Israeli police arrest scroll gang rabbi

January 13, 2011

Police hope to have put a brake on the rising number of Torah scroll thefts from synagogues around Israel after arresting two gangs last week.

In the largest of the swoops, police uncovered an unusual example of Arab-Jewish co-operation when they charged three Arabs in Lod and a prominent rabbi from the strictly-Orthodox town of Elad, near Petach Tikvah, with the theft of 70 Torah scrolls.

In Jerusalem, three Jewish men were arrested for the theft of a dozen scrolls from villages in the Negev and northern Israel. One of the men, who said he was on a business trip and would make up a minyan - apparently so that he could look inside a synagogue - was identified by villagers.

A police spokesman said: "Before, we were dealing with individuals. The organised nature of these thefts makes it easier to catch the offenders."

New Torah scrolls cost about £20,000, with stolen scrolls selling for 20 per cent of that value. Most Torah scrolls are donated in the memory of loved ones, so a theft also has a high emotional cost. A scroll which was stolen from the village of Menachemia last year was donated by the family of Avraham Biton, killed in the Yom Kippur War. His brother, Amram Biton, said: "We feel like our wounds have been reopened."

Last updated: 1:01pm, January 13 2011