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Jewish Leaders Urge Emergency Measures to Halt Torah Thefts

The continuing rash of thefts of Torahs from metropolitan area synagogues was termed a “plague that must be stopped” by leaders of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC).

Two recent incidents brought to more than 70 the number of Torahs stolen since last Jan. in the five boroughs. This is 20 more than in all of 1980 and “surpasses the entire decade of the 1970’s,” according to Peggy Tishman, chairman of the JCRC Commission of Jewish Security and Police Liaison.

Louis Weiser, chairman of the JCRC’s Monitoring Unit, and Rabbi Israel Miller who is chairing a special committee on Torah registry, noted that “the current crisis requires emergency measures on the part of citizens, synagogues, police and legislators.” The three leaders announced a broad-scale program on which their respective bodies and the 29-member agencies of the JCRC have been working.

Included are plans for “block watcher” programs near all synagogues, and unarmed patrols; visitations by crime prevention officers to every synagogue and implementation of basic security measures; state and federal legislation to increase penalties, parental liability and to bring additional resources to supplement ongoing police efforts; a sizeable reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible; a community education program; and, most importantly, a Torah Identification and Registry System.

Miller noted that “intensive efforts are underway to finalize the system,” which he said should be announced in the next two weeks. There are a few technical details that must be resolved to assure the effectiveness of the system and its compliance with Jewish religious law. The system involves a numerical marking system using a special invisible ink.

Laurence Tisch, JCRC president, said “We are in contact with the police departments in New York City and the surrounding counties. They are most concerned and have given high priority to protecting houses of worship. It is up to the community now to institute emergency measures to prevent further occurrences and assist in every possible way to recover stolen Torahs.”

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