Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Relic Torah

The problem with relics has always been verifying their authenticity. This is no less true of relic texts. The New York Times reports that once questions were raised about the whether a particular Torah scroll survived the Holocaust or not, the donor felt constrained to provide another with a better attested Holocaust lineage:

... after The New York Times published an article about the Torah and the Maryland rabbi, Menachem Youlus, questions surfaced about how it came to be discovered.

As a result, David M. Rubenstein — a billionaire financier who had bought the Torah from Rabbi Youlus and donated it to Central Synagogue — sought to confirm the scroll’s authenticity. Mr. Rubinstein ... hired Michael Berenbaum, a Holocaust historian and former director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Holocaust Research Institute.

“What I found is the claim for the origin of the Torah could not be verified,” Dr. Berenbaum said last week.

... Dr. Berenbaum had him find a Torah “whose Holocaust provenance is not in question” — it was the one placed in the ark on Monday. That Torah had remained in the Romanian Jewish community through the Holocaust and was later taken to Israel
The significance of using a genuine Holocaust torah scroll was expressed by both the donor and the synagogue's rabbi:

Mr. Rubenstein said he had donated the Torah to Central Synagogue “so its congregants could have the sacred experience of reading Scripture from a scroll that had survived the Holocaust.”

“As one who has gone to the camps and assimilates into my being the horror of the Holocaust,” Rabbi Rubinstein said at the time, “this gives meaning to Jewish survival.”

The Washington Post reported on October 11, 2012, that Rabbi Menachem Youlus pleaded guilty and was convicted of selling fake Holocaust scrolls and defrauding investors.
Youlus, the self-proclaimed “Jewish Indiana Jones” ... spun cloak-and-dagger tales of “rescuing” sacred Torah scrolls lost during the Holocaust, but those tales were lies. ... Despite Youlus’s claims that he found holy relics at concentration camps, in monasteries and in mass graves, passport records show he never traveled to Europe. ... More than 50 of his purported Holocaust Torahs made their way to congregations in the Washington area and beyond. Synagogues held emotional ceremonies to rededicate the scrolls for worship — a symbolic show of Jewish triumph over Hitler.
Youlus was sentenced to 51 months in prison and ordered to pay $990,366.05 in restitution.

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