Scribe repairs Easton synagogue’s holy scroll
EASTON — Fulfilling a sacred and literal obligation to keep its word, Temple B’nai Israel hired a worldrenowned scribe to repair its 90-year-old Torah scroll used in worship ever y week.
Rabbi Moshe Druin, a world-renowned scribe, or sofer, arrived May 8 to begin a three-day restoration project in the social hall of the synagogue in Easton.
The restoration project is a community celebration of sorts during Jewish American Heritage Month during the month of May, now in its 11th year.
The Torah is composed of the five books of Genesis through Deuteronomy, otherwise known as the law of Moses.
Rabbi Peter Hyman, the spiritual leader of the congregation, is himself a calligrapher and has taught the members to be prepared to have their sacred scroll restored every three to five years. “It’s the holiest object we have. It needs to be preserved,” Hyman said. “It’s not cheap.”
“Torah is the prized inheritance of the Jewish people,” Druin’s website, Soferonsite.com, states. “It moves, motivates, and unites us as a nation. For 3,000 years we have learned to live our lives through the teachings, guidance and message of Torah.”
The rabbi’s expertise as a sofer is steeped in Jewish tradition and law. His work is serious and exacting. Yet his exuberance is infectious as he weaves stories and teachings into the explanation of his work.
As Druin, who is based in North Miami Beach, Fla., checks for tears and defects in the parchment scroll, he draws analogies between the well-used Torah and human nature.
“Every letter has to be completely intact,” Druin said. “If one letter is missing, the scroll is not worth anything anymore. If it can’t be fixed, we have to bury it.
“The parchments are a monument; they are vehicles for something holy, just as the human body is the vessel for the soul,” Druin said. “My job is to make sure we don’t bury Torah.
“The Torah isn’t a book and the scribe doesn’t write letters,” Druin said. “When was the last time you picked up a newspaper or a novel and kissed it? We hug Torah, we kiss it and dance around the room with it. We love it.”
Druin first visually surveyed the cowhide parchment to get a general idea of the work to be done. His job is to repair tears, check the seams, clean the scroll and examine it to restore any letters that have popped off.
The Hebrew letters are inked on the “suede” side of the parchment, Hyman said. All materials must be kosher, even the animal gut used to stitch the sheets of parchment together, as well as the ink and feather quill that yield to Druin’s deft touch.
Since the parchment is animal skin, “it needs to breathe. The more it’s aired out, the healthier it is,” Druin said.
Most U.S. scrolls, about 80 to 90 percent, were written in Europe before World War II, Druin said. “They have a lot of residue from the past.” By the style and materials used, Druin could tell that the Temple B’nai Israel Torah was written in Poland.
The oldest scroll Druin has restored is a 750-yearold scroll in a Dallas, Texas synagogue.
Druin learned his craft by apprenticing himself to three other scribes. “You don’t go to school for this,” he said. It takes from three to five years to learn the skill as an apprentice sofer, as well as studying and becoming an expert in the 4,000 laws scribes must know.
One of Druin’s accomplishments is that he is the only sofer in the world to have apprenticed his own father to become a scribe.
“I happen to be an artist by nature,” drawing cartoons as a boy, Druin said. He used to doodle Hebrew letters, too. “I fell in love with the shapes of Hebrew letters,” he said.
Druin said the letters have to be engraved in the mind, but even with years of preparation and practice, “It was very scary to pick up a feather for the first time,” he said. “It’s not just art work, it’s holy work.
“It is a law (for a sofer) not to make mistakes,” Druin said. “That’s why we are trained to become perfect. Even to write God’s name, I cannot ever make a mistake.”
Scribes write four types of documents, including the Torah scroll. They learn first to write the megillah, or the Book of Esther again and again, since it is the only sacred book that does not contain God’s name.
Gene Palmatary, left, and Phyllis Hofmann, one of the coordinators of the Methodist Women’s plant sale to benefit their scholarship fund.
Professional scribe Rabbi Moshe Druin and Rabbi Peter Hyman pose with the sacred Torah scroll Druin is restoring for the congregation of Temple B’nai Israel in Easton.
Bailey George, left, and brother Bentley, hiding behind his camouflage hat, at the plant sale and luncheon at Centreville United Methodist.
Rabbi Moshe Druin uses traditional methods and kosher materials, including a feather quill and inkwell, to restore sacred parchment scrolls.