September 19, 2019 | 48° F

Rutgers professor helps Library of Congress retrieve oldest legible Torah

Photo by Wikimedia |

After a former student asked that he verify an online listing, Gary Rendsburg, professor and Blanche and Irving Laurie chair of Jewish History in the Department of Jewish Studies, was able to verify that the item was, in fact, a 1,000-year-old Torah.

The oldest Torah scroll still intact and legible in known history has been purchased by the Library of Congress with the help of Rutgers—New Brunswick scholar Gary Rendsburg. 

Rendsburg, who holds the Blanche and Irving Laurie chair of Jewish History in the Department of Jewish Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences, came into contact with the scroll sheet through a former student, Ann Brener, who heads the Hebraic section of the Library of Congress’ African and Middle Eastern Division, according to an article from Rutgers Today

Rendsburg received an email from Brener with a link to an entry in a private catalog describing the sheet — no image included. She then asked him to verify if it was, in fact, a 1,000-year-old Torah scroll sheet and if the Library of Congress should purchase it, according to the article.

“I knew immediately what it was. It had been sold at a Christie’s auction in 2001, and Jordan Penkower, a scholar at Israel’s Bar Ilan University, had written a scholarly paper about it in 2002,”  Rendsburg said. 

Rendsburg then verified that it was similar to Penkower’s description and told Brener the item was highly valuable and an important addition to the Library’s collection, according to the article. 

Measuring at 23 by 23.5 inches, the sheet would have originally been sewn to other sheets. It contains portions of seven chapters of the Book of Exodus, the second book of the Torah. It starts in the middle of chapter 10 and ends in the middle of chapter 16, according to the article. 

“While the United States is a country built on the separation of church and state, religion has always played a major role in this country. The Bible has had a major influence, not just on American religious practice, but on the country’s literature, philosophy and politics,” Rendsburg said. 

Christian Zapata

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