The public will be able to see videos of four ancient Torah scrolls — including fragments from a 1,000-year-old Yemenite scroll and others with remarkable background stories — just in time for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Shavuot, as part of a new initiative from the National Library of Israel.
Shavuot, the Jewish holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah, is observed this year from the evening of June 4 until nightfall the following day (with an extra day observed by many Jews outside of Israel).
The Torah scrolls, which are not available for public viewing due to their delicate condition, were brought out from the library’s vaults for a few minutes to be filmed and photographed under close supervision by conservation experts.
The items featured include the 1,000-year-old Yemenite scroll, fragments of which had been repurposed as raw material for bookbinding, which is where they were found; as well as one of the world’s smallest legible Torah scrolls, measuring just 6 centimeters (2 1/3 inches) in height.
According to the National Library, one of the scrolls is from the Greek island of Rhodes and was rescued after it was given to a local mufti for safekeeping just before the Nazis deported the Jewish community.
Scholars believe that the “Rhodes Torah” was written in Iberia in the 15th century, and that Sephardic refugees brought it to Greek island, where it was used for hundreds of years in the Kahal Shalom Synagogue, now considered the oldest known synagogue in Greece.
Just a few days before the Nazis deported nearly all of Rhodes’ Jews in 1944, the scroll was smuggled out of the synagogue and placed in the custody of the local mufti, Sheikh Suleyman Kasiloglou.
The mufti is said to have hidden the Torah under the pulpit of a local mosque, and the scroll subsequently survived the war, though the vast majority of the members of the Rhodes Jewish community did not.
The final scroll featured in the series is believed to have been owned by Saul Wahl, a prominent Jewish merchant and adviser to royalty who supposedly served as king of Poland for just one day in the late 16th century while the identity of the previous ruler’s successor was debated.
The Saul Wahl Torah features staves made of ivory and horns, and is decorated with silver. It also comes with its own miniature holy ark, featuring a door made from a 17th-century Torah shield.
The NLI’s Haim and Salomon Judaica Collection includes Hebrew and Jewish books, journals and magazines; thousands of Hebrew-letter manuscripts and digital and microfilm copies of some 90,000 such manuscripts from collections around the world.
The entire NLI collection will soon move to the library’s new location, set to open adjacent to the Knesset in Jerusalem early next year.