27 July 2010
The Maryland-based nonprofit group Save a Torah has agreed it will only give provenances of its Torah scrolls “if there is documentation or an independent verifiable witness to such history,” according to an agreement with state officials. Save a Torah restores Torah scrolls, but waded into controversy after restoring a scroll donated to Central Synagogue in Manhattan in 2008. At the time, Menachem Youlus, a rabbi at the center of Save a Torah’s work, said that Torah had been saved by a Polish priest during World War II after Jewish prisoners entrusted it to him.
Questions surfaced after the ‘New York Times' published an article about that Torah in April 2008. New York Jewish activist Menachem Rosensaft, who is also an adjunct professor at Cornell Law School and teaches a course on World War II war crimes trials, took issue with Youlus’s description of the scroll as “Auschwitz Torah” and sent a complaint about Save a Torah to Maryland’s attorney-general.
“There is no record of anyone even remotely fitting the description of the priest” Rabbi Youlus said had saved it, Rosensaft said in the letter. He also took issue with a Torah that Youlus said had been at Bergen-Belsen, the concentration camp where Anne Frank died in 1945. Rosensaft said that Rabbi Youlus’s description of finding a Torah beneath a wooden floor in a barracks was not possible.
Under an agreement with the secretary of state of Maryland and its attorney-general, Save a Torah has now agreed to “take all reasonable steps necessary to ensure that its board members, employees, independent contractors and other agents will only describe where a Torah was found or provide an account of its rescue if there is documentation or an independent verifiable witness to such history. In the absence of such verifiable proof, there will be no discussion of the circumstances under which the Torah was rescued so that those who dedicate or receive rescued Torahs can do so with total confidence.”
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