A Brooklyn synagogue had to celebrate Simchat Torah without four of its holy scrolls, following a theft on Tuesday morning. But in a thankful reversal of fortune, the Torahs were returned to the Midwood congregation shortly after midnight on Friday, leaving some to speculate that the robber saw the error of his ways.
“Thanks to the coordinated community efforts working in tandem with the NYPD and Flatbush Shomrim, it seems that the enormous pressure has thank God forced the late night return of the Torahs,” Josh Mehlman of the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition, told Israeli news station Arutz Sheva, which reported the story.
Valued at up to $250,000, the Torah scrolls were recovered Friday morning, as a member of the Orthodox congregation was leaving the building after a religious study session. He found the stolen items located outside the synagogue’s entrance, intact and wrapped in black garbage bags.
The robbery on Simchat Torah — a holiday when Jews mark the end of a year’s cycle of Torah readings, often dancing with the scrolls in hand — had led the New York Police Department and a local community patrol to open an investigation which had not broken ground by the time the Torahs were recovered. The man was caught on video, and identified as being white and in his 20s.
Stealing Torah scrolls can be a lucrative business, as the items are highly valuable — they are transcribed by hand on special animal skin and often covered with gold or silver. Several high profile robberies have taken place in Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods home to large Orthodox Jewish communities, like Boro Park and Far Rockaway.
New York City Councilman David Greenfield had put out an award for information leading to the arrest of the criminal, and told the Brooklyn Daily that he found the theft unspeakable.
“I struggle to find words to describe the chutzpah of stealing Torah scrolls on the day we celebrate the Torah,” he said. “This type of behavior cannot and will not be tolerated in our community.”
Daniel J. Solomon is the Assistant to the Editor/News Writer at the Forward. Originally from Queens, he attended Harvard as an undergraduate, where he wrote his senior thesis on French-Jewish intellectual history. He is excited to have returned to New York after his time in Massachusetts. Daniel’s passions include folk music, cycling, and pointed argument.