Police have arrested two men - one from Jerusalem and the other from Hadera - whom they suspect of breaking into synagogues 17 times and stealing 30 Torah scrolls. The break-ins were carried out in numerous locations throughout the central and southern parts of Israel.
Charges against the two are to be filed on Friday.
According to the "Local - Be'er Sheva" website, most of the break-ins were carried out in "moshav"-type agricultural communities ("moshavim" in plural). The thieves would remove the Torah parchments from the rollers they were wrapped upon, replace the rollers in the cases or cover them with the Torah mantles, and put them back in the Ark. The theft would therefore only become known when congregants were in the synagogue and about to read from the Torah.
In November, there were three Torah thefts at the moshavim of Yated, Shuva and Pri-Gan in the South. The string of similar break-ins prompted the Negev District Police to form a special task force, and in a few days' time a piece of evidence that was found in the Pri Gan synagogue led to a suspect in Jerusalem. The man had a previous criminal record that is consistent with the kind of offenses he is now suspected of. His arrest led to the arrest of the second suspect.
Police say that the suspects preferred moshavim because the synagogues there are more accessible in the daytime. They conducted surveillance and collected intelligence on their target synagogues before striking, and on occasion would even join a prayer session in order to check security arrangements from within the synagogue.
Southern Province Commander Maj.-Gen. Yochanan Danino - soon to become the Commissioner of Police - praised the work carried out by the task force. "These thefts were offenses against the Sanctities of Israel," he said. "Beside the monetary damage they also caused great sorrow (...) and emotional distress in the moshav communities throughout Israel, and among family members who had Torah scrolls written in memory of their loved ones."