Making of a Torah mantle
For me, pomegranates are the most voluptuous of fruits. Round and heavy, filled with hundreds of tangy ruby drupelets that burst between your teeth and saturate your soul, topped with a gorgeous cut crown, smooth and supple in your hand—pomegranates are the perfect symbol of the feminine, of Eitz Hayyim: the Tree of Life, and of our new Torah scribed for the first time by a soferet, or female Torah scribe. Pomegranates remind us of fertility, of life, of our role as co-creators with G-d in the ongoing work of our World, and so it is a pomegranate that will adorn our first Torah mantle.
The Rabbis say that the seeds of a pomegranate number 613, and 613 are the number of mitzvot (commandments or rules for living contained in the Torah) which are referred to, however obliquely, in the Torah. Of these mitzvot, the one I most gladly embrace is that of Hiddur Mitzvah: the requirement to embellish and beautify all that we encounter, so as to make the keeping of the other 612 mitzvot a joyous endeavor. Keeping all this in mind, as well as the knowledge that our stunning Ark is already embellished with a pomegranate motif, I am beginning the design and construction of a Torah mantle (also known as a Torah cover or dress) for our soon-to-be-finished historic Sefer Torah.
The background fabric for our mantle is velvet, which will be hand-dyed with natural indigo, as fabrics have been dyed for countless centuries, in all the many lands we have traveled in our long history. Indigo dyeing allows us to wrest the most sublime blues from indigo grasses mixed with natural acids, which are then transmuted by contact with the air (ruach haolam, breath of the world), going from sea green to increasingly rich layers of sky and water. Onto that background will be a large open pomegranate shown as if cut in half with its myriad seeds gleaming against the rich ruby silk fruit.
Each seed will be formed from fabric worn by the generations of women who have made this Torah possible. We are collecting the fabric bits (two inches by two inches) and their history from donors and community members, who in turn collect the fabric from their mothers, grandmothers, daughters: all the inheritors of our Matriarchs. Each seed, each woman, each generation, each story of struggle, strength, perseverance, joy, and generosity will be a visible reminder of our legacy. We ask that each piece of fabric be identified with the owner's name, relationship to the donor, and any other details that seem possibly pertinent. Labeled photographs of the original owner of each piece would be welcome, as well.
All of this information will be lovingly collected and organized into a provenance for the Torah mantle, which will be kept as an archived history for the larger community.
The mantle will be finished off with metallic braid and fringe from Italy and lined with white silk so that it can be turned inside out and thus also serve as a High Holy Days dress. Though this will be our first dress for our Torah, it is sure to be only one of many before too long, but I hope that it will always have a place in our communal life as covering and protector, symbol and sacred space for our beloved Torah and all that it represents.
This Torah, this mantle is a visual reminder of our covenant with Adonai, keeping faith with our history, our G-d, with Sarah and Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, Ruth and Miriam—with all of the generations who have come before, who will follow after, all who live today. At Sinai it is said that our G-d as groom married his beloved bride: the people Israel, and from that time to this we have walked through history, always bride and groom, partner and partner, beloved and beloved.