The National Library of Israel houses various Torah scrolls. The Torah we present here, which belonged to the Kahal Shalom Synagogue in Rhodes, is actually one of the less impressive to look at; it is, in fact, disintegrating and according to our conservationist - is actually beyond repair.
Although the National Library of Israel possesses finer ones - in a much better state of preservation, we chose to present this one because of the fascinating story of its wanderings throughout the Mediterranean and the hardships it encountered until its arrival at our library in the summer of 1999.
This story represents the history of the Jewish people throughout the ages.
Photograph of Coat: The inscription reads 'Donated in memory of our dear brothers who died in sanctification of the divine name, by Hayyim and Lilly Noterika'.
FROM SPAIN TO RHODES
Our Torah scroll dates to the 14th or 15th century. It is written on brown vellum made up of 81 sheets bound together to make a scroll that is 45.5 meters long. The scroll was almost certainly written in Spain for one of the Jewish communities there, as the paleographic style is that of the Spanish Jewish tradition. Additionally, Yaakov ben Abraham Mar Hayyim, the owner, appears on one of the rollers. Yaakov was a member of a well-known Spanish Jewish family.
The attached songs are representative of the rich culture of the Sepharadic jews, who were exiled in 1492 and spread all around Europe.
KAHAL SHALOM SYNAGOGUE
The cherished Torah scroll was taken by its owners from Spain upon their expulsion, when Jews from Spain wandered through the Mediterranean basin in search of a new home. The owners of this scroll, a family, or perhaps a congregation, finally settled down on the island of Rhodes, and the scroll found its way to the Kahal-Shalom Synagogue. The synagogue was founded in 1577 in the city of Rhodes, which like the rest of the island, had been under the rule of the Ottoman Turks since 1522. The Kahal Shalom synagogue was one of six synagogues in the city of Rhodes, where a thriving Jewish community lived in its own quarter – the Juderia.
Like the other Spanish Jewish communities that settled in the Mediterranean, the Jewish community of Rhodes spoke Ladino – a special dialect of Castilian Spanish mixed with Hebrew. Later, the Jews of Rhodes also spoke Turkish and Greek.
THE NAZI OCCUPATION
The Torah served the community of Kahal-Shalom for over 400 years, until the island was occupied by the Nazis. Most of the island's Jews were transported to Auschwitz and killed. From among 2000 members of the island's Jewish community, 1,673 were deported. Of these, only 151 survived.
The Torah scroll was saved by the good relationship between the Jewish and Muslim communities, as well as through an intriguing family connection: the Torah was deposited with the Mufti of Rhodes, Suleyman Kasiloglou, just a few days before the deportation of the Jews on July 25th, 1944. Kasiloglu's father-in-law was Jewish, which may explain why the Jewish community trusted him with its most valuable possession. Kasiloglou hid the Torah under the pulpit of the Morad Reis mosque.
The Scroll remained rolled to the last portion which was read in the synagogue, "Parashat Pinhas", on the Sabbath of July 15th, 1944. This same part in the scroll was heavily damaged by mildew due to the conditions under the pulpit.
FINAL STOP - THE NATIONAL LIBRARY
After the war, the scroll was returned to the few survivors of the community. The honorary president of the community, Mr. Moshe Sauriano gave it to the Benatar family, to be brought to the National Library, in memory of the Jews of Rhodes who were killed.