Northern District police on Wednesday arrested a gang of Torah thieves, suspected of being part of a business that took “orders” from “clients” for scrolls to be delivered in Israel and abroad.
The masterminds behind the scheme, who turned out to be two Tiberias residents, were responsible for the theft of dozens of scrolls in the city and beyond.
The two supplied "wholesale" scrolls to a Jerusalem resident, who owned a religious articles business, and subsequently sold the scrolls to clients who sought them for use in community synagogues.
The storeowner sold the goods via a variety of channels - local advertising, and over the Internet - soliciting orders from around the world.
Authentic Torah scrolls, handwritten on parchment in a painstaking manner that requires the use of an age-old method of calligraphic writing, can only be done by qualified scribes. It often takes a year or more to complete a scroll, and the price for a good-quality scroll can reach $50,000 or more.
The gang would sell its scrolls for less – but not too much less, so as not to raise the suspicions of clients on why they were getting an expensive item too cheaply.
Torah scrolls are generally registered in a national database in Israel in order to keep track of them, so that a purchaser can check to see its provenance and whether or not it was stolen. Police are investigating why no one noticed that the scrolls were stolen.
The three suspects have been detained and are being questioned. Police plan to ask for an extension of their remand.