Sifrei Torah, captive and mutilated

This eBay item makes me want to cry.

It’s advertising a “Torah Scroll 400 Years Old Approx 10.8 Feet Long” and you can see from the picture that something’s seriously, seriously wrong.

People have been selling pieces of sifrei Torah on eBay for years. They get old sifrei Torah, hack them into pieces, and sell the pieces to goodness-knows-who on eBay. (Not that this is anything new; Jews have been buying and selling talisman pieces of holy books for centuries. But just cos it’s an old custom doesn’t mean we have to respect it.) I used to cruise eBay with some regularity looking at them, but I don’t do that any more because it makes me too sad. Poor little lonely pieces of a Torah scroll being sold off as artwork or curios, ugh.

This one makes me even sadder, though. Not only are the poor pieces of Torah chopped up and being sold on eBay, they’ve been sewn to other pieces, arbitrarily and sideways, and attached to a (single) roller, to make it resemble, vaguely, a sefer Torah. Foreign writing on parchment and rolled up! That’s a Torah, right?

Imagine some hero of yours died. Let’s say my Queen died. It’d be really horribly distasteful if parts of her body were removed and sold on eBay for mementoes, wouldn’t it? And yet there are people in the world who would buy such a thing, and you know it.

Now imagine if several body parts were stitched together – say, a finger, a rib, six inches of skin from the calf, and a lock of hair – to make a Royal Queen Dolly Relic. Maybe attached to a lightbulb, so it’s a Royal Queen Dolly Relic Table Lamp. As a good Brit and decent human being, I find that mental exercise pretty freaking distressing on so many levels.

This business with the poor mutilated sefer Torah is something like that. It’s tacky and violent and it horrifies me and makes me sad. At least with the single sheets you can sort of hope it’s going to be bought by some well-meaning if ignorant, bookish, manuscript-loving Jew who will treat it like Torah — here, you can’t even hope that, because it’s no longer even sheets of Torah, it’s sheets of Torah sewn together into a Royal Queen Dolly Relic Table Lamp that ought to horrify any Jew who sees it.

It says that the seller is in Ramat Gan. Trading in body parts is probably illegal in Israel, but trading in mutilated Torah parts probably isn’t. There are legitimate reasons for buying and selling parts of sifrei Torah, after all.

Indeed, we are supposed to redeem captive sifrei Torah, to prevent ghastliness like this, but not if so doing would simply encourage the Torah pirate to keep going. Perhaps buying up all their stock would be a good thing because then the pieces could have a decent burial, but equally it might encourage them to mutilate more sifrei Torah in the hopes of more money, and if that’s so, we aren’t supposed to buy back the captive Torahs, we’re just supposed to be sad.

As Kohelet says, there is nothing new under the sun, and the only thing you can do is keep on living as best you can regardless, but please, people — don’t encourage this sort of thing. As you wouldn’t buy parts of human beings, don’t buy parts of sifrei Torah.

Filed under Crime, Judaica, Oddities

3 Responses to “Sifrei Torah, captive and mutilated”

  1. a) the script on this scroll is GORGEOUS!
    b) I’m not sure selling body parts and parts of the Torah are at all the same thing…
    c) according to the description at the end of the webpage:
    “MIX OF FRAGMENTS THAT COME TOGETHER IN A YEMEN SYNAGOGUE FOR RITUAL PURPOSES AND FOR TEACHING CHILDREN THE BIBLE WITH ANCIENT FRAGMENT, THIS STYLE OF WRITING WITH TINY TAGS ON LETTERS IS VERY RARE TO FIND AND THE WRITING IS MOST BEAUTIFUL.
    THIS SCROLL CONTAINS MANY SUBJECTS VERY IMPORTANT.”

    It seems from this description it was not the seller who cut up a Torah and randomly sewed it back together. I wonder if these were pasul klafim that the synagogue itself sewed up together to use for teaching… Then, selling it like this would not be a crime at all, but the preservation of a relic.


    Justin · October 3rd, 2010 at 10:58 pm
  2. It does look like the zoom in on Toldot is pasul – “Aleh tolr(?)ot yitzhak”


    Charles · October 4th, 2010 at 5:13 pm
  3. I’m VERY sure that selling body parts and parts of the Torah are not the same thing.


    rebster · October 4th, 2010 at 5:31 pm

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