The Story of Temple Rodeph Torah’s Second Torah

 by Ellen Finkelstein

After researching the origin and journey of Temple Rodeph Torah’s first Torah scroll, I was asked to tell the story of the temple’s second Torah.

Our second scroll belonged to the Mount Nebo Synagogue on W. 79th Street in New York City.   Mount Nebo Synagogue existed for 56 years.  It was built in 1927-28 as the Unity Synagogue.  The Unity Synagogue was acquired by Mount Nebo Synagogue in 1930. Mount Nebo Synagogue was previously located, since 1917, on W. 150th Street in New York City. In 1978, the congregation closed its doors.  Rabbi Philip Hiat, the last rabbi of Mount Nebo Synagogue, took possession of the Torah scroll and its silver.  The silver pieces were given to the Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw, Poland, in 1983 on the occasion of its rededication. Nozyk Synagogue opened in 1892. It was damaged in an air raid during World War II and was used by the Nazis as a stable and a depot. The synagogue was rebuilt from 1977-1983 and reopened its doors in 1983.

Phil Miller, whose family belonged to Temple Rodeph Torah at that time, was given the Torah in 1988 by Rabbi Hiat, who was a friend of Phil’s for many years.  Phil (Dr. Philip Miller) is the Librarian Emeritus of the Klau Library at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR).  He joined the Klau Library staff in 1974 and retired in 2011, at which time he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.  In 1981, Phil participated in an agreement between the University of Warsaw and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the URJ), which made it possible for American scholars to have access to Jewish historical material in possession of the Polish government and other Polish institutions.  This agreement resulted in an exhibition of Jewish art and artifacts representing 1,000 years of Polish Jewry at the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles.

The Torah was given to Phil as a gift in honor of Phil’s son Paul’s Bar Mitzvah.  Since Temple Rodeph Torah had only one Torah scroll at that time, the Miller family generously donated the Mount Nebo scroll to TRT in honor of Paul’s Bar Mitzvah.  In anticipation of passing this Torah to our congregation, Phil asked a Hasidic scholar he knew to check the condition of the scroll.  The scroll was dedicated at the Friday Shabbat service at Asher Holmes School on December 23, 1988, and was in use by the next day.

I also reached out to Torah Sofer Neil Yerman in Westchester, New York.  A sofer is a person who serves as both a Torah scribe and a Torah doctor. Mr. Yerman is both an artist and sofer (scribe) and has worked with many Jewish synagogues and organizations throughout the world.  His artwork includes the creation and calligraphy of ketubot (Jewish wedding documents), family tress and baby naming documents. Mr. Yerman had worked on this Torah back in 2009.  Our congregation turned to him again in 2020, after mold was discovered in our sanctuary.  He was asked to check the condition of the scroll and make any necessary repairs.  Mr. Yerman believes that this Torah is approximately 130-140 years old.  While inspecting the scroll, he discovered that there were some parchment substitutions and different styles of writing.  The original style is Sephardi, specifically Persian, with Algerian and Moroccan calligraphy as well.

Temple Rodeph Torah was grateful to have this scroll returned to us before the High Holidays.  

The Torah donated by the Miller family has become part of the Temple Rodeph Torah family.  As we move to integrate with Temple Shaari Emeth in the summer of 2021, this Torah will move with us and become part of our new family, where it will continue to support the Jewish community.