Thursday, 7 October 2010

Three Years on, Smuggled Torah from Iraq Still in Maryland Synagogue?

It was in October 2007, three years ago, that the congregation of Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland placed their "new" old Torah in the ark of the synagogue. The rabbi even celebrated it in an article in the Baltimore press ( Liz F. Kay, 'Synagogue unfurls piece of Jewish history', Baltimore Sun, October 28, 2007). It was reputedly "saved from the sands of Iraq", having been "found by U.S. soldiers among the ruins of a synagogue in Mosul, Iraq". According to the community, "A Jewish expert in Torahs who leads a worldwide effort to rescue scrolls like this got it out of the country and repaired it".

That phrase "got it out of the country" is of course a euphemism. The scroll was purchased from Rabbi Menachem Youlus' Washington-based "Save a Torah Foundation" organization discussed by me a while back ("Stuff Happens": US "Torah rescue" from Iraq?, June 30, 2008). More recently, others have joined in the criticism of this Foundation and cast doubts on the claims of the Rabbi about where these scrolls he was selling actually came from. I never believed for a minute his tale about metal detecting in the Jewish cemetery at Auschwitz, pure fantasy (he also changed that story a number of times, and never produced the permit he would have been issued to conduct legal work on an historical monument if his story was true).

When I raised the topic on SAFE Corner two years ago, a fellow SAFE member wrote to the unit that helped Youlus when he "got it out of the country" despite the laws in place concerning the movement of cultural property across the frontiers of invaded Iraq. That is the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (commander at the time of the removal of the scrolls: Major General David M. Rodriguez). She asked for the unit's version of the story. She received no reply; the US army obviously had no intention of revealing the circumstances surrounding their apparent involvement with Youlus' organzation.

The congregation of Temple Isaiah are also remaining silent about the stolen scroll from Iraq in their temple's ark. Obviously like much else in the trade in illicitly-obtained artefacts, hopeful silence and not-asking-any-questions are the preferred tactics to avoid uncomfortable admissions.

Of course claiming "rights" to it as "Jewish heritage" is a prime example of cultural nationalism (using the term in its widely understood sense - rather than the pejorative distortion adopted in the narrow circle of ignorant "internationalist" coin collectors).

David M. Rodriguez is apparently now deputy commander of United States Forces - Afghanistan (USFOR-A).

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