Historic Torah Scroll On Display At Riyadh International Book Fair

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JERUSALEM — In yet another indication of the growing détente between Israel and Saudi Arabia, a 16th-century Torah scroll went on display at the Riyadh International Book Fair.

The exhibit, which included 25 other rare historic manuscripts, was seen by tens of thousands in the Saudi capital and showcases the newly-evolving willingness in the region to embrace ecumenicalism as a bridge between erstwhile enemies.

Judging by the calligraphy, the handwritten scroll was penned in Morocco four centuries ago, said Dr. Chaim Meir Neria, a curator at the National Library of Israel. The manuscript contains Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

READ: Inside Jerusalem’s Etrog Market In Preparation For Sukkot

“If we are going back, in the first years of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad met Jews in Mecca and Medina. Muslims are very much respectful of the culture of books. Muhammad called Jews ‘ahl al-kitab’ [the People of the Book],” Neria said.

It is unclear how and when the scroll reached Saudi Arabia.

Neria added that he hoped the scroll would be digitized and a copy given to Israel’s National Library, which is moving this month into its new home in Jerusalem facing the Israel Museum and Knesset.

The manuscripts at the book fair belong the King Abdulaziz Complex for Endowment Libraries, the King Salman Library at King Saud University and the King Fahd National Library.

The book fair — organized and being held at the King Saud University — includes some 1,800 publishing houses, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Photos from the popular event showed visitors crowding around the showcase where the scroll was displayed. The accompanying text explained the manuscript is “a scroll of leather, containing explanations and texts of the Torah in Hebrew.”

The text fails to elaborate on the scroll’s provenance or its Jewish ties.

In another sign of the growing willingness to accept Jews in Saudi Arabia, a Muslim nation, Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi read earlier this week from a Torah scroll and prayed the morning service at his hotel in Riyadh together with others in his 14-member entourage.

“Here in Riyadh we prayed with the windows open to Jerusalem,” said Karhi, who also had the Four Species (citron, palm frond, myrtle and willow) with him for the blessings recited during the week-long holiday of Sukkot.

The scroll was protected by a new velvet Torah mantle embroidered in Hebrew, Arabic and English with the words, “The Jewish Congregation, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” It was also dedicated in Hebrew to King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, along with their ministers and advisers.

While Jews have lived in the Arabian Peninsula for millennia, the site of a prayer quorum in Saudi Arabia — a country where Israelis have historically been banned from visiting — was emotionally charged.

Rabbi Marc Scheier of The Hampton Synagogue in New York, who has been a friend to the royal family in Bahrain since 2007, reflected on the significance of the moment in a phone call with The Jerusalem Post.

To have such a public religious prayer service in Riyadh “is not only unusual, it’s historic and this is one more significant step in the process not only of normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia but between Judaism and Islam in the Kingdom,” he said.

While Israel and the Saudi Arabian government are taking steps toward normalizing diplomatic ties, the rapprochement between conservative Islam and Judaism has already been occurring, he added.

Though historic, Karhi’s visit is not unprecedented. Last week, Israel’s Tourism Minister Haim Katz became the Jewish State’s first cabinet minister to be granted an entry visa by the Saudi government, arriving in Riyadh to participate in a conference of the United Nations World Tourism Organization and to mark World Tourism Day.





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