Lexington’s Temple Emunah Acquires a Rare Sacred Scroll
Sefer Haftarot Dedicated
Temple Emunah has just celebrated the acquisition of a ‘Sefer Haftarot’, a hand-inscribed scroll best known for current use in the rite of passage to adulthood. “There are very few such scrolls,’’ said Rabbi David Lerner of Temple Emunah. “Possibly about 100 in the world.”
The celebration of acquisition of a Sefer Haftarot involves opportunities for individuals to hand inscribe a letter to complete it. That’s done with an old-fashioned quill pen, a little practice, a lot of care, and great joy.
Our Torah, is a parchment scroll with the five books of Moses. The root of the word Torah has to do with aiming an arrow at a target–in this case, aiming at the teachings of God. A Torah, read three days a week and on holy days, is a hand- inscribed document on specially prepared parchment that can take a trained scribe up to 18 months to create.
When a Bar or Bat Mitzvah reads a Haftarah portion, a symbol of the coming of age. at around 13 years, the child is now responsible for obeying rules and commandments. For several hundred years, reading a Haftarah has been part of the coming of age.
Rare Sefer Haftarot
The Book of Haftarot is not part of the Torah and its use in the rite of passage to adulthood has evolved over time. But the Haftarah readings go much further back. While Torah readings must be done using the ritual scroll, reading the Haftarah may be done from a book.
“In fact, there are only about fifty Sefer Haftarot scrolls in the US,’ says Rabbi Yochanan Salazar, a master scribe (Sofer) and educator who was present for the completion and dedication of Temple Emunah’s new scroll. “They are becoming more popular as congregations make a cultural commitment and people connect more to traditional Judaism.”
Rabbi Yochanan Salazar, Master Scribe
How Sefer Haftarot Differs from Torah
Jews read segments from the Torah in a specified order on three days a week and holy days. But the Haftarah segment is not part of the Torah. Reading the Haftarah (prophetic portion) each week has its own history.
The name ‘Haftarah’ does not have the same root as Torah.
Why the different name? Why the different significance?
According to Rabbi Salazar, the root of Haftarah relates to a word meaning ‘departure’. Throughout history, various religious practices have been limited or forbidden in different cultures. For a time ancient Greeks and Romans forbid the study of Torah. To avoid breaking the law, Jews studied the words of the Prophets. They ‘departed’ from the Torah reading but remained connected to the holy scriptures. And it is the words of the Prophets and related sacred writings that constitute the Sefer Haftarot.
When Torah reading was again permitted, the Haftarah portion came to mean that we are leaving behind that week’s portion of the Torah and moving on to the next.
The Creation of a Sacred Scroll
According to Rabbi Salazar, the Sefer Haftarot (like the Torah) is written on parchment made from the skin of a kosher animal and processed under expert supervision for up to thirty days. Then a scribe–trained up to five years–takes as long as seven months to inscribe the Sefer Haftarot.
Emunah member Buzz Hausner and President Barbara Posnick prepare for the ceremony
Presentation of the Sefer Haftarot
The sacred scroll of Haftarot arrives in its new home incomplete. Members of the congregation have the opportunity to help finish the scroll, each willing member inscribing a single letter until the scroll is done.
If a trained scribe studies 3-5 years to master the skill, it is quite an honor for a lay person to be able to do this. “To start”, says Rabbi Salazar, “the official scribe has outlined the letters that remain to be completed.” The congregant practices using the quill and ink before s filling in the outlined letter, guided by the official scribe.
Fred Ezekiel and Gami Maislin learning to form the letters for inscription
Lowell Bensky and Rabbi Yochanan Salazar
Linking to the Present and the Future
Temple Emunah has a strong tradition of lay leadership. Members of the congregation regularly lead services, read from the Torah, and now have helped complete a Sefer Haftarot.
“We commissioned a Haftarah scroll with all the prophetic passages,”said Rabbi Lerner, “to add a powerful new aspect to our Sabbath service and create a connection between generations past, present, and future.
The ceremony for the new Sefer Haftarot was held in honor of Lowell Bensky, a 50-year+ member of Temple Emunah who has taught more than 175 students of all ages to chant Torah and Haftarah. The ceremony was also dedicated to the memory of Debby Brosgol, who contributed selflessly to Temple Emunah by managing the Judaica shop, chanting from the Torah, chanting Haftarah, assigning Haftarah readers , and leading services.
Celebrating the new Scroll
The new Sefer Haftarot, now complete, resides in the Ark that holds the Torah scrolls, and has already been used for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.