A number of fragments of holy texts confiscated from the Iraqi Jewish community by Saddam Hussein’s secret police were buried in a Jewish cemetery in New York City on Sunday.
The documents, mainly consisting of fragments of Torah scrolls and the book of Esther, are part of a collection discovered in 2003 by coalition forces in the basement of Baghdad’s Mukhabarat, or secret police, headquarters.
According to Jewish law, holy texts that are damaged or otherwise unusable must be placed in permanent storage or buried.
A portion of the documents, which are being restored, are on display at the US National Archives but are due to be returned to Iraq next year. Jewish groups have expressed strong opposition to the return of the documents, claiming that since they were confiscated by the government they rightfully belong to the expatriate Jewish community.
In a statement released to the press and signed by more than 40 American Jewish groups last month, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations called upon the US government to “assure that the Iraqi Jewish Archives currently in Washington, DC, would be protected, and continue to be accessible to Iraqi Jewish communities around the world.”
The Iraqi government has stated that it believes the documents are an integral part of Iraqi history and cannot be relinquished.
The World Organization of Jews from Iraq (WOJI) negotiated the return of the fragments with Iraq, group President Maurice Shohet wrote in a letter to members obtained by The Jerusalem Post.
Representatives of the Iraqi government, US State Department, National Archives and National Endowment for Humanities were all due to attend the ceremony, which was closed to the press by agreement between the parties involved.
“This is a very important matter to us, as we wish to see the traditions and laws of our faith upheld and our Holy objects treated with the respect due to them,” Shohet wrote.
Not every Iraqi émigré agreed with Shohet’s decision to bury the fragments.
In a letter to Shohet, expatriate Robert Fattal, a writer and commenter, asked for the ceremony to be delayed.
“These are no ordinary religious texts, they are part of our Iraqi Jewish history and why should we rush to dispose of these treasures,” Fattal asked Shohet. “They tell our story, damaged as they are, they tell a story of perfectly good religious texts that were used by Iraqi Jews seized by Saddam, damaged by war, and miraculously salvaged for everyone to see.”
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