A sacrilegious sneak stole four Torah scrolls worth a quarter-million dollars from Avenue O Synagogue in Midwood on Oct. 25 — during the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, which celebrates the holy texts and the start of the liturgical calendar.
The hand-written scrolls, which were commissioned specifically for the Flatbush place of worship, were worth a total $240,000, police said. Congregants are devastated that someone could commit such an unholy act, but are grateful for the outpouring of support they have received, said synagogue member David Steinberg.
“It’s heartbreaking, but we’re very proud of the surrounding community who offered help and offered to lend us temporary Torahs,” he said. “We’re very happy for the police and the community services that have stepped up to have them returned.”
The suspect, who was wearing black clothes and a black yarmulke, entered the shul between E. Eighth and E. Ninth streets sometime after 1 am, according to police, who say he may have gotten a student studying there to let him in under the guise that he wanted to pray in the house of worship. But the guy lingered instead and made off with the scrolls at about 4:30 am, officials said.
Steinberg and other members discovered the theft when they went to the synagogue for morning prayer the next day, he said.
The suspect likely intends to sell the valuable scrolls, and he chose not to take the synagogue’s less-expensive ones, according to Steinberg, who was unsure whether the items were insured.
Councilman David Greenfield (D–Flatbush) is offering a $1,000 reward for anyone who can provide the police with information leading to the crook’s arrest, and the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition is offering a $9,000 reward.
Stealing something so holy is “completely despicable,” Greenfield said.
“I struggle to find words to describe the chutzpah of stealing Torah scrolls on the day we celebrate the Torah,” he said. “This type of behavior cannot and will not be tolerated in our community.”
Scrolls like the ones stolen are often made of special materials such as kosher animal skin and can take up to six months to transcribe, but their value comes from the labor put in, rendering them of little worth to the average black-marketeer. A gilded case that housed the tomes and was also stolen may fetch a pretty penny, though, according to Steinberg.
This is not the first time a pricey copy of the sacred text has been lifted from a Brooklyn shul — someone smashed a car window in Crown Heights and took a Torah from the back seat in 2009.
Cops have identified a suspect, according to JP updates, but the investigation is ongoing, officials said.
Police are asking anyone with information regarding the incident to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577–8477. The public can also submit tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at www.nypdc
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