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The History of our Torah Scrolls

Our Older Scroll
We acquired our first Torah scroll in the late 1990s from an army base that was closing. While we do not know a great deal about the scroll itself, we believe it was written in the 1800s. When Shaarei Shamayim purchased the Torah, the community held a siyyum and finished writing the last letters of it together. Over the years it became dusty and in need of repairs. Shaarei Shamayim brought in a sofer (male scribe) to repair the Torah, and while here he showed us how to wipe the dust off the pages. We joined together, adults and children, to go through each page of the Torah over several weeks.

Our Newer Scroll
Shaarei Shamayim received a grant from the Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Foundation in April, 2011 to purchase a second Torah scroll. A committee of members researched various options and learned that a soferet (female scribe) was available to write our scroll. The community was excited to hire Rabbi Yonah Lavery-Yisraeli, who, in addition to being a soferet, is an artist who had received Orthodox smichah (rabbinical ordination). Women scribes and Orthodox women rabbis are rare, and when Rabbi Lavery-Yisraeli wrote our scroll, only a dozen Torahs had been written by female scribes. She was particularly well-suited for our congregation because of her interest in feminist and queer theory, pluralism, and Jewish ethics. 

In September, 2012 Shaarei Shamayim signed a contract with Rabbi Lavery-Yisraeli. She began working on our Torah soon after, and by April 2013 she had completed the first book of the Torah. During the period of time that she wrote our Torah she gave birth to a baby -- we believe we are the first congregation in history to write a contract for a Torah with a provision for maternity leave!

Rabbi Lavery-Yisraeli completed our Torah in May, 2015 and we held a siyyum in June, which coincided with our 25th anniversary. Many members of the larger Jewish community joined our members at our community's celebration.

Rabbi Lavery-Yisraeli was born in Northern Ireland and lived in Canada, Jerusalem and Sweden. She wrote our Torah while living in Sweden, and she now lives with her family in Hamilton, Ontario. Rabbi Lavery-Yisraeli began studying Talmud and the laws of sofrut (scribery) several years ago. In addition, she has been creating Talmud Comics for several years. Rabbi Lavery-Yisraeli has repaired Torah scrolls and written mezuzot and ketubot. Our scroll was the first Torah she had written. Rabbi Lavery-Yisraeli writes in a lettering typical of the Darda'im, a subset of Yemenite Jews. The picture below is from the Torah she wrote for us.

Read Rabbi Lavery-Yisraeli's blog:

Donate to our Torah fund which supports the repair of both scrolls and related ritual objects.

Read more about our Torah:

Wisconsin State Journal: In a global rarity, Jewish congregation in Madison to own Torah scroll written by a woman

Madison Jewish News: Commissioning a Torah: The Back Story of Working with a Female Torah Scribe

Fri, May 17 2024 9 Iyyar 5784