Ukrainian jews want their Torahs back

Ukrainian Jewish leaders are demanding the return of all Torah scrolls currently stored in state museums and archives.

The call was issued during this week during a news conference in Kiev.

Leaders of the Chabad-run Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine, or FJC, the country’s leading Jewish religious umbrella organization, said Wednesday that claims by Ukrainian archives officials that the community mishandled several Torahs lent to it by the state have been proven groundless.

FJC cited the opinion of a board of experts at the Kiev Research Institute for Legal Expertise who ruled last month that the Torahs in question did not carry any “traces of recent damage or restoration.”

Early this year, representatives of the local state archives in Zhytomir in central Ukraine confiscated 17 scrolls from the local Jewish community, claiming the community had damaged them. More than two years ago, the archives lent the scrolls to the community on shaky terms, allowing Jews to use the scrolls but prohibiting them from altering them in any way.

“According to the examination, all accusations are groundless,” Rabbi Azriel Chaikin, one chief rabbis of Ukraine, said this week. “The Jewish community handed over all Torah scrolls in the same condition as it got them a few years ago from the archives.”

The head of the Ukrainian State Archives Committee told a Ukrainian television station that the archives did not plan on returning any scrolls to the Zhytomyr community and demanded a new examination of the scrolls.

Seizure of the scrolls trigged a wave of protest from community leaders, who said it was time for Ukraine to adopt a restitution law that would return the scrolls to the Jews who originally owned them. The scrolls originally belonged to the Jewish community of Zhytomir and were acquired by the local state archives through communist and Nazi looting.

Thousands of Torah scrolls still remain the property of state-run museums and archives in Ukraine.

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