Wednesday, April 30, 2008

From Auschwitz, a Torah as Strong as Its Spirit

From Auschwitz, a Torah as Strong as Its Spirit
It is the story of a sexton in the synagogue in the Polish city of Oswiecim who buried most of the sacred scroll before the Germans stormed in and later renamed the city Auschwitz. It is the story of Jewish prisoners who sneaked the rest of it — four carefully chosen panels — into the concentration camp.

It is the story of a Polish Catholic priest to whom they entrusted the four panels before their deaths. It is the story of a Maryland rabbi who went looking for it...


He dug near the house and found the metal box. But when he opened it, he discovered the Torah was incomplete. “It was missing four panels,” he said. “The obvious question was, why would the sexton bury a scroll that’s missing four panels? I was convinced those four panels had a story themselves.”

They did, as he learned when he placed an ad in a Polish newspaper in the area “asking if anyone had parchment with Hebrew letters.”

“I said I would pay top dollar,” Rabbi Youlus said. “The response came the next day from a priest. He said, ‘I know exactly what you’re looking for, four panels of a Torah.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

He compared the lettering and the pagination, and paid the priest. ...

"priest to whom they entrusted the four panels" --> "and paid the priest"

The article doesn't say it was the same priest. It also doesn't say any number of other things that might bear on this, but I wonder if I would have accepted payment for returning something that had been entrusted to me.

It doesn't matter that the four people who had done the entrusting were long dead. Having determined that the four panels belonged to the torah, the return would have been to the torah where they belonged. Right?

Would it matter to me from where the payment came? Would donations from children be different from a fat cat's check?

I'm an athest. Why am I even thinking about the propriety of selling some religious artifact that was entrusted to me? Sacred? Nothing is "sacred" to an atheist, right? What do I care about some torah?

Maybe the priest who sold that which had been entrusted to him (assuming it was the same priest, but even if not, considering that the selling priest knew how and why these four panels landed in his keep), maybe this priest saw the money as a means to a worthy end (or maybe just to a worthy retirement). Does it matter?

Had I been the one to whom the four panels were entrusted by desperate condemned people, I'd like to think that I'd have returned them to the torah from which they came without hesitation or payment.

But I think I'd have probably have taken the money. Why not?

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