Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Shavuot Holiday, Celebrating the Giving of the Torah

Torah scrolls in the ark of the Istanbouli Synagogue in the Old City
of Jerusalem (circa 1930), "one of the oldest synagogues
in Jerusalem."  The synagogues in the Old City were all
destroyed after the Jewish Quarter was captured in 1948.
(Library of Congress)
Jews around the world commemorate the holiday of Shavuot this week, the day on which tradition says the Torah was given to the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai.

The Torah -- also known as the Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses -- has been the foundation of the Jewish faith for 3,000 years, the basis for the monotheistic Christian and Islamic religions, and an inspiration for spiritual, moral and ethical values.

A Yemenite Jewish scribe and his
father, Shlomo Washadi (c 1935)

Samaritan high priest with
his sons and Pentateuch
scroll (c 1911)
The Torah scrolls are handwritten with quills by God-fearing scribes on the parchment made of the skins of kosher animals. One skipped or illegible letter of the 304,805 letters of the Torah makes the scroll invalid for reading in the synagogue service.  A Torah damaged beyond repair is buried.

Doctors Herbert and David Torrance of the Scottish Mission hospital in Tiberias and the photographers of the American Colony
Photographic Department took several portraits of Jews and their Torah scrolls.  They were also clearly fascinated by the scrolls and practice of the Samaritans, an ancient offshoot of Judaism who are not considered Jewish today.

Jewish rabbi or Samaritan priest with scroll 
The Dundee Medical School archives in Scotland contains many anatomical pictures taken by the Torrances, but also fascinating pictures of the Galilee Jewish community.  We published one photo captioned "Rabbi and Torah scroll."  After we identified the picture as a Samaritan, the archives corrected their caption to "a Samaritan leader with his sect’s scroll."
A desecrated synagogue in Hebron
with Torahs strewn on the floor (1929)

The Library of Congress archives also include pictures of the Hebron Jewish community after they were decimated in a pogrom by Arab attackers.  Among the photos are pictures of a destroyed synagogue and its Torah scrolls.

Enlargement of the scrolls on the floor

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