Torah scroll is safe after Brazil Museum's massive fire

The National Museum housed Latin America’s largest collection of historical artifacts, with over 20 million items.

September 5, 2018 20:32
2 minute read.
A fire burns at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil September 2, 2018.

A fire burns at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil September 2, 2018.. (photo credit: REUTERS/RICARDO MORAES)


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The Jewish community of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was in great relief Wednesday to know that the Medieval Yemenite Torah Scroll was not at the National Museum in Rio, which had been engulfed by a massive fire on Sunday.

For a few hours, there were rumors that the scroll had turned into ashes, but Beit Lubavitch Leblon rabbis announced the Torah scroll has been removed from the main building some time ago.

The 13th century Torah scroll once belonged to the second and last monarch of the 19th century empire of Brazil, Emperor Dom Pedro II. The Emperor established a reputation as a forward-thinking governor, who pushed through the abolition of slavery, freedom of speech and widespread education.

“We deeply regret the loss of this colossal treasure in the history of Brazil,” Israel’s honorary consul in Rio, Osias Wurman, said of the building in an interview with JTA. “The only compensation was to know that the Torah of Pedro II is safe, since it was located in another building of the museum. This Torah is evidence of the admiration that the Portuguese monarch had for the Jewish people and for their traditions. This was so rare in Europe.”

The National Museum housed Latin America’s largest collection of historical artifacts, with over 20 million items. It was home to one of the oldest fossils ever found in the Americas, a 11,500-year-old woman skull, which was burned in the fire.

The fire ignited not only the museum’s massive collection, but also a nationwide debate over the role of educational and historical institutions, as well as governmental corruption and funds.  For the past three years, federal funding to the National Museum fell about a third, which led its managers to turn to UNESCO for help, turning the entire event into a tragedy foretold.

Established in 1818, the museum’s building was once home to the Portuguese Royal Family who fled Napoleon’s troops to arrive in Brazil. Pedro II was born there in 1925.

Pedro II, who was obliged to spend his entire childhood and adolescence studying in preparation for rule, was crowned Emperor at the age of fifteen. The libraries at the monarch’s palace and later national museum contained more than 60,000 books. Apart from his mother tongue, Portuguese, the Emperor could also speak and write in 13 other languages, including Arabic, Chinese and Hebrew.

All the information concerning the location and possible new place for the Torah Scroll is being followed by the legal and culture department of the Jewish Federation in Rio, according to its president, Ary Bergher.

Marcus Gilban/JTA and Reuters contributed to this story.

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