Tuesday 14 April 2020

MOB Donor Cheated US Taxman with False Valuations of Manuscripts? [UPDATE]

Torah scrolls displayed as trophies by the
MOB, "rolled up like bolts of fabric on racks
 behind a glass wall" (Hella Winston).
Another Torah scandal affecting US institutions, this time the wildly inflated appraised values given to 18th and 19th century torah scrolls bought by the Museum of the Bible and other evangelical buyers (Hella Winston, 'How Much Is an Unkosher Torah Worth? Inside the murky world of Torah appraisal and a prominent evangelical’s gift to the Museum of the Bible of thousands of unusable scrolls', type investigations April 13th, 2020). It turns out that 99% of them are historically worthless and worth less the $500 each. Yet the MOB has a display of nearly 200 Torahs:
no longer fit for ritual use due to damage or defect, uncovered and rolled up like bolts of fabric on racks behind a glass wall. The display is accompanied by a text that proclaims “The Consistency of Jewish Scriptures” [...] These Torahs are part of a vast collection of decommissioned, or pasul, Torahs — 1,835, according to museum officials — all of which were donated to the museum by Hobby Lobby and the Green Collection between 2011 and 2014 [...] In addition to the pasul Torahs behind the glass wall, there are a few open ones on display in the museum. The rest of the collection is kept in storage.[...] At the very least, these Torahs highlight a gap between how religious Jews and scholars, on one hand, and the murky world of evangelical religious antiquities collectors, on the other, value Jewish artifacts.
The Torahs were particularly appealing to collector Steve Green, who sees them as proof of the Bible’s unchanging nature over time. But there is "another, unexpected rationale for the museum’s large collection: the rather substantial tax benefits they could generate for their donors".

Update 15th April 2020

Incunabula notes on Twitter something of interest:
I've visited many sofer torah (torah scribes) who have dozens, sometimes hundreds of these gathering dust in their store rooms. In quantity, they are as unsaleable as 19th century printed family bibles are in the book world [...] Speaking generally, most manuscripts contain unique or potentially interesting details, worthy of study. Torah scrolls are the exception: they're written to conform with the most exacting and narrowly defined halachic criteria - as a result, there's almost no individual variation. [...] So 99% of all 18th-18th century Ashkenazi scrolls are for all practical purposes identical, as are 99% of Sephardic or North African scrolls from the same era. [...] overwhelmingly what evangelical buyers have bought are 18th, 19th and early 20th century scrolls, which dealers in the field have always regarded as essentially unsaleable. [...] A further curiosity of the market for torah scrolls, is that although they are arguably the quintessential Jewish "book", most serious Jewish bibliophiles and Hebraica collectors don't in fact buy them or collect them [...] If you're Jewish, there's an uncomfortable feeling seeing torahs displayed in a secular context - one instinctively feels they belong in the 'ark' of the synagogue. I've visited the homes of many Judaica collectors, and not one has had a personal collection of torah scrolls. [...] To commission a new torah scroll is expensive - it will take a scribe 8 - 12 months to complete, and cost upwards of $20000. Devout Jews may do this because it's one of the 613 mitzvot (commandments), but this cost is *completely* unrelated to the price of existing old scrolls.
So, who has been cheating whom? 

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