Report: Yemen imprisons two for helping smuggle out Torah

ByJTA
March 25, 2016 05:43

Earlier this week, a clandestine mission performed by the Jewish Agency culminated in the aliya of 19 Jews, fourteen from the town of Raydah and a family of five from the capital Sanaa.

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Yemenite Jews

Final group of Yemenite Jewish immigrants arrives in Israel. (photo credit:ARIELLE DI-PORTO FOR THE JEWISH AGENCY FOR ISRAEL)

The Yemeni government reportedly has imprisoned a Jewish man for allegedly helping smuggle a historic Torah scroll out of the war-torn country and into Israel.

The man and a Muslim airport worker were arrested for their suspected roles in moving the more-than-500-year-old sefer Torah, of which the government claims ownership, the  London Jewish Chronicle reported Thursday.

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According to the Chronicle, the two are believed to have been arrested after local authorities saw media coverage of Sunday’s covert airlift of 19 Yemeni Jews that was carried out with the assistance of the Jewish Agency and the US State Department. The coverage included photos of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reading the Torah scroll with the rabbi of the newly transplanted community.

Religious leaders reportedly are worried the unnamed Jewish prisoner is being tortured, Israeli-American businessman Moti Kahana told the Chronicle.

“When I saw the scroll in the media, I knew the Yemenite government would complain – they would say that international law was broken,” said Kahana, who helped organize the rescue of the last Jews of Aleppo, Syria, last year, and has created a nonprofit that cares for Jewish historical artifacts from that country.

Jewish Agency spokesman Avi Mayer said he could not confirm whether a Jewish man was currently being detained in Yemen, but said, “The ancient Torah scroll brought from Yemen to Israel this week is the property of the Raydah Jewish community, of Yemenite Jewry, and of the Jewish people.”

Mayer added: “The notion that the Torah should have been left, without protection, in a country torn apart by a violent civil war involving several parties that are viciously hostile to Jews is preposterous. The Torah is part of the proud heritage of Yemenite Jewry and that heritage will live on in the state of Israel.”

Earlier this week, a clandestine mission performed by the Jewish Agency culminated in the aliya of the 19 Jews, fourteen from the town of Raydah and a family of five from the capital Sanaa.

According to Channel 2, the US State Department was involved in the mission and helped coordinate the complex transfer of the Jews after the group faced persecution on its way to Israel.

More than 51,000 Yemenite Jews have immigrated to Israel since the country’s establishment in 1948. In 1949, Israel organized their mass transfer to the newly-established state in Operation Magic Carpet.  

The Jewish Agency noted that some fifty Jews remain in Yemen, including approximately forty in Sanaa, where they live in a closed compound adjacent to the US embassy and enjoy the protection of Yemeni authorities.

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