Updated: Feb 3, 2020
By: Kayla Herssein (9th Grade) and Ali Smith (9th)
Prayer services quickly took a turn this Tuesday morning, when a Sefer Torah scroll rolled off the bima and onto the floor in the high school, sending the entire Ashkenaz minyan into shock.
Due to the fact that it was Rosh Chodesh, the Torah needed to be rolled from last week’s parsha, Parshat Bereishit, to Parshat Pinchas, considered a long-distance roll. Video surveillance of the incident revealed that a teacher had his hand on the top of the Torah while a student was holding the bottom. Both individuals turned around for a second, and one side of the scroll rolled off the table. Although someone grabbed the other end of the Torah before it fell over the edge, approximately 25 feet of the holy scroll had already hit the floor. Student Activities Director Rav Oded Karavani quickly ran to the unrolled Torah scroll, rolled it back up by its wooden handles, and put it back into position on the bima before any damage could be done.
“I was a few feet away from the Torah when this happened, and, honestly, I was in complete shock when I first saw what happened. I think this was meant to open up our minds a little about the decorum in davening,” said freshman Hannah Folk.
Immediately afterwards, the Judiacs staff reached out to several rabbinical authorities to determine the proper course of action. As a consequence of the incident, the high school will hold a half day of Torah learning on Monday, create a tzedakah fund, have the Torah examined by a scribe, and perform a proper burial of the damaged holy books around the school. Although the traditional response to a fallen Torah is to fast, because it was Rosh Chodesh, the practice to fast is mitigated, according to many Judaic sources.
There were various reactions among the students concerning the falling of the Torah. Some students took the situation to heart, looking at the deeper possible reasons for how such a thing could occur.
“We should all reflect on ourselves as people and try to better ourselves,” said Naomi Ohana (10th). “Maybe not necessarily behavior in Tefillah, but I think it’s how we have been acting recently, myself included, not being the best people we can be. I think we should all take this as a lesson.”
Other students maintained a practical view of the incident, seeing it as nothing more than just a mistake.
“It was just an accident. I don’t think that it has anything to do with what anyone did. It was just an accident and it fell off the Bima,” said Owen Ebner (9th).
According to Judaics principal Rabbi Assaraf, when speaking to the various rabbinical authorities for guidance after the incident, every rabbi consulted said they had never seen a Torah desecrated in this manner.
“It’s something that many lifetimes go by and it doesn’t happen,” said Judaics Teacher Rabbi Manne. “It’s a rare thing that you don’t know how to necessarily react correctly to. I went into shock and disbelief…understanding the severity of it; that was kind of the way my mind went. It was very emotional.”
Judaics classes following the incident dedicated time to discussing what had occurred. Judaics teachers emphasized that because the Torah is such a holy part of Judaism, there are many laws put in place to ensure that no desecration occurs. In addition, after the incident, a school-wide assembly was called to discuss the matter. Rabbi Assaraf addressed the students and faculty, followed by questions from the students, and concluding with a speech by Rabbi Massri.
In making the decision on how to respond to the incident, Assaraf said the school wanted to ensure that the event is never forgotten and has a positive impact for many years to come.
“We want to create a situation here, kind of like a minhag or practice, that will remind people in the future that such a thing occurred,” said Assaraf.
There were multiple perspectives among the faculty and students regarding the final verdict. A lot of the student body shares the opinion that the decision is suitable for the situation.
“It’s great that they’re doing this. It’s a good way to turn something negative into a positive experience,” said sophomore Herschel Karp.
Nonetheless, some of the faculty feel that it is important to take on extra measures of precaution and self-reflection.
“It was a very introspective day for me, and in spite of what the school will be doing as a schoolwide project, I am going to fast on Monday,” said Judaics Teacher Mrs. Shapiro.
Although no one can deny the tragedy of the fallen Torah, many are hopeful that this will lead to positive change. The severity of the incident impacted the school’s feelings regarding the caution and care towards religious objects. Many students and staff members say they hope it will create a renewed respect for the Torah.
“I think this happened because Hashem actually wants to give us a positive message and a serious message using a tragedy that doesn’t involve the loss of life, the pain of people we love, but also wants us to appreciate and understand the severity of what he means to tell us,” said Karavani. “I think that this was a big chessed on the part of Hashem to really shake us. We have to use these opportunities for growth, for development, for introspection, for bonding with Hashem, Torah, and mitzvot in any level or capacity.”