Turkish police: We foiled smuggling attempt of 1000-year-old Jewish texts

Country’s chief rabbi pointed out recently that many “ancient” manuscripts are fakes made to dupe collectors and tourists.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Turkish police foiled a smuggling attempt of four bound Hebrew manuscripts and a scroll estimated as being 1,000 years old, the Middle East Monitor reported last week.

A video distributed by the Mardin Provincial Police Department on October 26 shows a person leafing through the ancient-looking texts with gloved hands. The pages have gold-embossed edges and contain golden pictures including the Star of David, various animals and the sun surrounded by large, Hebrew-like lettering. A raised menorah features prominently on the cover of one of the books. All the covers are embossed with a Star of David.

A small container that could contain a scroll, seemingly made of engraved wood, stands in back of the books.

The caption on the clip says, “As a result of the work carried out by our KOM Branch Directorate, a number of gold-embroidered, handwritten historical books (Torah) that were brought to our country illegally, which are considered to be about a thousand years old, were seized, and the necessary legal proceedings were initiated against the suspect.”

The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR) reported Tuesday that the artifacts had been stolen from a synagogue in the Jobar neighborhood of Damascus. The group’s sources blamed the theft and smuggling attempt on the al-Rahman Corps, which had control of the area for a time before being forced to leave in March 2018 when government forces recaptured it. The armed faction denied possessing any of the synagogue’s Jewish relics, which the SOHR sources called “very precious.”

There have been several cases in the news in recent years of Turkish police recovering from smugglers ancient artifacts which are many times called “Torahs,” even though the real Biblical text is only black lettering on unbound parchment made from the skin of a kosher animal, and contains no color or pictures. These captured goods are usually said to be many hundreds to even 2,000 years old.

However, after one such announcement in March, when the authorities said they had seized a “Torah” that was between 2,000 -2,500 years old, Turkish Chief Rabbi Mendy Chitrik told The Forward that he doesn’t get excited over such finds anymore because the chances that they are genuine are almost nil.

“Every day I get these messages” from tourists, collectors or local community members, Chitrik said. “I stopped downloading them on my phone because it takes up too much space. They say ‘Rabbi, why don’t we save this ancient megillah from Iran or this ancient prayer book from Syria or the Torah scroll from Iraq.’ It’s all fake. Fake, fake, fake from beginning to end.”

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“They take old paper and imprint in gold letters any random script they find on the internet,” he continued. “They think if they can make fake Dolce & Gabbana they can make fake Torahs.”