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Oldest Torah scroll still in use found in Italy

Written almost 8 centuries ago, the scroll has undergone a 4-year restoration and will be returned to its original synagogue

Part of a document said by an Italian expert to be the oldest known complete Torah scroll. (photo credit: AP Photo/Alma Mater Studiorum Universita' di Bologna)
Part of a document said by an Italian expert to be the oldest known complete Torah scroll. (photo credit: AP Photo/Alma Mater Studiorum Universita' di Bologna)

A Torah scroll from a synagogue in the northern Italian town of Biella has been identified as probably the oldest in the world still owned and used by a Jewish community.

Dario Disegni, the president of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Italy, told a meeting of the Foundation board in Rome on Wednesday that carbon-14 dating carried out by the Geo-chronology Laboratory of the University of Illinois dated the scroll to around 1250.

“This is exciting news that is of extraordinary importance for Italian Judaism,” he said.

The scroll, which since 2012 had undergone restoration on behalf of the Foundation by an Italian scribe, or sofer, will be returned to the Biella synagogue during a ceremony on March 6.

Torah scroll Ink on gevil. Spain, 15th century (photo credit: Green Collection)
Illustrative: Torah scroll Ink on gevil. Spain, 15th century (Green Collection)

The scroll was one of several ancient Torah scrolls examined by experts in 2012 and then chosen as the one best suited for restoration. It was originally believed to date from the 14th century.

It is not rare to find extremely old Torah scrolls, the sofer, Amedeo Spagnoletto, told Italian Jewish media. “But in this case the scroll has remained completely intact, without a single piece of parchment substituted, from 1250 until today,” he said.

The Biella scroll is not the oldest Torah scroll to have been found in Italy, but is the oldest that is still kosher and used by a Jewish community. In 2013 a Torah in the collection of the University of Bologna library was carbon dated to between 1155 and 1225 and identified as the oldest complete Torah scroll known to exist.

The foundation has launched a $22,000 crowd-funding campaign to cover the costs of the Biella scroll restoration.

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