Congregants of a North Scottsdale synagogue that is primarily run by the voluntary efforts of its members have embarked on an ambitious new project: writing a new Torah.

“When The New Shul was founded 14 years ago, we bought two old Torah scrolls from a shul in Connecticut,” says Rabbi Michael Wasserman, who is the spiritual leader of the congregation along with his wife, Rabbi Elana Kanter.  

“We had them repaired by a sofer, and have been using them ever since. Because they are old, they require quite a bit of maintenance.” 

A third Torah scroll loaned to The New Shul when it was founded is soon being returned to its owner. So the synagogue – which is not affiliated with any organized movement and relies on voluntary dues – will need a new Torah.

Rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars and employing an outside scribe for a new Torah scroll – and as a way to offer an opportunity to include the synagogue’s members in the experience – Phoenix resident Scott Berlant offered to scribe a new Torah scroll and lead volunteers throughout the process.  Berlant, a member of The New Shul, is spearheading the project and teaching lay congregants who have no experience in this type of work.

Berlant said that he entered into the project knowing that he would not be paid, and that he is simply following the Mishnaic adage that if there is a void in the community and you have the knowledge to fill it, then do so.  

It isn’t the first time Berlant has taken on a task like this; in 2006, he wrote an entire Torah scroll at the Orangetown Jewish Center in Orangeburg, New York.   

The Torah scroll, the Jewish written law, is the central reference of the Jewish religion and has been in existence for over 3,000 years. The Torah is made of numerous sheets of parchment that are sewn together to make one very long scroll. It is written entirely in Hebrew, and all of its letters must be duplicated precisely by a scribe or writer, a process that could take up to 1  1/2 years, which is the estimated completion time of The New Shul’s new scroll. 

But neither Berlant nor Wasserman are concerned with time restrictions, especially since the project is completely voluntary.  Besides the scribing, volunteers will measure margins; set up the horizontal lines on the parchment in which the text will be written; proofread each letter; sew the parchment; construct the atzei chayim, “trees of life” that are the handles and rollers that the scroll will eventually be attached to; and make the mantle that will eventually cover the scroll. 

“Growth, learning and developing new Jewish skills have always been core values for our shul, and this project will challenge us to do just that in pursuit of a very important mitzvah,” says Wasserman.  

“Once the scroll is finished, our congregation will feel a very special investment in it, having made it with our own hands.”

Jody Cohen and her family are members of The New Shul. She is a freelance writer and certified Hebrew tutor.

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