MISHNAH. IF ONE FINDS SCROLLS, HE MUST READ THEM EVERY THIRTY DAYS; IF HE CANNOT READ, HE MUST ROLL THEM. BUT HE MUST NOT STUDY [A SUBJECT] THEREIN FOR THE FIRST TIME. NOR MAY ANOTHER PERSON READ WITH HIM.
— Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 29b
The Mishna passage goes on to include care of other found items: cloth, which must be shaken once every 30 days and aired out; silver and copper vessels, which are to be “used for their own benefit, but no [so much as to] wear them out”; and gold and glassware, which “may not be touched until Elijah comes.”
The Gemara then proceeds to discuss how to treat a borrowed Torah scroll:
- Don’t re-lend it to another person.
- It’s fine to open the scroll and read it, but don’t study a subject for the first time: studying a new topic would stress the scroll.
- The scroll may not be read by more than one person, because that would lead to multiple readers tugging, even if unconsciously, on the scroll.
- Someone holding a borrowed scroll “must roll it once every twelve months, and may open and read it, but if he opens it in his own interest, it is forbidden.”
- Some teachers say that new a new scroll should be rolled every thirty days, older ones, every twelve months.
A Very Old Scroll
Earlier this year, Professor Mauro Perani of the University of Bologna, discovered that a Torah scroll in their collection was much older than previously thought. The scroll had been catalogued as from the 17th Century. But evidence suggests it is more than 800 years old, making it the oldest complete Torah scroll.
Examining the scroll, Perani recognized that it was written in an older Babylonian style and not in the style of the 17th Century. He also realized that the text did not follow rules established by Maimonides in the 12th Century. Carbon-dating, conducted by scholars from two other universities, confirmed that the Bologna scroll dates from the 12th-13th Century.
Could the scroll have been miscatalogued if someone had rolled the Torah scroll every 30 days, or once each year?
Press Reports on the Bologna Scroll:
As part of NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), a cousin of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), “A Song Every Day” plans thirty daily posts with some connection to the number 30.