Scooby Doo mystery...written language sleuths needed.
April 19, 2010 9:44 AM   Subscribe

Please help me identify the origin/purpose of this mystery scroll. Or just the language its written in.

Long story short...bought old house, crammed with stuff from crazy reclusive world traveling family, I have asked for help identifying mystery items before, blah blah blah.

One of the latest finds we've stumbled across has been this mysterious parchment scroll with blue silk backing, wrapped around a carved wood spindle. It was in a Dominick's bag from the 50's (60's? 70's?) and this original artwork from the Balinese artist, Ida Bagus Rai, was also in the bag.

These types of weird things are par for the course in here. Nothing is sorted, everything is jumbled. It could be something, it could be nothing. Original art has been found in boxes and bags with stuff that is kitschy baubles or just junk. Wonderful and maddening at the same time.

Any help would be super appreciated.
posted by jeanmari to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It looks like Hebrew to me.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:46 AM on April 19, 2010

It's probably a Torah-- they are often scrolls rather than books.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:49 AM on April 19, 2010

Yes, looks like stylized Hebrew to me, too. It also appears to be upside down in the photos.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:49 AM on April 19, 2010

(more specifically, a Sefer Torah)
posted by oinopaponton at 9:50 AM on April 19, 2010

Yeah, it certainly appears to be Hebrew (also the picture seems to be upside down).
posted by phoenixy at 9:50 AM on April 19, 2010

Best answer: It is a scroll of Megilat Esther. It is read on Purim, and should (probably must, but I can't remember) be read from a written scroll rather than a printed book.

yes, it is upside down.
posted by milestogo at 9:56 AM on April 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry about the upside photo. Not realizing it was Hebrew (and read from left to right), I photographed it from right to left. I adjusted it in Flickr.
posted by jeanmari at 9:57 AM on April 19, 2010

Also, the few paragraphs alone on a page (visible on the right in this picture) are the blessings that are recited before the public reading of the megilah on Purim.
posted by milestogo at 9:58 AM on April 19, 2010

Response by poster: Oh my, I just read oinopaponton's link. Obviously, being in a plastic grocery bag in a closet is not the most appropriate place for this item. (I think the family travel to Israel in the 50's? 60's? But they were not Jewish.)

I'm perplexed on how to keep it safe and respected temporarily until I can figure out what to do with it. Any ideas?
posted by jeanmari at 10:01 AM on April 19, 2010

milestogo sounds more right than me (I'm not Jewish and can't read Hebrew, I'm just superficially familiar with Jewish religious stuff). If you can get in touch with a local synagogue, they'll probably be able to explain how to take care of it.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:04 AM on April 19, 2010

Generally, religious Jewish scrolls (megilot) are rolled up and placed into a decorative tube or case. Though you probably don't want to purchase one, searching google for "megilah case" yields plenty of stores which sell them. here is a realistic example.

You might want to just roll it up gently and place it in a cardboard tube. If you don't have one, a small box would work fine too.
posted by milestogo at 10:08 AM on April 19, 2010

Oh, yes I should add that these scrolls are treated as Holy. They would be kept in the synagogue's ark, but private copies can be stored respectfully in people's homes.
posted by milestogo at 10:10 AM on April 19, 2010

Response by poster: Hmmm. I suspect that this may have been someone's practice Sefer? It has some corrections on it. Though some of the lettering is really beautiful (to me, granted I don't know anything about Hebrew lettering). Is that even possible? Would someone have given away or sold their practice Sefer?

On closer examination, I imagine the red striped red cloth cover must be for the scroll, and the blue silk looks hand stitched to the parchment. Now I'm really intrigued by the history of this interesting object!
posted by jeanmari at 12:30 PM on April 19, 2010

Can you shoot any closeup pictures of the "corrections"? I'd love to see that.

Also, obviously, you can do whatever you decide with this lovely find, but if it's in decent shape and you're interested in seeing it returned to religious usage as intended, I'd be thrilled to buy it from you (I'm a rabbi and would love to acquire a usable Megillat Esther for my community)!
posted by AngerBoy at 1:40 PM on April 19, 2010

Response by poster: Okay, got out the good flash, cleared a space for a little photo shoot and took some better pics.

Here are some of the corrections (here, here) and a close up of the detail on the lettering. Here is the end of the scroll which I'm hoping tells us something about its history, but I don't know because I can't read Hebrew.

I'm kind of stunned and amazed and have no idea what we will do with this. (But I'll let you know, AngerBoy.) I'd like to show it to my husband and my in-laws (who studied Hebrew at seminary even though we are not Jewish.)

This house still continues to blow my mind. I thought I had a lead on an 16mm projector so I could view these, but it fell through. If anyone can locate one, we could have a Chicago Mefite movie night in the basement!
posted by jeanmari at 3:13 PM on April 19, 2010

very interesting! I've never seen text squeezed in between lines like that.

The end does have the scribe's name: Servant of God Yaakov (jacob) Halawah Son of Rabbi Yitzchak Issac, whose soul is in heaven. That is just the final two lines, with the acronyms (identifiable by the apostrophe) expanded.

The paragraphs above that are a blessing recited by the reader and a poem recited by the congregation after the reading is done.
posted by milestogo at 5:28 PM on April 19, 2010

It's a fascinating find. First, milestogo is correct about it being a Megillah and the name at the end.

I'm not a sofer (ritual scribe) but it looks too well written to be written by a student. Do you see the even spacing and regular sizes of the letters? Students tend to bunch some letters together and space others out. On the other hand, those are pretty major corrections (especially the half line of Esther 4:11 that was omitted) and I think they've been done by another hand. The additions at the beginning and end look different, too.

My theory is that it's an old megillah (the parchment looks crinkly, and megillot don't get used much, so that implies a lot of age) that was demoted because somebody noticed the errors. A later owner added the corrections. A third owner (not the original sofer) added the introductory and closing invocations - the one at the end is unusual and may help identify the origin of the scroll.

Megillot are surprisingly inexpensive (you can get a really nice new one for $1,000 and cheap ones for perhaps $300). None the less, yours might be quite old or historically significant. If you don't want to keep it yourself then I recommend donating it to a Jewish museum or something of that sort.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:23 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older That's a real hot phone man...   |   Making Raw Vegetables Better Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.