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The Gantseh Megillah

Torah Scroll Scam?
March-12-10
Issue:
11.03

As I understand it, the sacred Jewish profession of holy scribe is a difficult, time-consuming profession. Doing the job well doesn't make anyone rich. There are limited hours in the day. It's hard to do any other sort of work and take on projects, especially large ones, like Torah Scrolls.

Tonight, after Shabbat, when I turned on the computer and began checking my mail, I saw a short disturbing article in the New York Post about a possible scam. Rabbi Menachem Youlus has been selling what he claims to be pre-Holocaust era Torah Scrolls he has dramatically rescued from mass graves, concentration camps etc.

His adventure stories about these rescues are more exciting than fiction, and more and more people suspect that they are fiction. I "googled" and found a longer more detailed article in the Washington Post.

It's the numbers which make his stories tall tales. How could he have time to travel between the states and Europe, rescue hundreds of Torah Scrolls and also restore them?

On his Save a Torah promotional video, posted on the Web in 2007, Youlus says he has rescued 500 Torahs since he began his mission a quarter-century ago. The number Youlus gives on this spring afternoon in 2009 has soared to 1,100.

According to Jewish Law, exact financial records are supposed to be kept.

In a 3-hour interview, Youlus is unable to provide a single name, date, place, photograph or document to back up the Auschwitz stories or any of the others. He says that until Save a Torah was founded in 2004, he kept no records. He refers all requests for documentation since then to the foundation's president, investment banker Rick Zitelman of Rockville.

But in a late December meeting at The Washington Post, Zitelman, 54, shows no documentation for any of the scrolls, despite requests. Zitelman says the only paperwork he gets from Youlus is an invoice the rabbi himself writes up for each Torah. He says Youlus does not submit any airline tickets or hotel receipts for overseas missions.

It just doesn't make sense.

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