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Ancient tradition: Torah commissioned for Chabad’s planned expansion

Attendees at March 26 event will learn how book is put together

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    Professor Stephen L. Goldman is spending upward of $40,000 to sponsor a March 26 event in which people from Chabad House on King Road in Sylvania will begin the process of creating their own community torah.

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    The Torah

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    The Torah

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A rare opportunity for northwest Ohio’s Jewish community to participate in the writing of a torah is set for March 26 at Chabad House of Greater Toledo, 2728 King Rd., in Sylvania Township.

From noon to 2 p.m. that day, attendees will learn how a torah is put together and can have a letter written into the scroll by an expert scribe for as little as a $1 donation.

While there is no charge to attend the event, cost for a buffet lunch being offered is $5 per person if ordered before March 20, and $10 per person after that. RSVP online at chabadtoledo.com/torah or call 419-843-9393.

The $40,000 project has been paid in advance by Stephen L. Goldman, a University of Toledo professor emeritus of biology and medicinal biochemistry who at one time was director of UT’s Lake Erie research and Stranahan Arboretum.

Mr. Goldman taught and held various administrative positions at UT from 1971 to 2010, mostly in environmental sciences. He has commissioned an authentic writing of the torah on parchment.

He said he is having the torah done as a gift to the community center.

Donations will go to Chabad House, Mr. Goldman said.

The new torah — to be painstakingly written by hand in the tradition of other torahs — is commissioned for Chabad House’s planned expansion. Sylvania Township’s zoning board of appeals recently approved a request for a 9,758-square-foot community center that will provide twice the space of the existing facility, which is to be demolished.

The next Chabad House will include space for Shabbat services and prayer. Being an orthodox institution, there will be a divider so men and women can sit separately. There also will be a special immersion pool, or mikvah, as well as space for holiday celebrations during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and for two-week-long religious camps held during the winter and summer.

The Chabad House describes itself on its website as “the nerve center of educational, communal, and outreach activities serving the needs of the entire Jewish community, from youngsters to the elderly, and everyone in-between.”

In an interview with The Blade inside his downtown Toledo town house, in a study where he surrounds himself with his desktop computer and stacks of classical music on compact discs, Mr. Goldman said he is offering the opportunity because the 613th mitzvah of the torah states it is the obligation of every Jew to write a torah scroll.

“Institutions usually do it,” Mr. Goldman said. “In this case, it’s an individual. It’s my gift to the community.”

Rabbi Yossi Shemtov of Chabad House said followers of the Jewish faith can fulfill their requirement by participating in the creation of a torah with as few as one letter, because no torah is complete without all of its letters.

“If you write one letter in a torah, it is also counted as if you have written a whole torah,” Rabbi Shemtov said. “It’s a big fulfillment of a wish for many people.”

He said torahs have more than 300,000 letters. 

Once the local inscriptions are made at the March 26 event, the scroll will be sent to Israel, where scribes will fill in most of the other letters over the next seven to 10 months. Then, there will likely be another local inscription event to complete the project, Rabbi Shemtov said.

The plan is to have the torah done in about a year so it is ready when the new community center opens. It will be housed there, Mr. Goldman said.

According to Jewish tradition, the entire torah — also known as the “Law of Moses” — was given by Moses on Mount Sinai, not just the Ten Commandments.

Moses — considered by Jews to be God’s servant — is believed to have ascended the mountain to hear from God and receive the torah on behalf of Jewish people as they were gathered at the base.

“For me, the torah is a civilizing document that teaches people how to behave,” Mr. Goldman said.

The torah is the document, he said, that sets boundaries and “teaches us what to do.”

“It teaches us [appropriate behavior] is not voluntary,” Mr. Goldman said. “It’s a commandment.”

The torah “is about standards that transcend time,” he added.

Now a 75-year-old survivor of lung and bone cancer, Mr. Goldman said he has been blessed with a good life.

He said he wanted donations to start at $1 to make the project affordable to as many people as possible.

Mr. Goldman said he is dedicating the upcoming torah in honor of Lubavitcher Rebbe — Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh leader in the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty, who died in 1994 and is considered by many to be one of the most influential Jewish personalities of modern times.

He also said he is dedicating the project to the memory of his parents, Jonah and Evelyn Goldman, and his grandparents, Nathan and Yetta Gillman, and Joseph and Rachel Goldman.

Rabbi Shemtov called the project a “great expression of unity” made possible by Mr. Goldman’s generosity.

Inclusion of many people is important to reinforce the belief that “each one of us are indispensable to our community, indispensable to our people.”

“It’s a great reason for celebration,” Rabbi Shemtov said. “We want everyone to be part of it.”

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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