- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2007

PINECREST, Fla. (AP) — Dinner was over by the time the party’s honored guest showed up at the table. She didn’t speak a word, and she left in the rabbi’s arms.

The visitor to this family home was no lady. It was a Torah.

Most Jews see the holy scroll only in their synagogue and have rarely held one. But one synagogue in Miami is taking the unprecedented step of allowing congregants to host Judaism’s sacred text in their homes in exchange for a donation. They call it a Torah time share.

For a one-time gift of $1,800, members of Temple Israel can sponsor a section of the scroll. Each year, during the week before that section is read at Shabbat services, donors can keep the Torah in their home — an event that has prompted families to host Scripture studies, parades and dinner parties.

“When it’s brought into a house, it makes the house more holy,” said Rabbi Mitch Chefitz, who came up with the idea. “If the Torah’s in your room, then you have an honored guest.”

Mr. Chefitz showed up at Sandy Grossman’s house this Rosh Hashanah week with the Torah in a wheeled black duffel bag. After dinner, while children were dancing the Macarena and pounding on a bongo drum, he put it on the dining room table, and everyone’s attention shifted.

The rabbi took off the Torah’s white fabric covering, or dress, as he called it. He sat at the head of the table and began to unroll it slowly.

“She’s a she,” he explains, “because she wears a dress.”

As for its age, the rabbi said, you shouldn’t ask a lady. But she is about 160 and appears to have originated in Poland. The scroll later was bought by a couple who dedicated it to their only son, William Earnest Jacoby, who died in World War II.

The Torah was in need of cleaning and repair — to patch holes and fix lettering — so Mr. Chefitz came up with the time-share project.

About 40 of the 52 available weekly Torah time-shares have been purchased at Temple Israel, a Reform synagogue. Other members have given $18 to sponsor a single letter of the scroll, and all five books have been sponsored for $18,000.

All told, the project raised about $325,000 for the temple, far more than the restoration cost. Still, Mr. Chefitz said, he should have thought about charging annual maintenance fees, just like real time shares.

Last year, Chaim LieberPerson picked up the Torah from the temple, put it in the passenger seat of his car and fastened the safety belt. He said he was giddy about taking it home. As a Jewish educator, he is used to handling Torahs, but this was different.

“Every time that a Torah is opened, I’m like a young child again,” he said. “Having it in your home is kind of like having somebody from TV or the movies or someone famous in your home.”

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