For the first time in history, a system to mark and identify Torah scrolls has been developed, it was announced here today at a press conference by Rabbi Israel Miller, honorary chairman of the Universal Torah Registry (UTR).
The registry system, using micro-perforations, marking paste and a Certificate of Registry, is the culmination of nearly three years of research by chemists, cryptologists, computer scientists and security experts. Their search was guided by principles laid down by leading rabbinic authorities, Miller said. “It represents a unified response by all facets of the Jewish community to a most serious problem,” he said.
Miller pointed out that “Our aim is to ensure that each Torah in the United States, Canada, Israel and around the world has a unique code and a corresponding Certificate of Registry.”
The UTR was created in consultation with synagogue, rabbinic, communal and law enforcement groups coordinated by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of New York, in response to a rash of thefts across the U.S. and around the world. The system is expected to be implemented in Israel, Europe and other parts of the world.
RECOGNIZED A COMPELLING NEED
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the JCRC, said: “We were faced with scores of Torah hefts in the metropolitan area and, even if the police had a lead, they found that Torahs could not be identified. We recognized the compelling need for an approach that would protect synagogues and others owning Torahs, discourage thieves and do away with a potential market.”
According to JCRC officials, prices for a Torah scroll range from $10,000 to $25,000. Stolen scrolls are sold to unsuspecting congregations, according to law enforcement officials.
EXTENT OF TORAH THEFTS
The extent of Torah thefts in the New York area was outlined by Louis Weiser, chairman of the Jewish Security Monitoring Unit of the JCRC. He said that the disappearance of nine Torahs from the Hebrew Center of the East Bronx late last month brought the number of Torahs stolen since 1980 to over 200, and this represents only the number of Torahs reported stolen.
“There are no consolidated statistics on a national level, but reports to the JCRC from around the country indicate the scope of this awful problem,” Weiser said. The worst year was 1981 when the theft of a total of 138 scrolls was reported on the East Coast alone. In 1982, in the light of additional security measures and one arrest, the thefts fell off to several dozen. There was an increase in reported thefts in 1983, and nine thefts already in 1984.
A ‘SET OF FINGERPRINTS’
The Torah registry system has been compared to a “set of fingerprints” for every Torah by Deputy Inspector Paul Donnelly, Commanding Officer of the Bias Incident Investigating Unit of the New York City Police Department. “When we asked victims to describe their stolen Torahs, they couldn’t,” he said, “and those purchasing Torahs had no way to tell if they were buying a stolen Torah.”
According to Rabbi Emmanuel Holzer, chairman of the UTR, a key aspect of the Torah registry system is the special Certificate of Registry. The certificate has been produced for the UTR by the American Bank Note Company. To protect buyers, a certificate of registry will have to be produced by the seller of a Torah.
Each Torah will be encoded using “microperforations.” Torah owners will receive a kit with all the components necessary to apply the approved markings to register their Torahs, including superfine need les, an invisible marking substance and special marking guides.
Each Torah will be marked in 10 specific locations. There will be a one-time membership fee of $40 and a registration fee of $15 per Torah which covers a five year period. Holzer said, “We wanted a system that would be affordable so that no one would be excluded by the financial burden.”
Rabbinic scholars gave two general guidelines for a marking system that any marking not be visible to the naked eye and that any mark not be representational (recognizable in any known language.) The community experts indicated that the system should be inexpensive and easily applied by members of any congregation. Finally, the security experts expected the system to be immune from tampering and readable by law enforcement personnel.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.