The Scroll of Esther exhibit runs until June 18 at the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto.

Scroll of Esther exhibit shows bridge between two faiths

  • May 25, 2011

TORONTO - An exhibit featuring a hand-written and illustrated biblical Scroll of Esther highlights the “bridge” between Christianity and Judaism, says Toronto-based scribe Laya Crust.

Crust wrote the Hebrew text of the Scroll of Esther on animal parchment using historical tools and materials. The scroll features 16 columns of Hebrew text and 32 full-colour illustrations in the style of 16th-century Persian art bringing to life the ancient story of Queen Esther. The exhibit opened at Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College May 18 and runs until June 18.

“It was a very exciting and a wonderful way to connect with the (biblical) text and wonderful to know that it’s an ecumenical text that’s embraced by the Christian faith, by Christians around the world, as well as by Jews and has that additional bridge of religion and God,” Crust told The Catholic Register.

Crust is a soferet, a Jewish scribe who can transcribe Torah scrolls and other religious writings. An internationally recognized artist, Crust has experience in liturgical-based painting and English and Hebrew calligraphy. Crust says the month-long project helped her connect with her Jewish roots.

“I felt that by writing a holy document, it would take me to a higher spiritual level in connecting with biblical text,” she said.

Having to write on animal parchment “elevates the writing” because Crust had to focus carefully on each word.

“It took me to a meditative state. It took me to a different level of meditation and spirituality and helped me understand the monks and men who worked on the scriptoria in their Bibles and what it meant to communicate religious teachings,” she said.

The project came about when Crust was invited by Rabbi Shalom Schachter and his wife, Marcia Gilbert, to write the scroll. They specifically sought a woman to undertake the project. Most Jewish holy documents can only be written by men, Crust explains, but the Scroll of Esther is an exception.

The couple had known of Crust’s artwork, and presented with the opportunity, Crust says she was more than happy to accept the task, although it meant studying the ancient art of scroll writing for six months. Crust also studied Jewish rules and laws pertaining to scroll writing as well as learning the technical aspects of the ancient art form.

There were also the details of architecture, dress, musical instruments and food which she  had to master. The Book of Esther is the last book added to the canon of the Hebrew Bible. Esther, the Queen of Persia, helped save the Jewish people from being destroyed by their enemies. Queen Esther learned of a plot to destroy the Jews. She fasted and prayed, and then exposed the plan to the King, while revealing to him that she was of Jewish heritage, which helped save the Jewish people from annihilation.

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