Chief rabbi asks Lithuania to transfer Torahs to Israel

MOSCOW, Aug. 2 (JTA) — Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi has asked Lithuania to transfer dozens of Torah scrolls to the Jewish state. The scrolls, currently housed in the Baltic nation’s main library, are at the center of a dispute between Lithuania and Jewish groups, both in Lithuania and abroad, over the ownership of a large repository of Judaica material. More than 300 Torahs and some 52,000 Hebrew and Yiddish books were transferred to the library after they were discovered languishing in a church in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. Nearly 94 percent of the country’s Jewish community perished in the Holocaust. Yisrael Meir Lau, who visited the Baltic nation last month, told Lithuanian President Valdus Adamkus that “museums and libraries are not an appropriate place” for religious items, according to Simonas Alperavicius, chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish community. Lau’s request comes as an international coalition is continuing to work with the library to catalog the Judaica collection. Deciding who the rightful owners of the materials are will take place after the documentation process is concluded, said Jerome Chanes, program director for the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, the New York-based group that is coordinating the coalition. While it will take several years to catalog the materials, Chanes said, deciding who rightfully owns the Torah scrolls “will be handled before everything else.” But Alperavicius said the issue would be difficult to resolve. With only two functioning synagogues, Lithuanian Jews cannot make use of most of the scrolls. And the Lithuanian Parliament seems unlikely to approve any request to release the scrolls from the national library. Most of the lawmakers believe that the scrolls are part of Lithuania’s national heritage and should remain in the country. In a telephone interview from Vilnius, Alperavicius said Adamkus
has promised Lau that he would meet with Lithuanian Jewish community to discuss “what could be done on this issue.” (JTA intern Julia Strongwater contributed to this report.)

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