Florence Saltzman

Yads, Torahs, history’s pointing hand

Three shows at the Oregon Jewish Museum spotlight creation, destruction, and reclamation through scrolls, Torah pointers, and the World War II home front

It’s a little stick, a stylus, a pointer. Usually long and thin, often elegant and decorative, it’s enlivened by a tiny hand at the end with a slim index finger pointing forward, leading the way. Called a yad, the Hebrew word for hand, it’s used as a place-keeper and guide while reading the Torah, the foundational stories of the Jewish faith.

A small but striking exhibition of these instruments of practicality and beauty, Pointing the Way: The Art of the Torah Pointer, is being featured through February 28 at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, along with the photo exhibit Surviving Remnants, images of Torah scrolls rescued from the Crimean city of Simferopol after the city’s Nazi occupation, but tattered beyond repair. Together these two small exhibits tell a story of creation, destruction, and reclamation, which in a way summarizes what history and culture are all about.

A relatively simple yad, pointing the way.

A relatively simple yad, pointing the way.

The yads are objects of ritual meant to protect the parchment Torah scrolls, which can be fragile, from the oils and other impurities of human touch. Their origin is obscure. Daniel Belasco, consulting curator for Pointing the Way, cites a bronze object created in the 1100s in northeastern Afghanistan as a possible starting point, or perhaps an ornate silver pointer from Ferrara, Italy, from about 1488. Examples become more numerous after about 1600.

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