2017-04-06 / Faith
A Torah for the next generation
Of the Torah’s 613 commandments, the last is that every Jew should write a Torah in their lifetime.
Considering that the Torah is made up of five books of the Hebrew Bible that include within them all of the biblical laws of Judaism, it is a huge undertaking, requiring a scribe, a specially prepared scroll and plenty of patience.
Despite the enormity of the task, temple board president Peggy Frank said, Temple Adat Elohim was up for the challenge. The Reform synagogue commissioned a Torah last year as part of its 50th anniversary celebration this year. Frank said the scroll is part of securing the temple’s next 50 years.
But this isn’t just any Torah. Written by female scribe, or soferet, Linda Coppleson, the completed scroll will be among the fewer than 20 Torahs ever scribed by a woman. This will be Coppleson’s fourth.
The New Jersey native does more than just copy words. Trained in the discipline of Hebrew calligraphy reserved for religious uses, Coppleson mixes her own ink and makes her own quill, which she fashions from a feather.
But don’t let the centuries-old practices mislead you. Coppleson is a revolutionary.
She was one of seven women who worked as scribes on the Women’s Torah Project, an initiative to create the first Torah scribed entirely by women. The project, finished in 2010, was controversial, because rabbinical texts like the Talmud forbid women from joining the scribal profession.
But while the Talmud forbids women from writing Torah scrolls, Coppleson said, it also says “whoever is qualified should write a Torah,” so whenever women have the same qualifications as men, the prohibition should not be adhered to.
When scribing, Coppleson uses an emery board as a bookmark, calling it her “nod to feminism.”
This Torah will be made of a lighter version of the parchment typically used in Torah scrolls, and thus will be easier for children, women, the elderly and others to carry and read during services.
Temple Adat Elohim is inviting everyone to be part of their Torah project.
They have already invited their members to help leave their mark. But rather than putting pen to paper, participants undergo a ritual cleansing before placing their hand on the back of Coppleson’s as she writes.
Fifth-grader Ethan Smith helped scribe a word with his parents on a recent Sunday. The event was particularly exciting for him because, as an 11-yearold, he will be one of the first to use the Torah during his bar mitzvah ceremony.
“It’s cool because when I read from it, there will already be a piece of me inside of it,” he said.
Ethan’s mother, Linda, said it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“As someone who’s not super-religious, I’ve never seen something like this up close before,” she said.
Ethan’s father, Mark, said he was fascinated by Coppleson’s personal story, as well as the meticulous craftsmanship with which she worked. He’s glad he shared the experience with his son.
“It’s neat to see his generation getting to do what most people never dream of,” Smith said.
The cost of the project is somewhere in the six-figure range, but with support of congregation member Suzanne Gallant, Temple Adat Elohim isn’t paying a penny. Gallant is funding the entire project through her family’s charitable foundation. After hearing about the undertaking, the Schiff shoe heiress said, she knew she could help make it happen.
“This is more than a temple to me. Ever since I moved here, they’ve been my family,” she said.
The first letter was scribed Dec. 4, 2016. The Torah is expected to take 18 months to complete.