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Torah horror for Heights shul!

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The holiday was kosher, but the return trip was a nightmare for one Brooklyn Heights synagogue, which lost a sacred Torah in a car break-in on Sunday night.

Cops say that a thief stole one of Congregation B’nai Avraham’s hand-written religious scrolls from a car parked in Crown Heights.

The shul is on schpilkas hoping for the Good Book’s return.

“We’re looking through trash bins [in Crown Heights] in case the thief didn’t know what he got — and we’re offering a $1,000 reward,” said Rabbi Simcha Weinstein of the Remsen Street congregation.

The scroll, which took years to inscribe and is worth at least $10,000, was acquired about a decade ago. B’nai Avraham let a group of congregants borrow the Torah for a “Kosher holiday” to Turks and Caicos.

“We lent them a Torah so they could have services on the island. They got back late, and they thought it would be safe for one night in a duffel bag in the back of the car,” explained Weinstein. “One night!”

But not even the all-seeing eye of the Lord could protect the holy scroll — the sacred Five Books of Moses that comprise the Jewish Old Testament.

Under the cover of darkness, the thief shattered the driver’s-side window of the car, which was parked on Union Street near Utica Avenue, then grabbed the duffel bag and fled.

Who would want a Torah? The hand-written scrolls can be worth tens of thousands of dollars, but for one problem: they are extremely difficult to fence. Like most Torahs, this scroll had been previously stamped by the Universal Torah Registry with a secret code, a sort of Talmudic dye pack.

Registered Torahs are identified in an online database that synagogues check before making a purchase.

“Once [would-be buyers] realize a Torah is registered, they don’t want to buy it, so there have been very few Torah thefts since the registry’s inception,” said David Pollack of the Jewish Community Relations Council, which runs the registry.

The few thefts that do occur these days are generally inside jobs, according to Pollack.

“Usually, it’s someone that knows where the Torahs are and has access to them,” he said.

But the robber’s unsophisticated methods — deceptively unsophisticated, perhaps — has B’nai Avraham’s Weinstein convinced the robber doesn’t know what he’s got.

“Whoever stole it probably didn’t know it was a Torah,” said Weinstein. “If a man returns it, he’ll get $1,000 and a kiss, no questions asked.”

Weinstein said that if a woman returns it, she’ll get the $1,000 only — religious rules, you understand.

To offer any information about the stolen Torah, call Congregation B’nai Avraham at (718) 866-6815.

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Reader Feedback

Bob from Pk Slope says:
For future reference:
#1, The Five Books of Moses (Torah) are the first five books of the "Old Testament." They're NOT the entire "OT."

#2, The term "Old Testament" only applies if you believe that Jesus brought a "New" Testament. (In fact, NT implies a bit of value judgment - as in "New and Improved!") To Jews, there's only ONE Testament/Book.
So in stories like this: It's more culture-neutral - and sensitive - to use a term like "Jewish Scriptures" (or Jewish Bible, or whatever), rather than "OT."
... But again: The Torah is the first five (and regarded-as-holiest) books - it's not the whole Jewish Bible.

I mean, I'm _Protestant_ and I know this stuff; why don't you guys?
Feb. 1, 2009, 3:52 am

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