Sunday, June 13, 2010

Stolen Torah Scrolls

"Torah scrolls stolen from Antwerp synagogue
May 31, 2010
(JTA) -- Several Torah scrolls were stolen from Antwerp's main synagogue in
what may be the largest such theft ever reported in Belgium. Congregation
members arrived for morning services on Saturday to find that four to six Torah
scrolls had been taken overnight Friday from the synagogue on Oostenstraat.
One of the missing scrolls is more than 200 years old and was hidden by a
Jewish woman held in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.
Experts have suggested that the thieves are more likely to demand a
ransom for the Torah scrolls rather than try to sell them, as buyers want to
know the origin of a scroll and the stolen scrolls are easily identifiable,
Joods Aktueel reported.
During World War II, 10 Torah scrolls and hundreds of prayer books
were thrown out of the synagogue into the street and burned. "

There's a discussion about the implicance of a stolen Sefer Torah for a person who wrote it for the Miztva of Kitvu Lachem. If the Torah is stolen, is his Miztva "void" and he is urged to write another Sefer Torah? Or pehaps the fact the Sefer Torah is still somewhere in world suffices to fulfill the Mitzva of Kitvu Lachem?

The Torat Chaim in Sanhedrin speaks about the common minhag of giving one's Torah to the Shul and how that affects the Miztva of Kitvu Lachem. I will quote him in full because this is a classic in Safrut literature:

ונראה דיחיד הכותב ס"ת לעצמו ונתנה לביהכ"נ לקרות בה בציבור ומקדישה, לאו שפיר עביד, דכיון שמקדישה הריהי של הקדש ולאו שלו היא ואינו יוצא בה יד"ח, וליכא למימר דבכתיבה לחוד תליא, זה אינו, דיחיד שכתב ס"ת לעצמו ואח"כ נאבדה פשיטא שצריך לכתוב לו ספר תורה אחרת, ולכן נראה שאין להקדיש ס"ת אלא אם כן כותב לעצמו אחרת

In other words, the Torat Chaim says that a person should NOT give over his Sefer Torah to the community because that will void his Mitzva of Kitvu Lachem. And he links this to a Sefer Torah that is lost, which allegedly has the same Halachic outcome: it voids his Miztva of Kitvu Lachem.

This position is well-known but a few commentators disagree (Bnei Yonah, Pardes David)and hold that if the lost Sefer Torah ends up being used by another community, the original owner's Miztva is not void. The same would be true to a person who gives over his Torah to his community - his Mitzva is still standing.

It's common practice today to avoid giving over one's Sefer Torah to community services. Most Rabbis will advise you to lend it to the Shul rather than giving it as a gift, ensuring that the owner still retains the "Mitzva Rights". I guess that the same would apply to stolen Sifrei Torah but you must ask your Rabbi for a definitive position.