Brazil National Museum’s famed centuries-old Torah scrolls were removed before the disastrous fire.
Brazil’s National Museum said Wednesday that centuries-old Torah scrolls, had been moved before a massive fire ravaged the place and gutted much of the largest collections of national history artifacts in Latin America.
Questions about the fate of the scrolls had swirled since Sunday night’s blaze at the museum, which used to be the home of Brazil’s royal family. Amid an ongoing investigation and unable to access to much of the now destroyed museum, officials have been reluctant to give any account of how specific artifacts fared in the fire or disclose information on other material that may have been in other locations.
The Torah scrolls are “being kept in a safe place,” according to a museum statement sent to The Associated Press on Wednesday, adding they had been removed nearly two years ago. The statement did not say where they had been transferred.
A spokesman at the Israeli Embassy in the capital Brasilia said it didn’t have more information on the Torah scrolls.
Brazilian scholars have said the scrolls originated in Yemen and possibly date back to the 13th century.
The museum’s website says the nine scrolls were acquired in the early 19th century by the country’s last monarch, Dom Pedro II. The website, which had apparently not been updated, also said the scrolls were not part of an exhibit, but rather kept in a safe in the director’s office.
Avraham Beuthner, from the Jewish organization Beit Lubavitch in Rio de Janeiro, told the AP that university officials told him the Torah was being housed at a university library near the museum. The museum is part of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Beuthner said he had been fielding calls from Jews in Israel and several Latin American countries since the fire inquiring about the scrolls.
“Thank God it’s safe,” he said, adding that university officials had promised to soon allow Jewish community leaders to see where the Torah is being held.
The good news came as museum officials said they feared as much as 90 percent of Latin America’s largest collection of treasures might have been lost in the fire.