Amid Syria's destructive civil war, Judaica is being plundered and sold for thousands on the black market

Damascus Jewish Community Association tells the JC he was offered items from the destroyed Jobar synagogue


Looters plundered valuable Judaica from the chaos of Syria’s devastating civil war and offered to sell them for vast prices, a leader of the Damascus Jewish community has confirmed.

Eliahou Hasson, who is now chairman of the Damascus Jewish Community Association’s heritage committee in Israel, said he had been offered items from Jobar, a synagogue in the Syrian capital that was completely destroyed in 2014.

“I was contacted five or six years ago by a man who said he was an anonymous representative of a Druze man from the Golan Heights,” Mr Hasson told the JC.

“He said that he had 10 crates of items from the Jobar synagogue and asked if I would be interested in buying them.”

Mr Hasson was speaking after an Associated Press investigation last month revealed items stolen from Jobar — including priceless Torah scrolls written on Gazella leather, tapestries, carpets and chandeliers — were found on the black market in neighbouring Turkey.

“Although I didn’t take him too seriously, I was interested,” Mr Hasson said.

“But after consulting with friends in the US, I was warned that any such acquisition would likely be a violation of US anti-terrorism laws because I could have been financing a terrorist organisation.”

“So I dropped the matter.”

The latest incarnation of Jobar was a medieval-era structure, but it is believed to have been the site of a synagogue as early as 720 BCE. It was where Elijah fled when commanded by God to go Damascus and where Elisha was anointed as a prophet.

After the Syrian civil war broke out in 2010, the synagogue fell into the hands of Failaq al-Rahman Islamist rebels, who understood the value of the Jewish items and took them away for safekeeping. The synagogue itself was destroyed by artillery fire in May 2014 and the site was subsequently retaken by President Bashar al-Assad’s army.

Mr Hasson said that he was contacted a second time by the same unnamed representative about 18 months after the first call: “This time the representative sent pictures of ancient copper artefacts and oil lamps for which $100,000 [£76,000 today] was asked.”

He contacted his brother Yisrael Hasson, who is chairman of the Israel Antiquities Authority and a former MK for the Kadima and Yisrael Beitenu parties.

“We wanted to make sure that if we bought the items we would not be open to prosecution for financing a terrorist group,” Mr Hasson said.

“But in the end the deal collapsed because he wanted the money up front without giving us the chance to see and verify the authenticity of the items.”

The Syrian government has been unable to locate the Jobar cache and in recent years some items have been found in Turkey.

Last month the Turkish media reported five people were arrested in the northwest of the country while trying to sell two old Torah scrolls for £1.3 million.

It remains unclear whether the Torah scrolls were genuine, or cheaper copies that were switched for the originals in the 1990s, when it is rumoured they were smuggled to Israel.

Mr Hasson said there had been a history of greed, deception and trickery on relating to Syrian Torah scrolls, sacred books and other valuable items that have gone missing from Damascus and Aleppo over the past 60 years.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive