By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
EVERETT — The congregation at Temple Beth Or is preparing to receive a distinguished guest next week.
The the world-traveling visitor ranks as the highest authority on Judaism — but isn’t a person. It’s a Torah scroll journeying to 20 Reform Jewish congregations in North America, en route to Israel.
The goal is to promote awareness of social issues in the Jewish state, with spiritual rejoicing along the way.
“Having this Torah here will really be a great opportunity to talk about gender equality, immigration reform, human rights and religious freedom,” said Rabbi Jessica Kessler Marshall of Temple Beth Or. “We’re hoping that it will create awareness as we seek to bring a vision of a pluralistic and democratic Israel to fruition.”
The visiting Torah is scheduled to be part of Shabbat services at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The Temple’s address is 3215 Lombard Ave., Everett.
The Torah, Judaism’s core religious text, comprises the first five books of the Bible. The parchment scrolls are sacred objects, a repository of religious morals and values.
“It’s living, it’s evolving — it’s not old and stagnant,” Marshall said. “It’s something that each person connects with in his or her own way.”
Beth Israel, a congregation in San Diego, donated the scroll, said Rabbi Rebecca Epstein, who is coordinating the trip on behalf of the New York-based Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). The scroll originated in Russia and is thought to be 80 years old.
The final destination is a Reform congregation called Kehilat Sha’ar HaNegev near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip. The congregation has no scroll of its own.
The scroll left San Diego on Feb. 10. So far, it’s reached Dallas, San Francisco and communities in southern California.
Epstein knows Temple Beth Or’s Marshall from rabbinical school and asked if she’d like to host the scroll.
“Each rabbi who receives it really gets to share with the community,” Epstein said. “People are doing all kinds of events with all ages. Reading from the Torah, writing their own prayers.”
At the center of the scroll’s mission is promoting values central to Judaism’s Reform movement, which has a more liberal interpretation of the Torah than Orthodox or Conservative Judaism, the other two main branches practiced in the United States, Marshall said.
While Epstein doesn’t plan to accompany the Torah for domestic legs of the journey, she does intend to take it in June on a mission to pray at Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall. That’s controversial because only men have full rights to pray there. In the effort, Epstein is joining the activist group Women of the Wall. Epstein said she expects the religious authorities at that wall to turn her away.
The planned stop at the wall is part of a larger mission to encourage the Israeli government to tolerate a more diverse spectrum of religious practice, beyond Orthodox Judaism.
“It really helps when Jews in the rest of the world can say we want to see an Israel that is open to other forms of Judaism, that is egalitarian and pluralistic,” Epstein said. “That’s what this scroll is doing is teaching these American Jewish communities about issues of civil issues in Israel.”
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org.