Monday, December 13, 2010

Texture is the key to a religious experience

The Sofer (Torah scribe) left our congregation on Sunday after a wonderful weekend. The question is; what did he leave behind him? It was a weekend that many in our congregation will never forget. Neil Yerman the scribe is a spiritual man and devoted to his calling. He is neither a Hasidic Jew nor Orthodox.  He is a modern person with a passion for the scribal arts. He is a former professional musician (clarinet) worked for Lehman brothers and surprised the audience when he reminisced that he had been to Woodstock music festival. So this is a person who did not fit the mold or the preconceived notion of a scribe like we see in paintings with scribes looking down at the text of a Torah.
I could never have anticipated the reactions and emotions that I witnessed in the hearts and souls of people who interacted with Sofer Neil Yerman. People watched as he stretched out the new torah on top of several tables in the middle of the sanctuary.  On Saturday night Sofer Yerman led us in a workshop where all the participants tried their hand at Hebrew calligraphy. Finally it was truly inspiring on Sunday morning when Sofer Neil Yerman taught the children in the religious school.  The kids today have an attention span that is a like a blink of an eye. Yet the kids stood over the Torah scroll and listened to Neil guide them and instruct them on Hebrew letters and the traditions of writing a Torah scroll. They stood there totally entranced in the text and in the lessons of the sofer. Kids will surprise you every time!
Right now I am thinking about the meaning of the word kasher or kosher which we often think about in regard to dietary laws. Kosher means something which is fit or permissible.  The term also means authentic or genuine. And that word kasher may be the key because seeing the Torah made people feel they were in the presence of something authentic or truly holy.
Words are holy. Prayers are holy. People are holy. A text created on the parchment of lambskin is holy and takes us to a completely different level of spirituality and emotion. As I have said we have a real tension between access to information in a digital world and touching something tangible that has texture. Life must have texture. Skype is great but it will never substitute for sitting across the table with another human being. The same idea could apply to music, performing arts visual arts and so forth.
People want to feel something and touch and see the nuance of life. The Torah scroll is one more example of a world that cries out for authentic religious experiences.


Rabbi Arthur Segal said...

Shalom Chaverli Rebbe Brad:
We just arrived home from 4 weeks of leading a two wonderful groups of Jews, of all sects, who wanted to renew their Judaism while keeping their modernity.
So a belated Chanukah to you and yours!
I loved reading of your bringing a sofer to your congregants. When the Torah commands we write our own torah, it did not comment on whether it was to be pasul or kosher. While the physical scoll is indeed marvelous to write, we are to write these words on our hearts and live by their lessons.

Ironically, today is the 8th of Tevet, a fast day for our Chazel.In a second attempt to translate the Torah into Greek (after an unsuccessful attempt 61 years earlier), the ruling Greek-Egyptian emperor Ptolemy gathered 72 Torah sages, had them sequestered in 72 separate rooms, and ordered them to each produce a translation. On the 8th of Tevet, 246 BCE, they produced 72 corresponding translations, including identical changes in 13 places (where they each felt that a literal translation would constitute a corruption of the Torah's true meaning). This Greek rendition became known as the Septuagint, "of the seventy" (though later versions that carry this name are not believed to be true to the originals). Greek became a significant second language among Jews as a result of this translation. During Talmudic times, Tevet 8 was observed by some as a fast day, expressing the fear of the detrimental effect of the translation.
Now we realize, some 2200 years later, that our Jewish texts, have helped bring some of the world to the God of Abraham, and hopefully one day to world-wide shalom.
Many blessings,
Your friend,
Rabbi Arthur Segal

Rabbi Brad L. Bloom said...

Welcome home Arthur. Sounds like you have done some great and holy work. I shall look forward to hearing some of your stories. Thank you for the information on our tradition and the insights of our sages. Yes the Sofer was excellent and we will await the forthcoming Torah scroll and the commission of a new megilat esther. Good things for the temple and the Jewish community.