A Report on the History and Condition of the SIFREI TORAH
compiled by Rev. B. Susser, B.A.
(N.B. The numbers are arbitrary numbers which I have used to desinate the SEFORIM and have no chronological or other significance)
1. Is torn into two parts and has three or four extensive tears. It has been re-written extensively by an amateurish hand. The KESAV is faded and I much doubt if this is worth restoring. There are no distinguishing marks. The Sefer is not written Vovei Amudin. Beyond Repair.
2. The bottom roller of right-hand ETZ HAYYIM is missing. It has been repaired and several new sheets inserted. The writing on the new sheets is faded and would have to be re-written. A SHEALAT HAHAM would have to be asked about the writing generally. It has small tears, and in one place about nine lines are missing. I believe it to be beyond repair.
3. The ETZ HAYYIM roller is missing, bottom and top on right-hand and top on lefthand. The KESAV is quite good and the Sefer could be put in order, I should think for about £50-75. The initial 'K' is inscribed on the back of the parchment at the beginning. It has been affected by damp and at least one new sheet of parchent is needed
4. Has been re-written in parts, the original writing is very faded and a SHEALAT HAHAM would be necessary. I believe that in any case it is beyond repair. It has no distinguishing remarks. Its MEIL was presented in 1930 by Mr. and Mrs. B. Cohen.
5. The parchment of this has perished, is beautifully written, beyond repair. In its time, a most handsome SEFER. It has metal rings on the tops and bottom of the ETZ HAYYIM. The metal looks not unlike that used in the eight Candlesticks in the Plymouth Shool, and if so, could be a sign of the age of this Sefer.
6. This SEFER is not particularly well written. A SOFER has examined it and his notes are inside the SEFER. The ink has 'sprung' and could be re-written. The cost of doing so probably out-weighs its value, which is why no doubt, it was not repaired after the SOFER'S examination.
7. A beautifully written miniature Sefer. I believe that at one time there was a label on the top of the ETZ HAYYIM to say who originally donated it, but only traces of this remain.
The Sefer might have belonged to J.J. Sherrenbeck or Abraham Joseph. It is typically 18th century. It appears to be KASHER.
8. Written on brown calf leather, this scroll has certain affinities with a similar scroll at Exeter. The latter cannot be less than 150 years old, and this may be of similar date. Associated with the latter is an undocumented legend that it left Spain in 1492 and made its way to Exeter, presumably with the Sephardi Jews of the early 18th century.
Our scroll has been repaired fairly frequently, it has been attacked by worms and rot and will need some replacement. There is woodworm in the ETZ HAYYIM.
The cost of putting the scroll into order should not exceed £15 and would be well spent.
The writing itself is not easy to decipher, and it might well be more suitable for Sephardi use.
9. The writing of this SEFER has faded and the SEFER is POSUL as the ink has 'sprung'. It would not be worth the cost of repair.
However, the inscription on both ETZ HAYYIMs is of the utmost interest.
'"And the Lord blessed Abraham with everything". He it is that bestowed this SEFER TORAH to his son, the bachelor, the worthy Judah Leib b. Abraham into his possession and not into the possession of others, in the year It is a tree of life [ETZ HAYYIM] to those that take hold of it, and those that seize it are happy. [MEUSHOR]' From the Hebrew the date may be inferred as 1780/1. It is impossible to know how much earlier the SEFER was written before this date. The Sefer probably belonged originally to Abraham Ralph of Barnstaple.
The ETZ HAYYIM should be restored, and the inscription which is beginning to peel ought to be preserved.
10. The ink has faded somewhat, and a SHEALAT HAHAM necessary. The obvious places which need attention are not many, a small amount of sewing is necessary. If it is decided that the KESAV is not too faded, then this SEFER can be put into use for a comparatively small amount of exenditure.
11. Apparently a comparatively modern SEFER, which is in quite good condition. A small amount of work needs to be done on the KESAV where ink has 'sprung'. The ETZ HAYYIM both sides need repair. Less than £20 should put it in good condition.
This SEFER appears to be deteriorating through lack of use.
12. A very nicely written SEFER which has never needed any serious repair. The KESAV is somewhat faded and a SHEALAT HAHAM would be necessary before it could be permanently used. On the front ETZ HAYYIM is the following.
Sunday the 4th Intermediate day of Passover (5)574 the Congregation of Plymouth sent this SEFER to Dock Minyan Room, Hayyim, Shammas. The date of sending was the 10th April 1814.
Rolled around the ETZ HAYYIM is a piece of paper which appears to have had an inscription on it at one time. The appearance is not unlike the 1780/1 inscription. I have tried to read it under Ultra Violet light but with no result. An infra-red photograph may reveal something of interest.
13. An extremely heavy SEFER which is most impractical to use. It is quite well written, the ink is 'springing' and there are some corrections which need doing. It is difficult to estimate the expense of any attention which may be required, but it is not likely to exceed £10-£15.
14. Silver bands on the ETZ HAYYIM'S read "Presented to Plymouth Hebrew Congregation by Alderman Myer Fredman J. P. 25 Jan 1925, Teves 5685. The silver bands are loose and require fitting. The text is in a good state, and this and the previous SEFER are used regularly. From personal knowledge, there are minor points which need attention. The cost of looking for them would far outway the cost of correcting them.
The fifteenth SEFER is in current use and was put right three or four years ago.
I would suggest that at least once a year, perhaps on SIMCHAS TORAH, all scrolls in the Ark should be completely unrolled and re-rolled, in order to avoid damage from damp and worm. I would also suggest that some form of very mild heating, perhaps with a blower fan, should be installed in the Ark. The expert and professional advice of an architect, Mr. Holt, the Plymouth City Archivist, would gladly advise, should be sought on thls.
Short Historical Survey
The earliest mention of the SEFORIM is in a mortgage deed of 26 Jan 1770 where a note acknowledges that three are the property of Joseph Jacob Sherrenbeck (two of them he left to the Shool), one to Henry Nathan of Stoke Damerel and one to Abraham Joseph, (when A.J. died, he had three. He left the oldest to the Shool). These were probably not in good order for long because in 1782, Hirsch Nathan lent his Sefer to the Shool for SHAVUOS. The Congregation was ever independent, and was not keen to be beholden to anyone. A month later some £18 is raised by public subscription to purchase a new Sefer.
In 1819, Abraham Cohen and Menachem Cohen each presented a Sefer Torah to the Shool. Abraham Emanuel had loaned a Sefer to the Shool, for the return of which he had to write quite strongly. A list of the Shool's possessions in 1834 does not give the nwmber of SEFORIM owned by the Shool. In 1892 it had twelve large and three small, (it also had two Olive wood pointers which have been lost since then). Thirty years ago, there were sixteen Seforim ln all. There may well be more information about the Scrolls in our records but I have not had time to investigate more fully.
Of the fifteen Scrolls we possess today, I can identify only that given by Myer Fredman, that given by Judah (Lewis) Ralph (?), and one which was lent to the Dock Minyan in 1814.
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