Monday, October 19, 2009

Contemporary Jewish Museum: As It Is Written: Project 304,805

As It Is Written: Project 304,805

“In (a) beginning filled God the heavens and the earth.”

These are the beginning lines of the Torah, written in a script over 3000 years old that is still used today. The Torah is the foundational document of the Jewish people, integrating the formative history of Jews with laws that define their fundamental values. The Torah scroll, known as a Sefer Torah, is a handwritten copy of the Torah, or the Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). There are many rules and requirements for writing a Sefer Torah, and for how it is used and stored. A Sefer Torah is kept in a Holy Ark in a synagogue and is used in the ritual of Torah reading during weekly services. The text of the Torah is also printed in book form and is known as the Chumash. While the content has tremendous importance also in Christianity and Islam, the Torah scroll is a uniquely Jewish construction at the core of Jewish identity. While other religions adapted their religious texts into book form, Jews held fast to the scroll as a ritual object.

At the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Julie Seltzer, a professional scribe (soferet), will be writing the entire text. Using traditional materials like parchment, ink, a hand-sharpened feather quill, she will write out – in public- the Torah. One year, 62 sheets, 248 columns, 10,416 lines, and finally 304,805 letters later, it  will be written. Thirty-four-year-old Julie Seltzer has gone through an extensive training process to become a soferet. Becoming a professional scribe was the outcome of an enduring curiosity about Judaism and a passion for the Hebrew language after a stay on an agricultural development, or kibbutz, in Israel. “I was so intrigued by Hebrew letters and their mystical meaning,” she says. “I just started teaching myself from the Internet – sites that explained letter formation and how to hold a calligraphy pen - and then I finally found teachers.”

As she works within the gallery, she will actively engage in dialogue during a scheduled time each day, answer questions, and share the mysteries and tools of her trade. In this groundbreaking, living exhibition, the Museum will be the first public institution to reveal this traditionally private process unchanged by time for thousands of years. To be a woman and a scribe is one break with tradition; to do this in public is another break with ancient tradition. The exhibit contains a display of the Torah as a historical artifact, religious book and contemporary artistic inspiration.

“People are really curious about my profession,” she says. “They always have a lot of questions so the educational aspect of this is really interesting to me. It’s such an extraordinary opportunity to share this with people.”

In conjunction with the exhibition, visitors will have the opportunity to learn more about the scribal process and participate in a lively dialogue with Julie Seltzer, our soferet in residence. Julie will be engaging in 15 minutes conversations twice a day as follows:

Monday, Tuesday, and Sunday: 12:30 PM and 3:00 PM
Friday: 12:30 PM
Thursday: 2:30 PM and 5:45 PM
Origins of the Torah:

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