Torah Scroll: Ecclesiastes
This is an extraordinary Ecclesiastes scroll from Poland dating between 1750 and 1800. Individual Ecclesiastes scrolls are extremely rare. This scroll also provides a vivid testimony of the Nazi horrors in Poland. The top of the scroll was cut, doubtless during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Had the scroll been cut by Jews, it would have been done with great care and mended. Furthermore, the Jews would never think of using the scrolls for any other use. It would be absolutely inconceivable. The desecration was an intentional act of malicious hatred and violence. It is well-known that scrolls were commonly cut-up and used for secondary purposes. While heart-wrenching examples of the secondary use of scrolls are known, surviving scrolls that had been partially cut up are extremely rare.
The very things that might lead someone to think that this scroll lacks value in actuality increase its value immensely. This scroll provides first-hand evidence for the resilience of Judaism and the indestructible nature of the Word. It is also noteworthy that the text on this rare scroll is that of Ecclesiastes. It was read in Ashkenazi synagogues like in Poland on the Sabbath during Sukkoth or the Feast of Tabernacles in the late fall. It was a time to reflect on death, the simple things provided by God and his eternal plan. The message of Ecclesiastes, the vanity of life is poignantly apropos for the moving story this scroll preserves.
Lines/Column: 48 lines, with only traces of the top line surviving. The top has been crudely cut away for a secondary domestic use of the leather—clearly done by someone with great antipathy for the Jews at a time of access—very likely during the Nazi occupations of Poland. A swath 2 5/8 inches (or 7cm) wide has been cut with a jagged line across the entire top of the scroll.
Text: Complete Book of Ecclesiastes
Condition: Some cracked and erased letters; crudely cut across the entire length of the top which is only explicable if done by the Nazis. The scroll is soiled and has been folded and creased, again something that would never have happen in Jewish hands. Considering the age and the historical exigencies the scroll is in absolutely remarkable condition.
Rollers: N/A although while Ecclesiastes is almost always bound with other scrolls this scroll was special and only contained Ecclesiastes. Three separate pin holes and traces of thread survive on each end where the scroll was tied around rollers (it is lacking a fourth hole on each end along the top where the scroll was cut).
Mantel or Whipple: N/A
Dealer Inventory Number: 0099-4999—a sticker with the Israeli dealer’s inventory number is on the upper backside of the first sheet on the outer edge.
Script Description: Medium-sized Vallish Ashkenazi (Bet Yosef) script written throughout by the same sofer. The ink is dark brown.
Magna Letters: Yes, opening sections according to tradition.
Kabbalistic Aspects: No
Tagin: On the letters שעטנז ג“ץ and on the letters בדק חי“ה . Flourished tagin along the tops of the first lines.
Further Characteristics: Chet of R.Tam. Traditions relating to the setting of open and closed passages: Petuchot and setumot according to Rambam and Rosh.
Textual Corrections: A few minor erasures but very carefully composed. Colophons, Stamps and Marks: No colophons or stamps. Koholeth, which is Hebrew for the name of this book, commonly called Ecclesiastes, is written in pen on backside of the upper margin of the first sheet. Provenance and Date: Poland ca. 1750 to 1800
Based on the paleographic, codicological and textual evidence this scroll was composed between 1750 and 1800 in Poland by the same scribe. Book of Ecclesiastes, hand-written on parchment, are very rare. Commonly, the so-called Five Scrolls or Five Megillot contain portions of the Ketuvim (or Writings) which comprises the third major section of the Tanakh (or Hebrew Bible). The Five Scrolls are the Song of Songs, the Book of Ruth, the Book of Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and the Book of Esther. Typically, only the book of Ester is written apart from the other 4 for liturgical reasons surrounding the activities of the Feast of Purim. The famous rabbi from Vilna Lithuania (an intellectual center for Ashkenazi Judaism devasted by the Nazis), Eliyahu Ben Shelomoh Zalman (the Gaon or Teacher of Vilna) introduced the idea of writing the Megillot or scrolls on individual scrolls in the late 18c. Ecclesiastes is read during Sukkoth or the so-called Feast of Tabernacles. Sukkoth is a week-long festival in harvest season. The focus is on death, a return to the simple things of life and utter dependence on God and is eternal plans. Ecclesiastes is read on the Sabbath. The book’s emphasis is on the ephemeral nature of the things of the world. In the face of Nazi horrors, this scroll is a startling testimony to its message—that life is short and meaningless without God and his future plans are all that matter.
The scroll certainly survived the horrors of the Nazi invasion of Poland and the subsequent atrocities against the Jews there. The scroll was intentionally desecrated, without doubt by the Nazis. A swath was crudely cut across the top line of each column. The leather swath was intended for a secondary use. While it is not uncommon to find remnants of scrolls used for secondary purposes it is extremely unusual to find scrolls still somewhat in tacked that had been cut up. This scroll is extremely significant not only for the text preserved but also because it provides a vivid testimony to the atrocities of the Nazi invasion of Poland, yet, nevertheless, survived. This extremely rare scroll, composed in Poland survived the most terrible times in Jewish history. It is a striking and rare testimony to the faith and resilience of those who loved and preserved this sacred relic.