in Torah Scrolls; and tradition tells of one martyr crying out:  "The parchment burns, but the letters fly upwards!" Meanwhile, in Babylon, the study of both the "Written Torah" and the "Oral Torah" (the interpretation) developed during the next thousand years and preserved the Jewish people.

Gradually, in the synagogues, a formal type of worship developed around the reading of the Torah. The scroll was taken from the Holy Ark at a set point in the service, and paraded through the synagogue. Its wrappings were taken off, and it was elevated so that all could see it and proclaim:  "This is the Torah given to Moses. It is the inheritance of the Children of Israel!" Blessings were said before it was chanted, and afterwards. Members of the synagogue were honoured by being called forward to take part in the ritual. The text itself was divided into segments to be read consecutively each week, so that the Torah was read from beginning to end in the course of the year (some communities used a 3-year cycle); and this led to another joyous festival in the religious calendar:  "Simchat Torah", the festival of Rejoicing in the Law. On that day, which follows the harvest festival of Tabernacles, the last page in the Torah (dealing with the death of Moses at the border of the Promised Land) was read by a prominent congregant who became the "Chatan Torah" - the Bridegroom of the Law. When he finished, another scroll was opened at the first chapter of Genesis (B'reshit) and another person - the "Chatan B'reshit" (Bridegroom of Genesis) read the story of the creation of the world. The basic premise was clear:  Jews are to read and re-read the Torah, to turn it again and again - for everything is in it. The Jewish calendar was organised around the Torah to such an extent that every week is known by the name of the portion assigned to it. When young Jewish men or women come of age, they are entitled to the privilege of being called up to read from the Torah; the full identity of the Jew is derived from the fulfilment of this special mitzvah or religious obligation. The ceremony is called Bar mitzvah, son of the commandment, with a corresponding Bat mitzvah, daughter of the commandment, as equality was achieved in Jewish life.

A scroll of the Torah is expected to be perfect, without blemish. Yet a scroll rescued from the Holocaust may bear the mark of that experience upon it. An American scholar, Solomon Freehof, was asked whether such damaged scrolls could be used in the synagogue. In his reply he pointed out that according to tradition "all depends on fate, even the sacred writings." Some scrolls live fortunate, happy lives. They are carried around during services with flourishing communities surrounding them; they are taken out for Simchat Torah services, and rabbis dance holding them aloft. Other scrolls are unlucky, pushed to the back of the Ark, unloved, silent. Still other scrolls suffer a tragic fate and go through fire and suffering, die, or survive in a damaged condition. Yet all contain the same sacred words, all are holy in the eye of the beholder. A damaged Torah should not be used for regular services, and most communities bury flawed scrolls. But those responsible for the Czech scrolls have perceived that the last survivors still deserve their place in life, that they are witnesses who must stay alive in order to be heard. And so they still live, not only at Kent House but throughout the world where communities have received memorial scrolls to show that the Torah does not disappear, that it must be heard.

Throughout the ages, Torah scrolls have been written in many styles and with varying shapes of Hebrew letters. Yet the text always stays the same. The Sephardi tradition has a totally different style of calligraphy from the Ashkenazi - Spain, Portugal and the Mediterranean contrasted with Germany, Poland and Eastern Europe. The text is never vocalised and maintains the ancient tradition of consonants without vowels. Sephardi communities place the scroll in a rounded case; in the Ashkenazi communities it stands freely inside the holy Ark. Keter Torah, the Crown of the Torah, is the most favoured decoration on the embroidered mantles; but in modern times one often sees a tree - the Tree of Life, to which the Torah itself is compared; one holds fast to it and survives. That has been the history of the Torah within the Jewish tradition. For more than three thousand years Jews have walked its paths, interpreting it strictly or freely, traditional or progressive in their response to its teaching. All agree that the Torah, that handwritten roll of parchment containing the words of God, is the true symbol of Jewish life.

Beautiful Binders

Did you know that the MST Museum also has a magnificent collection of Torah binders from Bohemia & Moravia? In 2015 we hope to offer a small booklet with photographs and information about our most interesting specimens!