Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Ninth of Av (part 3) The Torah

The ceremony of reading the Torah is done as part of the morning service three times during the week - Shabbat (Saturday), Monday, and Thursday -  and on holidays. The readings, which are divided into 54 portions called Parsha, proceed through the five books of Moses that constitute the entirety of the Torah . As described on the Chabad web page www.chabad.org: 'The Torah reading service begins when a member of the congregation is given the honor of opening the Ark and taking out the Torah, with much respect and ceremony. The Torah is then taken to the podium (Bimah). When it is necessary to read two or three different portions, two or three scrolls may be taken from the Ark...... As the Torah .... passes by, members kiss it as a sign of love and respect.'

Members of the congregation are called in a particular order to the Torah to recite a blessing before the rabbi reads several paragraphs. There are usually at least three people called to recite the blessings.  The first aliyah (literally meaning 'to go up') is performed by a person descendent from the ancient tribe of the Kohanim (priestly families who served in the time of the Temple), the second is performed by someone of the tribe of Levi, and the third by a member of the congregation whose lineage is untraceable or who is descended from any other tribe. Tradition prescribes that the person performing the aliyah should wear a tallit (prayer shawl). The rabbi points with a silver pointer called a yad to the word which begins that particular portion, the participant takes a corner of his shawl to touch that word and then kisses his shawl, and then recites the blessings.

As for the lineage, it is maintained by the hebrew naming convention which prescribes a name in three parts: the person's hebrew name followed by the hebrew word ben meaning 'son of', the name of the person's father, and finally the designation of lineage - either haKohane (meaning of the tribe of Kohane), haLevi, or nothing.

The Torah itself is made of pieces of parchment attached by sewing them together to make a long continuous scroll. The rituals for creating a Torah are very strict and controlled by more than 4,000 laws which a scribe (called a sofer) must know. There are 304,805 letters in the entire Torah and each one must be written in a certain manner to conform to what is considered to be the form of the letters and words as handed down by G-d to Moses on Mount Sinai. Comparisons have been made of modern Torah scrolls to those found to be thousands of years old, and they are identical in every respect. My portfolio website has images, which are part of an ongoing project, of Torah scribes writing and completing a scroll.

 A member of the congregation takes the scroll from the ark and walks amongst the congregants:



The rabbi points to a specific place in the writing to be touched with the Tallit before saying the blessings:




The rabbi reading from the scroll:



Holding the scroll before replacing it into the ark after the reading ceremony. Being made of parchment and wood spools, the Torah is very heavy, weighing upwards of thirty pounds.: