Torah from Yemen housed in Special Collections

by Don Gantz, Head of Archives & Special Collections

The Ten Commandments, copied with special formatting, in the Torah donated to Regent

The Ten Commandments, copied with special formatting, in the Torah donated to Regent

Regent University recently received an 18th century Torah scroll from Ken and Barbara Larson, a couple whose mission is to gift Torah scrolls to academic institutions for study and inspiration.1

The Torah is the first five books of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures and is foundational to the faith of both. It is hand-written in Hebrew consonants by scribes observing traditions passed down for thousands of years. Dr. Scott Carroll, the scholar working with the Larsons, observed that the rules of the writing process have fixed the text of the Torah.

Our scroll has been dated at about 1750 and originated in Yemen. The history of the Jewish community in Yemen is long and fascinating and is still unfolding. Some forty thousand Yemenite Jews were airlifted to the newly formed nation of Israel in 1949, and just last month, Israel airlifted 19 of the remaining Jews out of the country. A Jewish man and Muslim airport worker have been arrested for helping to smuggle out a 500-year-old Torah.2

The Torah scroll donated by the Larsons consists of 50 calf skins that were made into parchment and sewn together. If unrolled entirely it would be 80 feet long. Most of the skins have five columns of text, but not all the skins are the same width. Some of the skins have holes and other minor defects outside the writing area. Some holes are covered with sewn patches. Some loose seams have been re-sewn by a conservator.

The text has about 860 noted corrections, most being corrections to the form of letters. Special formats of spacing in the text are evident which indicate important passages, such as the Ten Commandments, the song of Moses, and the priestly blessing. Each of the books ends exactly four lines short of the full 51 lines of the previous full columns, an amazing feat of scribal planning.

Now Regent faculty and students, especially those studying Biblical Hebrew, can study and read from a unique and inspiring primary source with a rich history.

The scroll is being stored in the Library Special Collections temperature and humidity controlled vault room. Persons desiring to see it should contact the Special Collections Supervisor, Donald Gantz (donagan@regent.edu) or Library Administration at 757-352-4185.

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1 Brett W. Tubbs, “Regent University Presented with Gift of 18th Century Torah,” Regent University News, March 17, 2016, http://www.regent.edu/news_events/?article_id=2177&view=full_article.

2 Adam E. Berkowitz, “Yemen Arrests Jew for Smuggling Ancient Torah to Israel,” Breaking Israel News, March 25, 2016, http://www.breakingisraelnews.com/64353/yemen-arrests-jew-for-smuggling-ancient-torah-to-israel-jewish-world/#9TWhrEZwVjcP40Mo.97.