by Dave Nelson
Our 250-year-old Torah’s century-old wimple
As noted in the past, most of the postal mail the AARC receives takes the form of bills, checks, services we don’t need, scams, and benign crazy talk—but we also get some really nice or interesting notes from really nice and interesting people. May was a bit thin for mail, but the one piece of non-bill, non-check, non-request, non-scam mail we did get was a doozy: A package from Rabbi Ralph Ruebner in Skokie, IL containing our wimple!
What’s a “wimple” (apart from a nuns’ hat)? This:
The wimple is an ornate, embroidered or painted cloth used to bind up a Torah scroll after it has been read. It is made from swaddling cloth used to bind a baby at his circumcision. Thus, almost from the moment of birth, a direct link is established between the child and the Torah.
The custom of preparing a wimple—the word means “cloth” or “veil” in old German—began about 400 years ago in Germany and spread from there to Alsace, Switzerland, France and the Low Countries. As German Jews emigrated to other lands, especially America, they brought the custom with them but it has remained confined to a limited section of Ashkenazic Jewry. (source)
This wimple, our Torah’s wimple—originally used to bind “Robert Hessel (corrected from Hefsel, after learning about the “Long s” see comment below) Hambuch” measures roughly 11 feet long, and is hand-painted with text and other decorative elements. It has some … interesting discoloration whose precise nature—given its original ritual duty—I decline to meditate on.
Here’s a look at the full wimple (which, given its dimensions, is challenging to photograph) via video:
As you no doubt recall from your frequent perusal of the AARC Board Meeting Minutes (meticulously taken by your dedicated secretary), although we’ve had the same interestingly idiosyncratic Torah for several decades, its ownership was long unclear (due to leadership and administrative changes both in our little Hav and the congregation who loaned us the Torah to begin with).
Last year we had the good fortune to finally hear from the current Board of the Niles Township Jewish Congregation/ Congregation Ezra-Habonim of Skokie, IL. (Niles Township Jewish Congregation lent us our Torah ~20 years ago, shortly before they merged with Congregation Ezra-Habonim). Soon after we officially (and emphatically) purchased our Torah.
Rabbi Ralph Ruebner of Skokie was kind enough to send the wimple along to be reunited with our Torah, as well as these details about this wimple, wimples in general, and the history of the Niles Township Jewish Congregation/ Congregation Ezra-Habonim, and German Jews in middle America.