Hiddur Mitzvah: Beth El's Sephardic Torah
Hiddur Mitzvah is the Jewish concept of beautifying the commandment by appealing to the senses. Ornate ritual objects engage our feelings with their sounds, fragrances, tastes, textures, colors, and artistry. These aesthetically pleasing objects enhance our observation of Jewish practice and expand the enjoyment of religious acts. In this series, we will look at several ritual objects in Beth El’s collection that are lovely examples of Hiddur Mitzvah.
For our Shavuot edition of Hiddur Mitzvah, it’s only appropriate to talk about the Torah. Shavuot celebrates the Torah and its values, but the holiday is also an opportunity to appreciate the different types of Torah scrolls that represent the cultural diversity of the Jewish world.
Most everyone from our Beth El community can identify an Ashkenazi Torah scroll with its exquisite velvet coat and elegant silver ornaments. But not all Torah scrolls share these signature features. Today, we will look at the beautiful Sephardic Torah that is on display outside the Gorn Chapel - it’s quite different than the Torot you might recognize.
Beth El’s Sephardic Torah was presented to the synagogue in honor of the 50th wedding anniversary of Miriam and Reuben H. Levinson by their children in August 1965. The Torah features a magnificent floral design in hammered silver with a green velvet covering.
The first thing you might notice about our Sephardic Torah is its ornately decorated wooden case, a distinguishing feature of Torah scrolls from Middle Eastern communities (e.g., Yemen, Iraq, and Morocco). While we do not know the exact country, our Sephardic Torah’s wooden case and exceptionally clean script are tell-tale signs of its eastern origins.
While most Ashkenazic Torah scrolls are written in a Beit Yosef script, Torah scrolls from North Africa and Arab countries are written in a Vellish script. The distinctive Vellish style features bold and robust lettering - even the curves of individual letters are strong and yet soft.
But Beth El’s Sephardic Torah is not just for our aesthetic enjoyment. Traditionally, our congregation reads from this beautiful Sephardic scroll on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Whether from the Middle East or Eastern Europe, all Torah scrolls share the same sacred words that unite all Jews. Torah is the glue that binds our people together wherever they are across the globe.
Torah is the bedrock of the Jewish community; it galvanized our people into a nation at Mt. Sinai and continues to unite us to this day. Accordingly, Shavuot is a chance for all of us to take a moment from our hectic schedules and reflect on our tradition and Torah values.
Do unto others as you would have done unto you. Look into your heart and experience God’s Oneness.
The revelation of receiving the Torah was the seminal moment for the Jewish people. As such, tradition demands we all remember it as if our souls were physically present at that sublime instant when the glory of the heavens came to earth, and we were joined together as one people - the Oneness of a Torah of truth that binds us all.
Chag Shavuot Sameach! Moadim L’Simcha! We hope to see you at Shavuot services.
-Ben Kreshtool, Ritual Director
Shavuot service times at Beth El are as follows:
Saturday, May 19th
7:30 pm - Mincha
8:00 pm - “From Sinai to Social Justice: How Modern Jewish Social Entrepreneurs Embody Torah Values.”
9:00 pm - Dessert Nosh
9:30 pm - Ma’ariv
9:40 pm - Group Torah Study
Sunday, May 20th
10:00 am - Morning Services with Special Religious School Awards Presentation (See May Voice page 17 for award and recipient information)
12:00 pm - Brunch Kiddush & Ice Cream
6:00 pm - Evening Services
Monday, May 21st
10:00 am - Morning Services (Yizkor recited)
12:00 pm - Italian Kiddush with sundaes