10 Commandments focus of antiquities dispute

Rabbi, antiquities dealer go to court over 4th century stone inscribed with the commandments.

10 commandments  (photo credit: Courtesy)
10 commandments
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A Brooklyn rabbi and an Israeli antiquities dealer are trading barbs over an ancient stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments. The dispute has now been taken to a Federal Court in Brooklyn, where an Israel-based antiquities dealer, Robert Deutsch, claims he has yet to receive full payment on a number of antiquities, including a 4th century CE stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Deutsch claims that Brooklyn-based Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch, of no relation, agreed to pay $110,000 for the stone in 2003. The stone, an ancient Samaritan synagogue inscription, was found in 1913 at the excavation of an ancient synagogue in Tel Yavne. The inscribed slab sat on top of the Torah ark, as was the custom. Rabbi Deutsch, who runs the Living Torah Museum in Brooklyn, where the slab is showcased, says he sent a $27,500 deposit on the slab with the understanding that the dealer would provide export permits from the Israel Antiquities Authority. Those permits arrived, but specified a five-year time limit, after which Rabbi Deutsch was expected to return the artifact to Israel. "We told Deutsch we are not interested in renting the stone," said the Brooklyn rabbi. "He is trying to perpetrate a theft against the museum over an artifact inscribed with 'Thou shalt not steal.'" The rabbi has refused to return the artifact until he receives his down payment back. In the meantime, the slab is showcased among the 1000 artifacts in the museum, which is intended to help religious Jews understand sacred texts by seeing objects mentioned first hand. Located in a largely ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn, the museum has managed to bring together two worlds that have, for the most part, remained at odds -archeology and Orthodox Judaism. According to Robert Deutsch's attorney Thomas McGowan, the rabbi failed to pay for several other items he purchased and was well aware that the permit on the Samaritan slab was for five years. "I have a letter signed by him asking for a five-year permit, so the implication is that he understood," said McGowan. "Perhaps he needs to read the other commandment 'Thou shalt not bear false witness.'" Nearly a year ago, an Israeli court ruled against Rabbi Deutsch, stating that he owes Robert Deutsch NIS 428,890, according to McGowan. "All we are trying to do is collect the money he owes."