Thursday, 11 October 2012

Not the Object but Context is Important: The Sentencing of Rabbi Menachem Youlus for 'Holocaust' Torah scam

A lot of people are logging onto the blog todday searching for news on this. At the time of writing, we are all still waiting for news.. (Maggie Fazeli Fard, 'Wheaton rabbi Menachem Youlus to be sentenced in Torah scam', Washington Post Thursday, October 11).
A Maryland rabbi who once claimed he was the “Jewish Indiana Jones” is scheduled to be sentenced in New York on Thursday in connection with his selling of fraudulent Holocaust Torahs from his Wheaton bookstore. Menachem Youlus, 50, pleaded guilty in February to wire and mail fraud in connection with the Torah scam. Youlus admitted that between 2004 and 2010, he defrauded his own charitable nonprofit organization, Save a Torah, Inc., as well as synagogues and individual contributors of $862,000. He admitted to defrauding more than 50 victims, many in the Washington area.
To recap, Youlus claimed that he had travelled all over central and eastern Europe and the Near East and had succeeded in locating pre-War Torahs hidden in various places which he then "recscued" by bringing back to the USA. After restoration, they were then sold to US Jewish congregations eager to get their hands on pieces of the Jewish past. Sadly Youlus was decieving them about the true origins of the scrolls he was peddling.

See also: Bruce Golding, 'Thou shalt not run Torah scam', New York Post, October 11, 2012.

David Holzel, 'He trivialized Holocaust memory', Washington Jewish Week 10/10/2012

UPDATE 11:10: 2012
He got a lenient sentence, was sentenced to four years and three months in prison on Thursday for lying about the provenance of old artefacts he sold and conning donors out of about $1 million.
U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon gave Youlus 51 months behind bars – the maximum under sentencing guidelines. She imposed the term after hearing some the victims express anguish over discovering that their donations – given to help to save the sacred scrolls in Europe and Israel – instead went into his pocket. "We're here because Mr. Youlus is a liar and because he lied in order to obtain money," the judge said.  
The depth of guilt goes much deeper though. Youlus was only able to defraud people (by misrepresentation of the origins of the artefacts he was selling) because every single benefactor who paid out thousands of dollars for a misrepresented scroll and every single congregation who accepted the gifts did so without asking for verification of the licit origins and licit export of the artefact. Moreover, Youlus was only able to conceive of such a scam because he knew that he would never be asked in that milieu of buyers to provide such verification. In such dealings the air of 'respectability' of the dealer is enough to persuade those easily persuaded that the deal "must" in some magical way be licit without any demonstration of actual proof.

If the people buying these misrepresented scrolls and those accepting them into their congregations had an ounce of respect for the cultural property legislation of the countries from which Youlus claimed to have taken (aka "rescued" in Amerkin-talk) them, they would have asked to see the excavation permit (for 'Auschwitz' for example, and the 'body-bag' one) and the export papers.  If the seller (the self-styled "rescuer") was unable to supply any, then they should avoid any kind of transaction with him. None of them did, they all thought only of their own selfish needs, the social kudos that would obtain to being instrumental in the "rescue" of such a scroll. "Rescue" in such a case is a euphemism for theft, financing this so-called "rescue" is complicity in theft. It is not just Rabbi Youlus who has to "attone" involvement in this case of deceit and dishonourable dealings.

Source: Tom Hayes, 'Menachem Youlus, 'Jewish Indiana Jones,' Headed To Prison For Torah Fraud', Huffington Post 11th October 2012.

Vignette: Rabbi Youlus (Failed Messiah website).

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