Ukraine returns Torah fragments

KIEV, Ukraine (JTA) — Ukraine returned 14 old Torah fragments to the Jewish community of Lvov.

Mordechai Shlomo Bold, the chief rabbi of Lvov, told JTA on Sunday that the fragments returned the previous day by the Central State Historical Archive in that western city would be buried in accordance with Jewish law.

Community rabbis say all Torah scrolls and fragments being held by the Ukrainian State Archives must be returned to their original owners.

Jewish religious objects taken from synagogues during the Soviet regime are in two Lvov museums: the Museum of the History of Religion and the Museum of Ethnography and Crafts. Some 1,000 objects are in each museum, including more than 420 Torah scrolls and fragments from the 15th through 20th centuries.

Some items confiscated from Lvov Jews during the Soviet regime were returned to the Jewish community in 1989. Approximately 1,000 to 2,000 Jews live in modern Lvov.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko signed a decree in 2007 ordering the restoration of Jewish religious objects to the country’s Jewish communities.

Most of the Torah scrolls now being used in Ukrainian synagogues were acquired by the state archives and museums through communist and Nazi looting.

Jewish communities need the thousands of Torah scrolls currently languishing in state archives, according to local rabbis, to restore and to use during services.

Rabbi Yakov Dov Bleich, chief rabbi of Kiev, told JTA that objects must be returned to the largest Jewish communities — Kiev, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov and Odessa. Bleich called the returns so far "a first small step" and said the Jewish communities continue to negotiate with the Central State Archives.

Aleksandr Sagan, head of the Ukrainian State Committee on Nationalities and Religions, told JTA that the objects must be used to help revitalize Jewish religious life in the country. Ukraine is home to the third-largest Jewish community in Europe, with 200,000 to 250,000 Jews.


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