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South China Morning Post

Monday, November 23, 2009

Scribe Writes New Chapter in City’s Jewish History 

Ambrose Leung 


The city’s Jewish community will soon get a new Sefer Torah, and this time the handwritten scroll of the most sacred scripture in Judaism is being made in Hong Kong.


Organizers of the unprecedented project, being conducted by the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong, say their latest creation will mark a new phase in the community’s 160-year history in the city.


“This is an investment in our future,” said Rabbi Stanton Zamek, who heads the congregation of 200 Jewish families. “The writing of a new Sefer Torah is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the congregation.”

Proud of its traditions, the city's 2,500-strong Jewish community is better known for the outstanding business success many of its members have achieved since their first arrival when the city became a British colony in 1842.


Zamek's congregation, which was formed 20 years ago for progressive and liberal Jews to gather and worship, has declared a year of the Torah during which all members can participate in fulfilling their religious duty, as tradition requires each Jew to write or assist in the creation of a Torah once in his or her lifetime.


The neighbouring Ohel-Leah Synagogue, the main place of worship for Orthodox Jews in the city, has several Torah scrolls with some historic artifacts reputed to be from the ancient community of Kaifeng Jews on the mainland, but the two scrolls Zamek’s congregation possesses were either donated or purchased in the 1990s.


“Our new Torah scroll will become part of Hong Kong’s story” 

Rabbi Stanton Zamek 


While Zamek did not know whether any new Torah scrolls had ever been produced in Hong Kong by a congregation or by individuals, “it certainly is a very rare occasion for the city. Our new Torah scroll will become part of Hong Kong’s story."


The launch of the project earlier this month saw the drafting in of a renowned Jewish scribe, Jamie Shear, from Jerusalem, who has started working on the calf-hide parchments that will eventually be filled with 304,805 Hebrew letters. The process, which involves deep concentration by the scribe, who has to adhere to strict religious rules during the work, will take months.


During his week-long stay, scores of children and adults placed their hands on Shear's arm as he wrote with his quill - an act deemed to fulfill the commandment that requires each Jew to write their own Torah.


But how does the scribe feel about the fact that when he completes it in autumn next year, the new scroll will stay in Hong Kong? “The obligation for a scribe to write his own Torah will start again once he has sold the one he has completed," he said. “But really, I like doing what l do so I don’t think I will write one for myself yet."

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