In December 2009, a nearly 200-year-old Torah scroll arrived in a box stuffed with newspaper to The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies.
Because it came with no documentation, scholars are studying the 100-foot long scroll to find out as much as possible about its past.
Beth Alpert Nakhai, an associate professor in The Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, said a Torah scroll contains the first five books of the Hebrew bible, and is used regularly in Jewish religious services.
"It's read traditionally on Mondays, Thursdays and on Shabbat - Saturday mornings -in services," she explained.
Nakhai said the regular use of Torah scrolls during services suggests "a sacred document that is that old has been used constantly." Indeed, discolored lettering and cracked and broken seams suggest the scroll has been well-used. Consequently, it is in need of repair.
Recently the center brought in Rabbi Yochanan Salazar. Salazar is a sofer - someone who travels the world repairing Torah scrolls. Salazar said all ingredients used to make the scroll, from the animal hide parchment, to the sinews that bind the parchment together, and the ink and quills used to create the print, must be kosher.
From Salazar and others, some clues to the scroll's past have come to light. Nakhai said they have learned that the scroll, for instance, is "written in (a Sephardic script), which means it's the script of the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula, who were expelled by the Spanish inquisition and who traveled north to other communities in Europe," she explained.
Scholars are not sure if the approximately 20-pound scroll then ended up in the hands of a Sephardic community in Amsterdam or northern Italy, and they are not sure how it survived World War II. They do know, however, that it was later purchased by someone in Israel, who then donated it to the UA's Center for Judaic Studies.
Much work remains to be done in order to repair and study the scroll, and to make it available to students.