Wednesday, May 29, 2013

This Sefer Torah is How Old‽

I have always found old Jewish stuff fascinating, physically praying in a building or holding a book or religious item that was used by earlier generations is a tangible connection to our past and a reminder that Judaism didn't start with the invention of the Fedora, just over a century ago.

I remember the first time I visited the Abuhav Synagogue in Tzfat which claims to house a Sefer Torah written by Rabbi Abuhav himself, which would make the Sefer more than 500 years old (and still Kosher and in use, although only used 3 times a year).
That Sefer ignites  the imagination - it saw the end of Mamaluk rule in Eretz Yisrael and the rise of the Ottoman empire. Rav Yosef Kairo, the Ari, and Rav Shlomo Alkabetz (who composed Lecha Dodi) all probably read from that Sefer. The Sefer saw Talmedei Ha Gra and the Besht make Aliya followed by the Rise of Zionism, the War of Independence, and the return of Jewish Rule to Eretz Yisrael.

If that Sefer could talk, I'm sure that it would have some amazing stories.

Well the BBC is reporting that the University of Bologna in Italy has identified a Sefer Torah in its possession as more than 850 years old.

If you look carefully at the picture on the BBC site, (additional picture at  IBT) you can see that the lettering looks more Sfardi than Ashkenazi (although I don't know what is used in Italy today - the Italian minhagim have elements of both Sfardi and Ashkenaz communities).

The press release described the Safer as follows:
The antiquity of “Scroll 2″ had not been recognized by Leonello Modona, a Jew, native of Cento, who worked for years as a librarian at BUB, and who was the first to catalog the BUB-Hebrew-manuscript-collections, in 1889. Modona did in fact date the scroll back to the 17th century and described its Hebrew letters as “an Italian script, rather clumsy-looking, in which certain letters, as well as the usual crowns and strokes show uncommon and strange appendices.” Professor Perani, on the contrary, examining the scroll for the new catalog, noticed that its early square, oriental script of Babylonian tradition was very elegant and finely written and the graphical and textual structure were totally atypical and had to be much older than 17th -century. The text of the scroll does in fact not take into account and respect the rules, fixed by Maimonides (dead in 1204), who established in a definitive way the whole rabbinic regulation about copying the Pentateuch. The BUB-Torah-scroll actually shows many graphical features and scribal devices, absolutely forbidden to copyists after the Maimonidean codification.

It would be interesting to see differences between this Sefer Torah and the standardized text in use today. We know that in the middle ages there were slight variations in some words (such as extra vavs or yuds), for example, there are several places where Rashi comments on letters that seem to be present in his Torah and are not in ours.
As the BBC article points our, this Sefer pre-dates Rambam's standardization of the text and the script of Sifrei Torah all over the world. The Sefer also pre-dates the first printed Hebrew texts which also had an enormous impact on the standardization of the text of the Torah.

It seems that the history of the Sefer Torah is still unknown, not even clear how it came to be in the possession of the University of Bologna (Although possibly dating back to Napoleon), although I'm sure researches are looking into it now.

But if only this Sefer could talk - I'm sue it would have some interesting stories to say....

 Hat Tip: Mostly Kosher

No comments: