Antique Scrolls: Pieces of History Up for Sale

By Leah Hochbaum Rosner

Published January 30, 2008, issue of February 01, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

When a Torah scroll is so faded or damaged that it can no longer be used, Jewish law states that, like the dearly departed, it is to be buried. But Spiritual Artifacts, a California-based company, hopes to bring new life to presumed-dead Torahs by putting them on display for all to see and offering them up for sale.

Run out of the Los Angeles home of Australian-born computer programmer and educator Sam Gliksman, 50, and his wife, Deborah, 49, a graphic designer, the new company takes fragments of ancient Torah scrolls and then frames them in handmade museum cases using acid-free, museum-quality archival materials.

“The concept for Spiritual Artifacts developed around the time of our older son’s bar mitzvah in 2006,” Sam Gliksman said. “His friends were also having their bar mitzvahs, and we were constantly searching for gifts that didn’t seem trivial — something unique that would also be consistent with the spiritual meaning of the occasion.” And one day it hit him. “Children read a section from a Torah scroll on their bar mitzvah,” he said. “We thought, wouldn’t it be nice to present them with the identical Torah portion on an antique Torah scroll?”

After consulting with a number of sofrim to find out how to get their hands on the scrolls, the Gliksmans have amassed a collection of roughly 50 pieces. Some of them are whole books from the Torah; others are just small sections. Most are between 200 and 400 years old, but some are more than 500 years old. The scrolls cost anywhere from $375 to $1,250, depending on country of origin, age, theme and number of panels in the piece. Popular portions include the Ten Commandments, the Ten Plagues, the Exodus From Egypt and Creation. The most expensive piece they currently offer is a 250-year-old, three-panel Ten Commandments-themed piece from pre-Holocaust Europe that goes for $1,250.

“My parents are Holocaust survivors, and my wife is of Iraqi descent,” Gliksman said. “We’re both from communities that no longer exist, so we like the idea that the Torah fragments we present through Spiritual Artifacts mostly come from communities that have vanished.” The company sells portions from such locales as Poland, Germany, Iran, Egypt, Morocco and Yemen.

The Gliksmans offer customers a choice between mahogany shadow-box frames and Plexiglas museum cases. According to Glicksman, either kind creates a stable, condensation-free climate that should ensure that the scrolls last for decades. “These are antique fragments that have survived for centuries,” he said. “They need to be treated with special reverence — not only because of their intrinsic holiness, but because they represent a valuable part of the history of these older Jewish communities.”

When asked if he thought that some Jews might be opposed to the idea of taking a Torah that should be buried and instead putting it on display, Gliksman was adamant that Spiritual Artifacts is adhering fully to Jewish law. “Part of our research was speaking with rabbis and making sure that we weren’t offending anyone by doing this,” he said. “I understand that some might say that a Torah’s not something that should be hung on the wall. But others love it. We were very careful to make sure that halachically we’re not doing anything wrong.”

According to Jewish law, it is forbidden to destroy documents, such as prayer books or bibles, that contain the name of God. Gliksman said that the rabbis he consulted saw no problem with framing pieces of the Torah, as long as they are preserved and respected and show kavod (Hebrew for “respect”) for the Torah. In keeping with this, Gliksman and his wife are exceedingly careful not to tear the fragments. “Pieces are sewn together when a scroll is created,” he said. “We just undo the stitches.”

While the Gliksmans have their hands full right now getting the business up and running, they’d like to start offering other antique Judaica on their site, and they have been speaking with various museum stores about stocking some of their framed Torah fragments.

“Generations of Jews celebrated their personal and communal events while reading from these antique scrolls,” Gliksman said. “We’re taking these fragments that would have been buried or hidden away and turning them into beautiful and meaningful pieces that will be honored and appreciated — both for what they are and what they meant to the communities from which they came.”

Leah Hochbaum Rosner is a freelance writer living in New York.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.