The Howard B. Singer Collection of Judaica consists of more than 100 items, most of them Torah scroll fragments ranging from 1200 A.D. to the present. The Singer gift includes more than 70 Torah fragments—some nearly 800 years old. The fragments were written by scribes from all over the world, though the primary focus is Europe and the Holy Land and adjacent countries that were early sites of emigration (Tunisia, Algeria, Iran, Germany, Poland, and Spain, among others). The scrolls have been written in early Hebrew on a variety of animal skins (deer, calf, sheep, and goat) in exquisite calligraphy, with several of the fragments preserved on their original wooden rollers.
A highlight of the collection is a 40-foot long scroll (image below) that includes the complete Book of Genesis and the first eight chapters of Exodus. It is rolled around an ornate, hand-carved wood and ivory-tipped shaft with one end identifying in Hebrew the Synagogue to which it was dedicated. Written entirely by one sofer (scribe) in Ashkenazi script, the fragment displays extraordinary character adornments demonstrating the great skill of the scribe. In addition to the beautiful lettering, 27 unique adorned tags highlight the scroll throughout. The lettering adornments and decorations are indicative of the Kabbalistic mysticism of Ashkenazi Judaism. Another highlight is a fragment from Exodus that is nearly 10 feet long with 22 complete columns of text wrapped around a hand-carved wooden roller. The script has ancient phonetic and grammatical features of Yemenite Hebrew.
The Torah (Hebrew for ‘teaching’ or ‘instruction’) is the oldest section of the Hebrew Bible, containing the Five Books of Moses. The Torah Scroll (sefer torah) is a handwritten copy of the Torah used exclusively in Jewish ritual and prayer. Each scroll is a remarkable witness to the care and attention of the Jewish scribal tradition tasked with the careful transmission of these ancient Hebrew texts. The act of faithfully copying core texts in a form as close as possible to the original is a central tradition in Judaism.
The Howard B. Singer Collection of Judaica includes 16 maps showing primarily the Middle East during the last 600 years. There are also 8 books plus steel engravings, mostly from the Victorian Era, to enhance the subject. This collection of rare Jewish artifacts is of great significance that will enrich the Library’s Special Collections and hopefully encourage students’ appreciation of our indebtedness to the past.