A Christian organization is taking a new look at the ancient Torah scroll, going on tour with an antique, history-rich scroll to American campuses and churches across the country in order to allow Christians to interact with the word of God as it has been preserved since Biblical times.
Though the Bible is central to the two Abrahamic religions, it is expressed in vastly different ways: for Jews, the Bible means the Torah, written in Hebrew on parchment, while for Christians, it exists in virtually thousands of different languages, versions, and interpretations. As Christians gaze at the most holy object in Judaism, the object that represents the words written by the finger of God, Jews are left wondering what it is the Christians see.
The tour, organized by Ratio Christi, lands in Alabama on September 1, when a 300-year-old Torah scroll will be on display at the University of Mobile, a Christian liberal arts and sciences college affiliated with the Alabama Baptist State Convention. Visitors may touch the historic artifact at the free exhibit and see its finer details using a magnifying glass.
The 93-foot-long parchment scroll was written around 1750 in the style used by Ashkenazi (Eastern European) scribes. It was in Germany on the night of Kristallnacht, when 7,500 Jewish businesses were looted and destroyed, 267 synagogues torched, and up to 1,000 Torah scrolls burned. It is unknown how the scroll survived that night or the next seven years of the war.
Ratio Christi is an organization encouraging and strengthening the faith of Christian students at universities around the world all across America. Donated by an unnamed benefactor in February after it was retired from use, the Torah scroll has been displayed at approximately two dozen campuses and three dozen churches so far.
Michael Bossman, Ratio Christi’s Vice President of Campus Operations, explained to Breaking Israel News that the scroll is an important tool for Christian education.
“This scroll is being used as a tool on campuses and at churches to discuss historical apologetics, which can tend to be a dry subject,” Bossman explained. “We use it to enter into dialogue with people of all faiths or no faith at all, to discuss why it is that both secular and non-secular historians would universally agree that the Bible is the most accurately transmitted book in all antiquity, without exception, giving a strong reason for faith in the God of the Bible.”
Reactions from Jewish groups to the use of a Torah scroll for display for Christian education has been generally positive. Bossman described one such interaction.
“The first time we showed the scroll was at the University of South Florida. The leader of the Hillel group on campus came to see the display and was thrilled to find that Ratio Christi has a new chapter forming on their campus. He loved the presentation of the scroll and how we show the common development of the roots of Christianity and Judaism.”
Ratio Christi recognizes the status of a Torah scroll as the most sacred object in Judaism, adhering to the special requirements of handling the scroll with reverence and respect. This particular scroll is not kosher, meaning it does not meet the exacting standards which qualify a scroll for use in a synagogue or ritual Torah reading. Its status enables viewers to get up close and personal with the Torah.
The display offers Christians a rare opportunity to closely view the scroll, a common experience for most Jews, but one that can have a powerful impact on those unfamiliar with the Torah.
“In every single showing of the scroll, I have had people tell me that they are overwhelmed emotionally to be able to touch this scroll,” said Bossman. “They often will say, ‘I have goose bumps on my arms right now’, and in many cases they will have tears in their eyes.
“It’s hard to describe the emotional impact this scroll has on Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and believe it or not, even atheists. I have had many discussions with people who do not believe God exists, but will sit there for three to five minutes listening to me explain why historians universally have these responses to the Bible, and the significance of the Bible’s impact on world events.”
David Nekrutman, the Executive Director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, explained that the actual process for the writing of a scroll, requiring a scribe, specific materials, and a proper model to copy from, ensures that the text has remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years.
“We have a commandment to do a public reading from a kosher scroll. There is no parallel mandate in Christianity. In the past, in the Catholic Church, most people didn’t read the Bible. They heard it in translation and interpreted by the priest,” Nekrutman explained to Breaking Israel News.
“Christians today are very concerned with what the Bible says, and go to great effort to retain authenticity, but they don’t have our concept of the physicality of the Bible being holy.”
Regardless of the differences in how Jews and Christians view the Torah scroll, it’s clear to both that it is a holy object on which the text sacred to both religions has been transmitted, letter for letter, through thousands of years. The growing opportunities for Christians to interact with the Torah could yield a greater and deeper appreciation for how the Jewish people have preserved the word of God.