The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court sentenced four people on Sunday to between nine
months and four years imprisonment for stealing Jewish ritual and holy objects
worth approximately $1 million from the Great Synagogue of Milan.
February 1, the convicts stole various items from the synagogue, transported
them to Paris and then brought them by plane to Israel. The stolen objects
included rare crowns and ceremonial objects placed on Torah scrolls dating back
to the 18th century.
Much of the hearing surrounded attempts by the
mastermind of the theft, Meir Moalem, to convince the court to give him a light
Moalem and character witnesses, including his mother, described
how he had had trouble supporting his family in Israel. They said that he had
moved to Paris in order to try to better support the family.
he had learned that he could buy people’s loyalty and could get people to work
with him on any job, even if illegal, if he paid them enough. Moalem had paid
various members of the team up to $70,000 to assist him in aspects of the
Requesting a lenient punishment, he noted that he has turned over
a new leaf since his arrest for this crime. He also noted that all of the items
were returned to the Italian synagogue. Moalem also said he did not realize the
extent of the value of the objects which he had stolen and was just trying to
pay off his and his family’s debts.
The state sought a maximum punishment
of five years in prison, arguing that the stolen objects had tremendous economic
and historical value. According to the state, a clear message needed to be sent
that such theft was even worse than run-of-the-mill crime and would carry a more
The prosecutors also did not believe Moalem’s story
about not knowing the value of the objects, noting his intricate plans for the
theft, hiring a team of assistants and the amount he paid his accomplices for
In handing Moalem a four-year sentence, the court
mostly accepted the state’s argument, finding that since Moalem found a
purchaser for $285,000, he at least knew that the stolen objects were of high
The court also noted the significant negative impact that Moalem’s
actions had on a treasured Italian Jewish community which has existed for