Shavuot, the central moment in Jewish history and perhaps the history of the world, was celebrated at the Jewish Congregation of Marco Island (JCMI) on May 29.
Shavuot, or the Festival of the Weeks, commemorates the moment when the Children of Israel received the Torah on Mt. Sinai. The Torah is commonly referred to by Christians as the Old Testament. Rabbi Edward M. Maline, D.D., of JCMI explained, “It is the moment when humanity and the divine encounter one another. From that encounter a body of law emerged which serves as the foundation of the laws that govern our lives to this very day.”
According to Jewish tradition, at that moment 613 laws encompassing both ritual and ethical matters were revealed by God to Moses and through Moses to the people of Israel. Also included in the revelation was the oral law, which clarifies and amplifies the written laws of the Torah. This oral law was ultimately put into writing and is now known as the Talmud.
“In many Jewish congregations, Shavuot is a time when young people who have continued their Jewish education beyond the Bar or Bat Mitzvah are ‘confirmed’ in the faith of Israel. They pledge their continued loyalty to the Jewish faith and the eternal covenant, which binds the Jewish people to their heritage,” Maline said.
“Shavuot actually concludes the festival of Passover. There are 50 days from the first day of Passover to the day before Shavuot or seven weeks, thus the name of the Festival of Weeks. Passover celebrates freedom from bondage in Egypt. However, this freedom was anarchy until it was governed by the restraints and constraints of law. Shavuot, which celebrates the revelation of law, puts an end to anarchy where every man and women does what is right in their own eyes and now must live under the governance of law and order,” Maline continued.
Ralph Segall, member and past president of JCMI, thinks of Passover and Shavuot as bookends. “One is an opening and one’s the closing,” Segall said. “One is the liberation of the people. One is the giving of religion to the people.”
“Shavuot is celebrated by reading the Ten Commandants — the fundamental laws that under-gird our civilization,” Maline said.
Elena Rosner-Fink, one of the founding members of Marco synagogue said, “The Ten Commandments, such a tremendously important gift from God, not only to the Jewish people but to the world, is a guide for all nations. It is the basis for both the Jewish people and Christianity.”
All Torah scrolls contain the first five books of the Bible, sometimes called the Pentateuch. Torah scrolls are written on parchment by learned scribes who painstakingly write each letter by hand. Any error voids the scroll. It takes many years to complete a Torah.
“It is an arduous task since the Torah has no punctuation or vowels,” Maline said. The Marco temple has three Torah scrolls. “One of our Torah scrolls is very special because it was read in a synagogue in Europe that was destroyed by the Nazis,” Maline explained. “Many of these Holocaust Scrolls were saved from destruction.”
The Holocaust Scroll was given to JCMI by the Seltzer family. The three Torahs at the synagogue are stored in the Ark, a special, recessed cabinet in the front of the sanctuary. They are adorned with elaborate velvet mantels, silver crowns, breastplates and finials. The manner in which they are dressed is symbolic of the garb worn by the High Priests of old who served in the Temple in Jerusalem before its destruction in the first century. A special pointer is used to keep from touching the parchment when the scroll is read. Members study from bound books that contain the Torah in Hebrew (with vowels and punctuation), with an English translation and commentary.
Member Roger Blau explained the importance of the Torah: “Each week, a particular chapter of the Torah is studied based on the week of the Jewish calendar. The amazing thing about our Torah is that it is a ‘living document.’ The study of Torah is a sacred obligation in Jewish religious observance. Each week as we study another chapter of the Torah, we are impressed with how relevant this ancient and holy document is to our world today. As we study and discuss the weekly portion, we are inspired with the ethical and moral teachings of the Torah and the lessons it provides for our contemporary lives, our society, and our understanding of the role God expects the Jews to play in helping Him to perfect our world.”
“When you study Torah year after year, you could go through it over 70 times, but every time you read a section of the Torah your perspective could have changed your understanding. That’s why you never tire of it. Events in one’s life have changed and we find new insight and meaning,” explained Segall.
Many of Marco’s places of worship offer opportunities to study God’s Word. For information contact the local houses of worship.