Jews on East Side Bury Their Scrolls: Parchments Damaged by Fire 1907


The First Time This Ceremony Has Been Observed in the United States
  Article Tools

Print This Page

E-mail This Page To A Friend

In accordance with one of the rites of the Jewish religion, requiring that damaged or defective scrolls of the law be put in the Genizah, or secret hiding place, as in the olden times, or buried, eighteen scrolls, each comprising one complete Pentateuch, which were recently damaged by fire, were buried yesterday in Washington Cemetery by several orthodox Jewish congregations on the lower east side, which owned them.

It was said this was In a fire which destroyed New Irving Hall, at 214 Broome Street, several months ago, the parchments were damaged. They were the property of several congregations which worshipped in the Hall. Great diligence was shown by the congregations in recovering them. Piece by piece the charred scrolls were picked from the debris left by the fire. These charred relics were handled with much care. They were wrapped in a white cloth and put on exhibition at the Synagogue of the Zirchru Toras Moses, at 183 East Broadway. Hundreds of Jews visited the synagogue daily to see them.

Scrolls Put in a Coffin

The scrolls were put into a specially prepared coffin yesterday, and this was put upon the altar. The coffin consisted of a pine box lined with zinc to make it airtight and covered with a black pall. Above the box was suspended the star, which is the emblem of Zionism as the cross is the emblem of Christianity. It was considered a great privilege to put the scrolls into the coffin, and members of the congregation were willing to pay for it. And they paid liberally.

All morning the members of the congregations visited the synagogue. it is a little room over a store, and proved entirely too small to accommodate the crowd. But the visitors were willing to wait their turn to get into the room. It was hot, sweltering hot, but they stood it with great forbearance. The men leaned against the wall, and the women chatted in whispers among themselves. After staying for a moment, they left to give others a chance to see.

Within the sight was impressive. Blazing candelabra illuminated the altar. Their gleam fell upon the coffin containing the scrolls, which was put on the altar. In the pulpit stood the rabbi wearing a silk hat. He prayed and chanted. The incantation was taken up by the audience. Many of the women wiped tears from their eyes.

For two hours the service continued, and then preparations were made for the removal of the scrolls to the cemetery. The members of the congregation vied with one another for the privilege of being one of the four pall bearers. The coins clinked fast into the collectors' pans. The sum that won was $2. The four lucky ones picked up the precious box and carried it from the synagogue. Ordinarily a coffin is carried on the shoulders of the pall bearers. But there was a different form observed in this case. The box was carried at arms' length.

In the street an undertaker's wagon was in waiting and several carriages. Moving through a large crowd assembled in the street the pall bearers put their burden in the wagon. The rabbis took places in the carriages. As the carriages started away on their journey to the cemetery sounds of a quarrel came from the synagogue. Several of the collectors were found talking wildly and gesticulating. The coins in the pans were plainly the cause of the dispute. But the argument was conducted in Yiddish and was un-intelligible. Finally peace was restored and the disputants fell in behind the carriages.

The procession then proceeded to the Williamsburg Bridge, on its way to Washington Cemetery at Gravesend and Twenty-second Avenues, Brooklyn. it had every appearance of a funeral procession. The men moved along in solemn tread and the women wept. Spectators in the street joined the procession when they learned its purpose, and the crowd behind the carriages was swelled to a large number. At the bridge, the horses broke into a trot and the carriages pulled rapidly away. The members of the procession boarded trolley cars to get to the cemetery.

Ceremony at the Cemetery

Many went to the cemetery early in the morning, after taking a look at the scrolls in the synagogue. Fifty or more stood there in the blazing sun for several hours waiting for the scrolls to appear.

Finally the scrolls arrived. Again there was much rivalry for the privilege of carrying the scrolls. And the collectors were on hand with their pans. Finally four men carried the box inside the plot of the congregation. There was dispute as to just where the scrolls should be put. According to the rites of the church it should be put in the middle of the plot, in ground where the sod has never been broken. The bearded men finally decided upon a spot.

The a rabbi who was conducting services in another enclosure joined the throng. He brought his choir boys with him. They sang over the scrolls, while the crowd gathered around.

Finally the grave was dug. Then the box was lowered into it. The Rabbi started an incantation, which the congregation took up. The worshippers kissed the box as it was lowered into the grave. Then the members of the congregation departed.



Website: The History
Article Name: Jews on East Side Bury Their Scrolls: Parchments Damaged by Fire 1907
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


New York Times Jun 17, 1907; pg. 7
Time & Date Stamp: