Rabbi denies Holocaust scrolls are fakes

By Paul Berger, March 18, 2010

An American non-profit firm that rescues and restores Torahs lost in the Holocaust has responded to allegations its scrolls are not what they appear.

Rabbi Menachem Youlus had been dubbed "the Indiana Jones of Torah Scribes" for his exploits in Eastern Europe. He has sold hundreds - possibly over 1,000 - scrolls to congregations.

Many arrive with stories about their discovery in, for example, a former concentration camp. With no documentation, the only proof of their history is scribe Menachem Youlus's word. But at the beginning of this year, an article in the Washington Post Magazine claimed Mr Youlus's stories were untrue.

The Post tracked down five congregations, each of which thought they had one of two scrolls Mr Youlus claimed to have found in a mass grave in Ukraine.

In addition, Rabbi Youlus said he found one scroll below the floorboards of Bergen-Belsen. But the camp historian said that was impossible because the camp was burned by British troops to stop the spread of typhus.

Mr Youlus worked alone for about 20 years before co-founding Save A Torah in Washington, DC, in 2004, with businessman Rick Zitelman.

Last week, Mr Zitelman issued a statement saying that independent experts had examined 11 scrolls recovered by Rabbi Youlus. Although the experts could not verify the scrolls' backstory, they did say that they were pre-Holocaust and written in Eastern Europe.

"As the sofrim [scribes] repeatedly explained to us, Torahs rescued from European countries are frequently purchased from those who possess them with cash and are transported covertly, so there is no documentation of the transaction," Mr Zitelman said. "Other sofrim have had similar experiences in obtaining Torahs that have survived the Holocaust and attest that Rabbi Youlus has followed similar procedures in his efforts to rescue and restore Torahs."

Nevertheless, Mr Zitelman said Save A Torah is developing guidelines so that clients could be sure of the origins of their Torah. Mr Zitelman and Mr Youlus could not be reached for comment.

Robert Kushner, who purchased a scroll from Save A Torah in memory of his father, was shocked when he heard that the story Mr Youlus told him might not have been true. But he said that Mr Youlus "has performed a mitzvah of some sort.

"I don't really care, whatever he did or may not have done. What is more significant is they were Torahs obtained from wherever, were refurbished, were made kosher, and are being used."

Last updated: 4:40pm, March 18 2010