Ritual scribe from Beit Shemesh featured in the Washington Bible Museum

The Beit Shemesh resident is a live exhibit of sorts in the History of the Bible wing of the museum.

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November 22, 2017 01:27
4 minute read.
Ritual scribe from Beit Shemesh featured in the Washington Bible Museum

RABBI ELIEZER ADAM works on the Sefer Torah at Washington’s Museum of the Bible last week. (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

 
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WASHINGTON – Rabbi Eliezer Adam is writing a Sefer Torah.

But it’s hard to say when he’ll be able to finish, since people keep interrupting him.

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These people are visitors to the brand-new Museum of the Bible in Washington, where Adam will be sitting for the next year. The Beit Shemesh resident is a live exhibit of sorts in the History of the Bible wing of the eight-story museum located in the heart of the US capital.

“For every 20 minutes of writing, I have another at least half an hour of talking,” Adam told The Jerusalem Post as he sat behind his desk in the museum on Monday. “People stop and ask, and they start by asking questions about the Sefer Torah, and then it leads to other things.”

The museum opened on Friday to much fanfare, speculation and media hype in an opening ceremony attended by Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and Jewish Federations of North America rabbinic leader Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt.

While the sprawling, 40,000-square-meter museum, created and funded by Steve Green, the conservative Evangelical heir to the Hobby Lobby retail chain, is ostensibly a tribute to the Old Testament and New Testament alike, it is hard not to notice a distinctive Jewish flair and a strong affinity for the modern State of Israel.

In the wing that hosts Adam, his parchment and ink, Hebrew recitations and Bible passages can be heard over the loudspeakers. In his large, crocheted kippa and dangling tzitzit, he looks both out of place and right at home. His role is reminiscent of the Berlin Jewish Museum’s controversial 2013 “Jew in a Box” exhibit, but with a less sensationalized bent and a more specialized expertise.

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Adam hasn’t actually worked as a sofer (ritual scribe) in years; he makes his living as a family lawyer in Beit Shemesh, and also trains scribes in person and online.

“Turns out that one of the guys that I taught sofrut knows the head of the museum, who asks him if he knows a sofer,” said Adam.

About a year ago, he started talking to the museum’s organizers, advising them on certain elements of the exhibit.

“First they said can you draw us a diagram for the table, and what should we call this,” he recalled. “Then they asked why don’t you just come and sit here?” He originally rejected the idea and offered to come for a month to train somebody else. But then he reconsidered, “and me and my wife said, you know what, lets go for a year.”

While Adam was born in the United States, he has lived in Israel since he was seven.

While most of his children are grown, his youngest stayed behind in Israel to finish up high school. He and his wife have taken up residence in Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington with a significant population of observant Jews.

He said his family and friends were more than a little surprised about his career move.

“Everybody’s reaction was: ‘What, you’re crazy, they’re Evangelical, they’re going to try and convert you, they have a hidden agenda,’” said Adam.

After a significant, lengthy pause, he continued: “That wasn’t my impression. And even if it was, I’m intrigued.”

He said, after all, that he didn’t see himself converting.

“If anything,” he stated, “I have to be careful that I don’t shake anybody else’s emunah [faith] here.”

The scribe said the directors of the museum didn’t give him any instructions on what he could and couldn’t say to curious guests. In just the few days since the opening, he said he has had many fascinating discussions with people from all walks of life, including pastors and even a cardinal. He found that many were shocked to learn that the Bible was originally written in Hebrew.

“Strangely, a lot of them don’t realize that.... it’s as if they think that Judaism is sort of a breakaway from Christianity or something,” he told the Post.

Adam himself has explored much of what the museum has to offer and is very impressed – and not at all concerned about its motivations or agenda.

“If the people behind the museum think that it’ll help bring the Moshiach [Messiah], then I wouldn’t mind the Moshiach coming,” he said.

“I think we’re all on the same page.”

While he said he had heard concerns from Jewish visitors that they might encounter heavy Christian imagery, that has not been the case.

“There’s a lot more Judaism here than Christianity,” Adam said. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say the Jews designed this place.”

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