Family donates rare 300-year-old Torah to the B’Nai Vail congregation – Vail Daily

Posted By on August 10, 2022

A rare 300-year-old Torah from Yemen was recently dedicated to the BNai Vail Congregation, to be used and preserved by the Jewish community in the valley.

Marc and Rhonda Strauss have been members of BNai Vail for the past six years, and were looking for a Torah to donate to the congregation. They said that BNai Vail has become the congregation where they feel most at home, and they wanted to give something back to the community that has given so much to them over the years.

Growing up in various Jewish communities throughout my life, seeing so many different kinds ofTorahs, dedicating aTorahis something I had always hoped to be able to do, Marc Strauss said. This is the most fundamental and sacred part of our religion. Thats where we get all of our commandments and our ways to live, our values everything comes from the Torah. So we wanted generations that would follow us to be able to have those same values, and have something that they can learn and study from.

During their search, Rabbi Joel Newman of BNai Vail came across a rare deerskin Yemenite Torah at an antique dealer in Israel, where it had been sitting, unused, for a century.

The Torah was commissioned in the early 1700s by the Wahab family in Yemen, who passed the intricately constructed scroll from generation to generation for over 200 years. After journeying to Palestine in the early 20th century, the Torah was loaned to a local synagogue, before landing with a dealer of rare antiquities in Jerusalem.

With its long history and unique appearance, Rabbi Newman knew it was the perfect Torah for BNai Vail, but it was in need of repair. The missing letters, tears in pages and other imperfections meant that the Torah was not kosher and could not be used for worship until it was made complete.

Serendipitously, Rabbi Newman is a trained sofer, or Jewish scribe, who spent four years helping to repair the nearly 1,600 Torahs that were recovered from the Czech Republic after the Holocaust.

He spent the past 13 months painstakingly going over all 304,000 Hebrew letters in the Yemenite Torah, repairing and rewriting them with a quill, filling in missing sections and stitching up any holes or tears in the 55 deerskin pages.

Rabbi Newman said that the biggest challenge was ensuring that each of the letters did not touch, as it could confuse the meaning of the sacred script. The rarity of the deerskin material and the small sizing of the print made it a difficult project, but one that he assured was well worth the effort.

A Torah dedication is so special and having the opportunity to restore the Torah was quite the honor, Rabbi Newman said. This Torah is an incredibly rare piece of Jewish history that we are so proud to now have as a piece of our congregation.

Rabbi Newman completed the restoration process at the end of July, and on Saturday, July 30, the now kosher Torah was used for the first time in a century at a Shabbat service held at the top of Vail Mountain. The Torah was brought to the ceremony under a chuppah, or Jewish wedding tarp, as around 500 worshippers celebrated its adoption into the BNai Vail congregation.

Rhonda Strauss had the honor of singing the first lines of scripture from the Torah, and each member of the Strauss family read from the Torah at the dedication ceremony. The family members even had the opportunity to correct the final letters in the restoration process as a mark of their contribution.

In Judaism, we always say, From generation to generation, and thats exactly what this is doing, Rhonda Strauss said. This will be here long after were gone, and one day, hopefully, our great great grandchildren will say, Wow, that was my great great grandparents, and pass on the feeling of Jewish tradition.

Steven Wellins, president of the BNai Vail board, also emphasized the connection that the Torah creates between the BNai Vail community and the broader history of Yemenite Judaism. The Jewish community in Yemen around 45,000 people at the time was relocated in its entirety to Israel by a 1950 American and British operation called Operation Magic Carpet. Today, the estimated Jewish population in Yemen is less than 10 people.

Having this rare religious artifact in Vail not only allows the Strauss family to maintain their family legacy, but extends that connection to generations of Wahab family members who read and learned from the Torah before them.

One of the cool parts of Judaism is that you preserve these Torahs and religious artifacts forever, and you cant destroy them, Wellins said. So the painstaking process that it takes to make them kosher is worth it, because it fulfills a bigger need, and that is that youre supposed to keep these. Youre supposed to use these. These are supposed to be around forever to remind us of where we came from as a community and as individuals.

The restored Torah will be read at Saturday morning Shabbat services at BNai Vail for generations to come. BNai Vail also holds Shabbat services every Friday evening at 6 p.m. at the Vail Interfaith Chapel. For a full list of upcoming services and more information about BNai Vail, visit BNaiVail.org.

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Family donates rare 300-year-old Torah to the B'Nai Vail congregation - Vail Daily

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