Historical Torah undergoes restoration in Scranton

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SCRANTON, Pa. -- The patient rested on the table, ready to undergo an operation to fix the problems that have arisen through years of work.

But instead of scalpels and surgical caps, this doctor came armed with a quill and an ink pot.

On Tuesday, Temple Hesed began the three-day process of restoring its 150-year-old copy of the Torah, the Scripture comprising the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Rabbi Gedaliah Druin of Florida is repairing the lambskin parchment as well as re-inking the letters by hand.

"It's painstaking work," temple Rabbi Daniel Swartz said. "You've got to [examine] every word, every letter."

While at the temple in the spring to teach a class on how to care for the scrolls, Rabbi Druin examined Temple Hesed's Torahs and made recommendations for restoring them. He also pointed out that one scroll appeared to have been created about 150 years ago, the same age as the congregation.

Rabbi Swartz said the style of writing in the scroll indicates it originated in Bohemia, part of the present-day Czech Republic, an area from which many of the temple's founders came. They likely brought the copy with them or sent for it from home after settling in America, he said.

"It was exciting to discover it," Rabbi Swartz said. "This was our original Torah."

The congregation raised several thousand dollars, enough to restore not only the 150-year-old Torah but also another copy that is about 100 years old, Rabbi Swartz said. They are the Torahs the temple uses most often, and while they are still in decent condition, the writing had faded or scratched off in spots.

Rabbi Druin is checking the sewing binding the parchment sections, repairing any tears and fixing the lettering using a quill he selected and shaped himself. He makes his own ink and writes in the way the original scribe did so the ink flows right into what is on the parchment, Rabbi Swartz said.

"Each letter is supposed to be distinct and have all its parts," he said.

Rabbi Druin pointed out that it is not the quill touching the parchment but rather an extension of his finger. He redid the letters slowly at first to see how the ink settled on the parchment, and he adjusted the ink as needed.

"It's not one-size-fits-all socks," Rabbi Druin said.

Rabbi Swartz said the congregation already has learned from Rabbi Druin how to better roll and clean the scrolls and, since humidity can damage the parchment, plans to install a monitor to track humidity levels where it stores the Torahs.

"We'll see if we're getting too much humidity," Rabbi Swartz said.

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