Ira A. Lipman donates Torah scroll to Brandeis

University professor Jonathan Sarna touches a quill being used by Rabbi Binyomin Spiro to finish a Torah scroll
Photo: Mike Lovett

Rabbi Binyomin Spiro (left), the sofer, or scribe, inscribed the new scroll as University Professor Jonathan Sarna watched.

In an era of instantaneous (and sometimes thoughtless) communication, the completion of a Torah scroll stands apart as the culmination of the slow, steady and careful transmission of sacred wisdom.

Brandeis community members had the rare opportunity to participate in the completion and dedication of a Torah scroll on August 8, when a scroll was donated to Brandeis Hillel by Ira A. Lipman, in memory of his mother Belle A. Lipman, on her yahrzeit, the anniversary of her death in 2009. Hillel will hold another celebration of receiving the new scroll after the academic year begins.

A Torah scroll can take more than a year to complete, and is fashioned according to exacting standards contained in Jewish law. Rabbi Binyomin Spiro, the sofer, or scribe who inscribed this scroll at his workshop in Baltimore, explained that the parchment is derived from the hide of a kosher animal species such as a cow, a goat, or even a deer. The inner layers of the hide are removed and the sofer writes only on the inside of the outermost layer, using a quill pen and ink. 

Cantor Joseph Malovany and Ira A. Lipman, donor of the Torah scrool, carry the dressed scroll
Photo: Mike Lovett

Cantor Joseph Malovany, left, assisted Ira A. Lipman, who donated the Torah scroll to Brandeis Hillel, in holding the Torah.

He carefully inscribes each letter of the five books of the Torah – there can be no errors, or the scroll is not kosher for use in liturgical services. But some mistakes can be repaired, and any missed by a sofer are identified by the maghia, or proofreader, who reviews the entire text. 

As Rabbi Spiro completed this scroll, he invited members of the community to “assist” in the completion by touching the quill as he paused in writing the final passages. Those invited to his desk included Jacob Edelman ’18, the former student union president who graduated in May, who was asked to touch the quill first as a representative of Brandeis students. He was followed by Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz, Board of Trustees Chairman Meyer Koplow '72, P'02, P'05, , Brandeis trustees and Hillel board members Stephen R. Reiner ‘61 and Ellen Lasher Kaplan’ 64, and many staff and faculty members. Rabbi Seth Winberg, executive director of Hillel at Brandeis, served as the master of ceremonies at the service, and Joseph Malovany, cantor of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue in New York, led the singing of traditional liturgical songs.

Ira Lipman, a businessman who grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, and built an international security company, has donated 27 Torah scrolls since 1995, mostly to Hillel chapters at colleges and universities. Eric D. Fingerhut, president of Hillel International, said the new scroll would help Hillel in its mission at Brandeis “to inspire every Jewish student to build an enduring connection to Jewish life, learning and Israel.”

Brandeis staff watch Rabbi Binyomin Spiro inscribe the Torah scroll
Photo: Mike Lovett

Brandeis staff members gather for the ceremonial completion of the Torah scroll as Rabbi Binyomin Spiro finishes inscribing it.

After the final letters on the scroll dried, it was rolled and dressed in the traditional velvet mantel (cloak), keter (crown) and breast plate, and was carried around the room seven times. Then it was placed inside the Brandeis Hillel’s ark beside two other Torah scrolls used in services at Brandeis.

Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz thanks Ira A. Lipman for his donation of the Torah scroll to Brandeis Hillel
Photo: Mike Lovett

Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz (right) thanked Ira A. Lipman for his donation of the scroll.

Lipman spoke of his mother, who traveled all over the world into her 90s – he recalled how she was on a barge in the Amazon on Sept., 11, 2001, when she found a way to check on his safety while he was in New York. She was 91. 

She was also an early member of the Brandeis University National Women’s Committee, now the Brandeis National Committee, as was Lipman’s wife, Barbara. 

“She was a Brandeis volunteer, and now her name is here – that’s special,” Lipman said. “I’ve always thought of Brandeis as a great place.”

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