• Gabbai

New Torah dedication

Speech given by Rabbi Yitzchak Mizrahi during the ceremony dedicating the Martin Chait Torah on 4 December 2016.

With the dedication of a new Torah scroll a new chapter has been written into the history book of the Wellington Jewish community. The Jewish community in Wellington is blessed to have numerous scrolls under its guardianship. What these scrolls all have in common is their age of well over a century. A few scrolls have been maintained for use during services but most of the scrolls are in disrepair, some of them beyond repair, although they all are equally precious to the community.

Each and every scroll has a story behind it. Each scroll was brought under particular circumstances, some were transported to this country by European Jews making their way to freedom and new opportunities, who painstakingly transported a scroll with them on their trek from overseas. In some cases great sacrifices were made, with precious personal possessions left behind so that a Torah scroll could be included in their meagre luggage. These sacrifices were definitive in forming the backbone for the religious vitality of the Wellington Jewish community. While it is has been home to as many as 20 Torah scrolls, in its 173 year life the congregation has never been privileged to acquire a new scroll, much less one written, from the very first letter, expressly for this congregation.

We have a tradition of 613 commandments in the Torah. The very last commandment, #613, is to write a Torah scroll. Rabbenu Asher, one of the great Torah scholars of the 13th century who served the community of Toledo, Spain, explains that the main intent of the commandment is to enable the study of Torah. Before the printing press was invented the primary text was the scroll itself. Today we use the scroll almost exclusively for reading during prayer services. We typically don’t open a scroll for any other purpose. One of the very few legal justifications for selling a Torah scroll, therefore, is to enable the study of Torah. In that vein Rabbenu Asher rules that one can fulfil this commandment of writing a Torah by acquiring (or writing) books of Torah literature.

Rabbenu Asher also rules that one who writes a single letter in the scroll fulfils the requirement of writing a scroll. This is because if a single letter is missing in a scroll the entire scroll is invalid. Each and every letter has the potential to render a scroll valid by completing it, rendering it a kosher scroll. This new scroll was underwritten by contributions from hundreds of people, both within the Wellington community and outside of it. Every contribution went toward the purchase of materials for the scroll as well as the inscription of its letters. The completed scroll is the fruit of this joined effort and all involved are part of this investment.