850-Year-Old Italian Torah Scroll Is Oldest in Constant Use

A Torah scroll from the synagogue in the northern Italian town of Biella has been identified as probably the oldest in the world still owned and used by a Jewish community.

Dario Disegni, the president of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Italy, told a meeting of the Foundation board in Rome on Wednesday that Carbon 14 dating carried out by the Geochronology Laboratory of the University of Illinois put the date of the scroll at around 1250.

“This is exciting news that is of extraordinary importance for Italian Judaism,” he said.

The scroll, which since 2012 had undergone restoration on behalf of the Foundation by an Italian scribe, or sofer, will be returned to the Biella synagogue during a ceremony on March 6.

The scroll was one of several ancient Torah scrolls examined by experts in 2012 and then chosen as the one best suited for restoration. It was believed originally to date from the 14th century.

It is not rare to find extremely old Torah scrolls, the sofer, Amedeo Spagnoletto, told Italian Jewish media. “But in this case the scroll has remained completely intact, without a single piece of parchment substituted, from 1250 until today,” he said.

The Biella scroll is not the oldest Torah scroll to have been found in Italy, but is the oldest that is still kosher and used by a Jewish community. In 2013 a torah in the collection of the University of Bologna library was carbon dated to between 1155 and 1225 and identified as the oldest complete Torah scroll known to exist.

The Foundation has launched a $22,000 crowd-funding campaign to cover the costs of the Biella scroll restoration.

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