Wednesday 10 June 2015

Torah Trashing: A Sick Business

Charlene Rodrigues, 'Violence ravaging Yemen’s heritage as UNESCO sites damaged', Middle East Eye Tuesday 9 June 2015
"Civilians are torn with disbelief as they watch the country’s antiquities crumble. Cultural relics, including Bible manuscripts and statues dating to more than 600 years ago, are being sold for quick cash."
Now follow the link to the eBay shop "Bible Fragments" in Israel. Several from Yemen here (like this, this, this and this all looking as if recently CUT from the same manuscript). They are not merely selling Bible fragments, they seem to be actively making them. Where do these "Bible Fragments" come from? There is absolutely no collecting history or background story offered for any of these pieces. How and when did these items leave the source country? There are cut out pieces ascribed to "Europe 100 [years old] - three;  one 150 years old, one 250 years old (that Europe seems to be Romania - with strict export laws), there are five fragments cut out of at least three different manuscripts from Yemen, seven fragments from at least three different manuscripts ascribed to Morocco, and four fragments from a "Persian" torah 250 years old. Look at these descriptions: "the scroll came from Romania with other Judaic items that survived the holocaust" but "the scroll" is now being dismembered by some seller in order to make more profit - so hardly "surviving" since it is now being trashed with bits of it sent to the four corners of the greedy world so scattered self-interested collectors can own something "cool" to show off to their pals:
Imagine actually owning a, genuine original, beautiful, Torah Bible Fragment 150 year-old as a family heirloom and stunning display item for your home. [...] What an amazing conversation piece and attention-commanding display item for your home! And what a magnificent gift for a very special occasion, or for the “person who has everything.
Everything except the crassest, nastiest way to treat a piece of somebody else's cultural property. How about a mummy foot to go with it, or a book covered with flayed human skin, and a Hopi Katsina with the feet cut off and converted to a table-lamp, eh? Cool!

I think it is high time we took a look at this Torah scroll industry, note that the origins of these manuscripts is the same range as the setup we looked at selling Torahs to US colleges through 'donors' a few months ago.  I assume that the Israelis take a very liberal view of what happens to "their" torahs (this is the real meaning of cultural property nationalism by the way) but the fact is these items originated in another country and were taken from that other country, was that by licit means? The website does not address that question in any satisfactory manner. There is a war going on in Yemen at this very moment. Cultural property is being destroyed and stolen there as I write. A "from my own collection" of an anonymous proprietor who does not even say which town in "Israel" he or she is based in is absolutely no way to sell items coming from Yemen (or anywhere else) under those circumstances. 

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