Out of the Vault: Video of invaluable Torah scrolls revealed


The Miniature Torah

This year, in advance of Shavuot, the National Library of Israel (NLI) has released a series of video clips featuring four of the most significant Torah scrolls from its world-leading Judaica collection. Due to their exceedingly delicate state, the Torah scrolls are not generally available for public viewing and were only brought out from the NLI vaults for a few minutes to be filmed and photographed, with approval and supervision from conservation experts.

Shavuot, the Jewish holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah, is celebrated this year from June 4 in the evening until nightfall of the following day.

1000 year old Yemenite Torah fragment. National Library of Israel Collection

The items featured include fragments from a 1,000 year-old Yemenite Torah scroll, which were found in a bookbinding, as well as one of the world’s smallest legible Torah scrolls, measuring just 6 centimeters (2 1/3 inches) in height.

This miniature Torah is just 6 centimeters (2 1/3 inches) in height! (Photo: Amit Dekel Productions)

The other two scrolls featured have exceptional stories behind them.

Scholars believe that the “Rhodes Torah” was written in Iberia in the 15th century, and that Sephardic refugees brought it to Rhodes, where it was used for hundreds of years in the Kahal Shalom Synagogue, now the oldest synagogue in Greece. Just a few days before the Nazis deported nearly all of Rhodes’ Jews in 1944, the scroll was smuggled out and placed in the custody of the local mufti, Sheikh Suleyman Kasiloglou. The mufti is said to have hidden the Torah under the pulpit of a local mosque, and the scroll subsequently survived the war, even though the vast majority of the Rhodes Jewish community did not.

The final scroll featured in the series was believed to have been owned by Saul Wahl, a prominent Jewish merchant and adviser to royalty who, according to legend, served as King of Poland for just one day in the late 16th century. The Saul Wahl Torah features staves made of ivory and horns, and decorated with silver. It also comes with its own miniature holy ark, featuring a door made from a 17th century Torah shield.

Each day leading up to Shavuot weekend, the National Library of Israel is posting a new clip on its English Facebook and Twitter accounts. The clips are all viewable here, as well as in a dedicated YouTube playlist.

The NLI’s world-leading Haim and Salomon Judaica Collection includes the vast majority of Hebrew and Jewish books, journals and magazines ever published; thousands of Hebrew-letter manuscripts, as well as digital and microfilm copies of some 90,000 such manuscripts from collections across the globe; the world’s largest collection of Jewish music; and hundreds of personal archives of leading figures. Cherished treasures in the collection include Maimonides’ commentary on the Mishna in his own handwriting; the world’s largest collections of ketubot and Haggadot; Hebrew books dating to the advent of Hebrew printing; and the Gershom Scholem Library – the world’s foremost resource for the study of Kabbalah, Jewish Mysticism and Hasidism.

The entire NLI collection will soon move to the new National Library of Israel set to open adjacent to the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in Jerusalem early next year.