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Document of dedication.

Byline: Jeff Wright The Register-Guard

Asi Spiegel doesn't make a habit of bold predictions, but he's making one for today: Eugene will see a record influx of street-dancing rabbis.

The occasion is the dedication of a new Torah painstakingly created for the Chabad House, a Jewish student center located on the edge of the University of Oregon campus. The dedication will culminate with a parade through local streets, featuring plenty of joyous dancing by 10 or so visiting rabbis and other worshippers.

"This is a spiritual accomplishment for us," said Spiegel, the rabbi who founded Chabad House four years ago. "There are other Torahs in Eugene, of course, but this is the first one written particularly for us. This is custom-made for Eugene, A to Z."

The Torah - the first five books of the Bible's Old Testament - is regarded as the holiest document in Judaism. A Sefer Torah, meanwhile, is a specially hand-written copy that must meet extremely strict production standards. Written entirely in Hebrew, the Torah contains 304,805 letters, all of which must be precisely duplicated by a trained scribe known as a sofer.

Commissioned at a cost of $36,000, the Sefer Torah to be dedicated today was written by Rabbi Betzalel Yakont, a scribe who lives in Israel. Yakont needed almost a year to create the document - but intentionally left some of the very last letters incomplete.

That's so another scribe, Rabbi Daniel Dahan of Brooklyn, N.Y., can fill in the outline of those final letters at today's dedication. Dahan flew across the country on Monday to bring the new Torah to Eugene.

The dedication is timely - and not just because Jewish students at the UO have returned for fall classes this week. Jews are in the middle of the High Holy Days, with Rosh Hashana - the Jewish New Year - ending last weekend, and Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement - beginning at sundown this Sunday.

But why go to such lengths to create a Sefer Torah? Rabbis Spiegel and Dahan have a quick answer: Tradition!

In Jewish teachings, the Torah lists no fewer than 613 commandments, or mitzvot, to be followed. The very last one: Write your own Torah.

"We want to perform this commandment for ourselves," said Spiegel. "This is how we commemorate our belief in the Torah." The document, he said, will allow his community to hold Shabbat services every weekend - not just when members are able to borrow someone else's Torah.

In Jewish custom, the Torah is a "living" document. The parchment comes from the sinew of a kosher calf or other animal, as does the thread used to bind the parchment to two rollers. The ink is derived from tannic acid found in the gallnut plant, along with gum arabic and a sulfuric chemical that turns the ink black. The rollers, referred to as the "Tree of Life," are made of wood - oak, in the case of this particular Torah.

The actual script is intended to be "an exact replica of what Moses presented to the Jews in the desert 3,300 years ago," Spiegel said.

The text is read from right to left, and contains no punctuation, no chapter headings, not even any vowels. Four blank lines are the only clue that one book - Genesis, say - has ended and another - Exodus, for example - has begun.

While sewing the parchment to the rollers on Tuesday, Spiegel and Dahan quickly rolled the document from one end to the other. "Here's a two-minute summary of the Torah," said Spiegel, as the pages of text raced past him.

"Here's Abraham, and the promise of the Holy Lands to the Jews. And now the Exodus, and the Jews crossing the Dead Sea, and here are the Ten Commandments."

In all, the new Torah contains 248 columns of text over 65 pages, measuring more than 135 feet in length if rolled from end to end. Each column of text typically takes between three and four hours to write, said Dahan, who should know. He has written five complete Torahs in his career as a scribe, each taking him between five and 12 months to complete.

"There are 5,000 laws on how to write a Torah," he said, adding that a single mistake renders a Torah unsuitable for use. Upon writing each word, a scribe must say it aloud, to make sure it's the correct word and hasn't been written down solely by memory.

Despite the meticulousness required, writing a Torah is a joyous exercise, Dahan said. "I don't think of it as a burden, God forbid," he said. "I feel good when I write. It's hard for me to stop writing."

The life of a sofer, Dahan said, is a blessing. Or, as he prefers to express it: "Sofer, so good."

TORAH DEDICATION CEREMONY When/where: Today, 4 p.m., UO Knight Library Browsing Room. Jewish scribe will complete the writing, filling in the last Hebrew letters. Parade: 5:30 p.m., adjacent streets. Live music, dancing; open to the public. More information: Chabad House, 1307 E. 19th Ave., 484-7665, www.chabad
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Title Annotation:Religion
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 27, 2006
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