A Torah created 300 years ago in the Moroccan desert has found its 21st-century home in the deserts of Arizona.
More than a year ago, Scott Berger, owner of Addison Taylor Fine Jewelry, heard about a 300-year-old Torah written on deerskin that was owned by a private collector.
“Some dear friends told me about an individual who collects very rare and special spiritual items from around the world, and she said to me that the person had a very special Torah that is over 300 years old from Morocco and she’d had it for over a decade or so,” Berger said. “The owner doesn’t normally work with the public and had turned down offers from others to purchase the Torah because she felt it wouldn’t be going to the right home.”
While doing his morning prayers a week before Passover this year, Berger said it suddenly occurred to him that there was a reason his friends had told him about the artifact.
“It popped into my head that I needed to reach out to that person that’s holding the Torah,” he said. “I met her at noon on the Sunday before Passover. We started talking and you could just tell we had made a beautiful connection. I was able to take it that Sunday and I brought it home and that evening I called Rabbi Leib (Bolel). Here we are, the evening before Passover, and we’re actually freeing a Torah that obviously has not been in the proper place for decades upon decades upon decades, that has traveled around the world. It could not be a more apropos or perfect time to have that happen.”
The Torah is currently housed at the new MAKOR in Scottsdale, which holds Shabbat services and other Jewish programs.
Rabbi Bolel of MAKOR said he and Berger are in the process of trying to get more information on the history of the Torah and have sent photos and other documentation to experts in Israel.
“Primarily, what we do know is there are about three different places throughout the entire Torah that are very faded and we were able to extrapolate that there have been most likely three times in the Torah’s life where it remained stagnant,” Bolel said. “We do know that there have been repairs on the Torah prior to us receiving it. Also, it was switched from the traditional Moroccan style of the Torah encasing to a more European one, which gives us an idea that it was in Europe at least 100 years or so.”
Bolel said this was the first Torah he has ever seen that was written on deerskin. The penmanship itself is a work of art.
“The shininess of the ink in some parts of the Torah looks like it was written yesterday,” Bolel said. “We know it was written by a highly skilled scribe and it was beautifully, meticulously written. There are different types of handwriting throughout the Torah and that also tells us this Torah has been on a journey.”
At the time that the Moroccan Torah was created, Bolel said there were two to three large and vibrant Jewish communities in Morocco.
Berger and his wife, Marla, eventually would like to display the Moroccan Torah to Valley residents of all faiths, but that’s on hold until more information about the Torah is gathered. Marla especially looks forward to young Jews absorbing the message of this 300-year-old Torah.
“It’s our duty to remind our younger generation, many of whom are either confused or want to make sure they understand their Jewish heritage, to show them the strength and perseverance of our people,” Marla said. “To me, that’s a symbol of grace coming from this Torah – it’s 300 years old and it’s still living, it’s still with us and it came back to us. This will remind them of how strong we are and that we should stay together.”