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Subject: Parchment


From: Jack C. Thompson <tcl>
Date: Sunday, October 4, 1998
Rebecca A. Rushfield <wittert [at] juno__com> writes

>In his reply to Ilias Kastritis, Mr. Thompson used as an
>illustration of the dangers of having untrained people treat
>valuable objects, the example given by Zoe Ginni of a retired Indian
>engineer who went to the Ukraine to teach the local Jewish
>population how to restore damaged Torah scrolls. Mr. Thompson stated
>that "apparently (he) learned what he felt was needful during the 8
>years following his retirement". I have several thoughts on Mr.
>Thompson's remarks. If that engineer spent eight full years studying
>the restoration of parchment scrolls, he would have spent twice as
>long as the average graduate student of conservation does.  Do we
>know that the engineer was just dabbling? Perhaps he was studying
>with a master? That aside, because Torah scrolls are sacred objects,
>they must be treated in a certain way by certain people or they
>become invalid for use.  Therefore the "rules of conservation" do
>not apply and Mr. Thompson might well choose a different horror
>story to illustrate his point. Many of the treatments used by
>conservators for parchment will do just that.

In the first place, I did not reply to Ilias Kastritis, but to Zoe
Ginni, who used Ilias Kastritis' email connection to communicate
with us.  Perhaps Walter included the opening line to my response; I
do not recall doing so. That was Rebecca's first mistake; second,
Zoe Ginni did not present the example of the Vivian Solomon.  I did.

In this business, details are important.

    **** Moderator's comments: The From: line in the original
    message should have read Zoe Ginnie, not Ilias Kastritis. With
    people sharing accounts, these things happen sometimes. should
    have had a line indicated that the message was posted on behalf
    of Zoe Ginni.

The example was not inappropriate (in my humble opinion).  Engineer
Solomon, whatever his attainments, is training/has trained men and
women in the fundamentals of Jewish language and culture, and also
how to repair/restore Torah.  Judaism exists in many shades of
interpretation; Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and other religions
also exist in more than one degree of interpretation.

Engineer Solomon was passing his knowledge on to a Reform
congregation.  An Orthodox congregation might not be so willing to
allow women to touch, much less learn to repair Torah.

So, the issue is not how informed and capable Solomon may be; the
issue here, and it is central to my point, is that he was teaching
techniques of conservation of a holy artifact to people who were at
the same time learning the language and culture of a people for whom
Torah is as important as the air which gives life, and to which they
were being introduced.  In this regard, the students are/were no
different from students in a conservation program (who do *not*
spend 4 years learning how to restore "a" class of artifact; at
best, they spend weeks with classes of artifact, and learn, if they
are attentive, to plug data into an evolving knowledge of a range of
material which have been used to create artifacts.

So.  If a Jew, of whatever persuasion within the broad context of
Judaism, restores a Torah with PVA and Scotch tape(tm), is that
better/holier than a repair appropriate to the material being
restored, but done by a conservator who may not be a Jew?

I mention PVA/Scotch tape(tm) because it happened to me.  I declined
to restore a Torah scroll; it was restored by an Orthodox sofer
(Jewish scribe), who used those materials.  I am writing an article
about this for Leather Conservation News and will leave my current
thinking and conclusion about this matter for the article.  But what
a couple of Rabbi's have told me may surprise some people.

The impatient amongst you can write to Paul Storch and subscribe to
LCN; the patient ones can wait for it to appear in the archives
here.  Walter willing....

The article which I mentioned reads as follows:

    "Ukranian Jews learn art of repairing Torahs" by Lev Krichevsky.

    MOSCOW, April 23 (JTA) - The problem, how to repair Torah
    scrolls damaged by decades of neglect.

    The solution, training young Ukrainian Jews in the centuries-old

    The scrolls were confiscated by the Communist authorities during
    the soviet era.  Now that they are being returned to the Jewish
    community, there is a shortage of people who know how to repair

    Earlier this month, Vivian Solomon, a Torah scribe and repairman
    from London, came to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev to teach
    classes at the Institute for Modern Jewish Studies.

    The institute, opened two years ago under the auspices of the
    World Union for Progressive Judaism, is training 10 young Jews
    from Ukraine's Reform congregations the basics of Hebrew
    literacy and Jewish ritual - including the restoration of Torah

    The young men and women will then return to their hometowns to
    share their newly gained knowledge with their communities.

    Solomon, a 75-year old man of Indian descent, learned to repair
    Torahs eight years ago after retiring from his career as an

    "I love imparting knowledge," he said.  "I've gained so much in
    the last eight years.  When I die, it dies with me.  I want to
    impart that to others before I go."

    Solomon has had to start from scratch.

    "Most of these students had never seen a Torah before they came
    here," said rabbi David Wilfond, leader of the Hatikva Reform
    Jewish congregation in Kiev.

    (C) Jewish Telegraph Agency, Inc.  without permission.

Jack C. Thompson
Thompson Conservation Lab.
7549 N. Fenwick
Portland, OR  97217
503-735-3942  (voice/fax)

                  Conservation DistList Instance 12:35
                 Distributed: Thursday, October 8, 1998
                       Message Id: cdl-12-35-004
Received on Sunday, 4 October, 1998

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