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YA Eco Mysteries, Memoirs, Novels & Travel

How to Handle a Torah

When a Torah Tumbles to the Ground

I came across this article in the
Jewish Daily Forward, “When Torah’s Tumble to the Floor, What’s a Shul to Do?”  It immediately triggered a connection to a similar incident in which Leah Rosen, a tragic character in my historical novel, causes the Torah to drop to the floor:

“Leah shoved her way through the throng, unaware of heavy heels crushing her toes or sharp elbows jabbing into her ribs. When she reached her father, she tried to seize the Torah from him. With a strangled exclamation Hershel twisted sharply away from her outstretched hands, lost his grip on the Torah, and fell to his knees.”

The Nine Inheritors: The Extraordinary Odyssey of a Family and Their Ancient Torah Scroll. 

Montevideo
Ashkenazi and Sephardic Torahs in a Shul in Montevideo, Uruguay


This is not the first time that what I imagined has come alive in real life. Indeed life imitates art and art imitates life.

The dropping of a Torah is not trivial. Judaism considers the Torah God’s greatest gift to the Jewish people, therefore it is the congregations’ duty to safeguard the scroll with the utmost care. After researching the answer to what to do when a Torah tumbles to the ground, I found that the rabbis agree that the congregation should fast and give to charity. But does that mean just those involved and the witnesses, or the whole congregation? How long should they fast and how much charity should be given? In addition, I needed to address two more questions: Why did Leah, a teenage girl in late nineteenth century Lithuania, even dare to touch the Torah when it is forbidden to Orthodox women? What would consequences would result from her action? Would she be punished and shunned by the community?
The answers to these questions may seem trivial to some, but religious taboos do affect the lives of the faithful and even the lives of others living in their community. History is rife with violence and bloodshed caused by the breaking of religious taboos. In the Nine Inheritors, Samuel Rosen, the eighth inheritor of the family Torah, says:

“In Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Baghdad, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, fanatic priests, tribal mullahs, and messianic rabbis will continue to incite suspicion and hatred, provoking others to kill in the name of their god and their creed.”

Melinda Vascon [Samuel’s fiancee] replies “ . . . religious tolerance is the conscious decision to live in peace with others, to cease persecuting others even when they believe that their religion is the one and only Truth, in the same way you believe yours to be.”


When Samuel and Melinda are later become victims of a terrorist attack on a shopping mall in Israel, one of them dies and the other has to come to terms with what has happened—in his own remarkable way.

Claire Montevideo
Claire Holding a Sephardic Torah


Other Links to Explore:

Contemporary Holocaust Fiction

I have just read
Echo Year by Casper Silk and The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark, just two of the many contemporary novels that explore the tragic consequences of religious intolerance. 

When Torahs Tumble To the Floor, What’s a Shul To Do?

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