October 31st, 2010
01:09 AM ET

Stolen Torah returned to Arizona synagogue after Craigslist ad

From CNN's Dan Gilgoff:

A Torah that was stolen from an Arizona synagogue on Monday has been returned after a Craigslist ad offered a $500 reward for the scrolls, the synagogue's rabbi said Saturday.

"The hardest thing to figure out is what this person was expecting to do with it," said Rabbi Reuven Mann, who leads the synagogue in Phoenix. "There is a market for people that buy and sell Torahs, but it has do be done legitimately."

A member of Mann's congregation, Young Israel of Phoenix, posted the Craigslist ad Tuesday, a day after the Torah - which the rabbi says is valued around $35,000 - was discovered missing in an apparent theft.

"I thought that the person who took it didn't know what they were doing," said Sam Saks, who placed the ad, noting that a prayer shawl and tefillin - boxes containing scripture that some Jewish men wear during prayer - were also missing.

"The Torah itself was a big enough heist," Saks said. "If you've already stolen a Lexus, why would you take an ashtray?"

"Reward - Torah scroll, Hebrew - $500" his ad said, "...no questions asked."

The ad included pictures of Torahs - which contain the first five books of the Bible inscribed by hand - in case someone had found the congregation's scroll but didn't know what it was.

Saks said he received an e-mail response later Tuesday, from a woman who claimed to have found the Torah in a Phoenix trash can.

When the woman did not immediately agree to return the Torah, Saks e-mailed her a message from Mann and the congregation's president explaining its significance and asking to get it back in time for Friday night services.

"The trick was to let the person know we were not interested in legal action and that we just wanted to the Torah back," said Saks, who is an attorney.

Saks asked her to meet him at the synagogue on Friday afternoon. She showed up Friday morning instead, dropping off a garbage bag containing the Torah, in the same condition as before, the prayer shawl and the tefillin.

The congregation's president, Farley Weiss, said that he has asked Phoenix police not to press charges. "The explanation that this woman gave us is that she had nothing to do with the crime," Weiss told CNN.

The Phoenix Police Department did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday night.

Saks declined to share the woman's e-mail address, saying he promised to maintain her anonymity.

She has not yet claimed the reward.

"We may not share the same religion," Saks said the woman, who described herself as a Christian, wrote to him in an e-mail Saturday night. "I believe there is a higher power and believe that there is a right and wrong."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Judaism • Torah • United States

soundoff (54 Responses)
  1. SD R

    Timothy McVeigh represents all Americans in the same way Zionists represent all of Israel. A radical subsection of a broad group.

    October 31, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  2. John Stewart

    Most of the commenters here are fools, and part of the problem

    October 31, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  3. William

    There seem to be a lot of issues here that are above my pay grade, but I'm glad that no one was hurt and that they got the torah back. I wish all these people evident in the discussion here would stop hating, though.

    October 31, 2010 at 11:21 am |
  4. Big

    The rabbi is a moron. What would they do with a stolen torah? Why, exactly what they just did! They held it for ransome! some people are really dim.

    October 31, 2010 at 11:12 am |
    • Todd A

      You do realize that the story said she dropped it off PRIOR to the scheduled meeting and has of yet NOT claimed the $500?

      October 31, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
  5. A CNN Reader

    If she doesn't claim the reward, I hope that they will donate the money to Project 50/50 and let Shay use it to help the homeless people of this country....

    October 31, 2010 at 9:03 am |
    • Steve B

      Synagogues are known for Tzaduka. I don't know where they will give, but the two major causes that Tzaduka funds are the poor and education.

      October 31, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  6. Love

    Wow! What a leap! Your pain is felt, but the fantasy world you live in is probably vastly misunderstood by the rest of the world. Ever think it might be time to get a hobby?

    October 31, 2010 at 8:38 am |
  7. Reality

    Why bother returning an outdated copy of the Torah? For a review of the New Torah, see below:

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    "The New Torah For Modern Minds

    Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine docu-ment.

    "When I grew up in Brooklyn, congregants were not sophisticated about anything," said Rabbi Harold Kushner, the author of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" and a co-editor of the new book. "Today, they are very sophisticated and well read about psychology, literature and history, but they are locked in a childish version of the Bible."

    "Etz Hayim," compiled by David Lieber of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, seeks to change that. It offers the standard Hebrew text, a parallel English translation (edited by Chaim Potok, best known as the author of "The Chosen"), a page-by-page exegesis, periodic commentaries on Jewish practice and, at the end, 41 essays by prominent rabbis and scholars on topics ranging from the Torah scroll and dietary laws to ecology and eschatology.

    These essays, perused during uninspired sermons or Torah readings at Sabbath services, will no doubt surprise many congregants. For instance, an essay on Ancient Near Eastern Mythology," by Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, states that on the basis of modern scholarship, it seems unlikely that the story of Genesis originated in Palestine. More likely, Mr. Wexler says, it arose in Mesopotamia, the influence of which is most apparent in the story of the Flood, which probably grew out of the periodic overflowing of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The story of Noah, Mr. Wexler adds, was probably borrowed from the Mesopotamian epic Gilgamesh.

    Equally striking for many readers will be the essay "Biblical Archaeology," by Lee I. Levine, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "There is no reference in Egyptian sources to Israel's sojourn in that country," he writes, "and the evidence that does exist is negligible and indirect." The few indirect pieces of evidence, like the use of Egyptian names, he adds, "are far from adequate to corroborate the historicity of the biblical account."

    Similarly ambiguous, Mr. Levine writes, is the evidence of the conquest and settlement of Canaan, the ancient name for the area including Israel. Excavations showing that Jericho was unwalled and uninhabited, he says, "clearly seem to contradict the violent and complete conquest portrayed in the Book of Joshua." What's more, he says, there is an "almost total absence of archaeological evidence" backing up the Bible's grand descriptions of the Jerusalem of David and Solomon.

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "litany of disillusion" about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel – not one shard of pottery."

    October 31, 2010 at 8:36 am |
    • Guapo

      Do you really think anyone would read your mile-long post? lol

      October 31, 2010 at 9:57 am |
    • Reality

      For those who are "reading challenged":

      Why bother returning an outdated copy of the Torah? For a review of the New Torah, see below:

      origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

      The opening paragraph of the review:

      "The New Torah For Modern Minds

      Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      October 31, 2010 at 10:42 am |
    • aUtheistIC

      gaps aren't enough to disprove what has been written.

      October 31, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  8. ybs

    'the woman, who described herself as a Christian, wrote... "I believe there is a higher power and... there is a right and wrong."'

    Right, religious kleptomaniac! You'd be a great priest/pastor! 🙂


    October 31, 2010 at 8:21 am |
    • Love

      Oops...should have responded differently: Wow! What a leap! Your pain is felt, but the fantasy world you live in is probably vastly misunderstood by the rest of the world. Ever think it might be time to get a hobby?

      October 31, 2010 at 8:45 am |
    • Dan

      So, she's guilty until proven innocent?

      Give it a rest. The Synagogue is not interested in pressing charges, why should you be so holier-than-thou?

      October 31, 2010 at 9:56 am |
    • Urttakkadigakku

      Right, ybs. That someone– maybe even some drunken teenagers– might have broken into a shul, stolen some stuff, even known it was valuable to the owners, and then realized *they* didn't have an idea in hell of what to do with it and dumped it in the nearest trash can - doesn't even occur to you.

      Ahhh, what am I saying? DNFTT (Do Not Feed The Trolls). Also do not bother to debate with morons, you might catch it.

      October 31, 2010 at 11:21 am |
  9. Jim

    Good luck getting the reward.

    October 31, 2010 at 7:46 am |
    • Steve B

      The value of the torah goes far beyond monetary value. Given that the synagogue kept to their no questions asked promise, they probably will be good to their word.

      October 31, 2010 at 10:07 am |
  10. monte

    it was probibly one of her kids that stole it.

    October 31, 2010 at 7:32 am |
    • SJW

      I was thinking the same thing Monte. One of her kids, or a boyfriend or someone she was connected to was involved, and she tried to right a wrong. That's the real story. Sad that others need to turn this into their own political agenda.

      October 31, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  11. Love

    What is the point? So much hate here in the name of what is right....the materials were returned, apparently unharmed. The jewish community involved was satisfied. Where does your business end and the next guy's begin?

    October 31, 2010 at 7:28 am |
    • Wzrd1

      Funny, I feel the same way. The story here: A Torah was stolen, it has intrinsic value for those who possessed it that others could not share. It had moderate monetary value and is also difficult to replace.
      A woman acquired it and returned it. As far as those who rightfully own the stolen objects, it is over.
      As far as I'm concerned, they're happy, I'm happy.
      But, some people feel the need to share. Regrettably, they have only misery to share and insist on sharing it.

      October 31, 2010 at 8:56 am |
    • SD R

      Very well put Wzrd1. Not everything is a outrage, as a good portion of commentators seem to think. After reading the top stories and related comments for a couple weeks a clear thread of very bitter individuals emerges, people who don't take time to think about what they've read or consider others viewpoints.

      As Newt Gingrich said, "Go Negative Early." Do you really want to be like Newt people? I could easily go into a spiel about Zionists and Palestine etc. but instead I'll say this: I'm happy they got their Torah back, as it was obviously very important to them.

      October 31, 2010 at 11:52 am |
  12. OldGirl

    How did I get blocked when this craziness goes on?
    I am blocked and they can say whatever they want.

    October 31, 2010 at 7:08 am |
    • ilikepie420

      divine itravention perharp?

      October 31, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  13. thor

    All those who are reading this should take notice that the haters in the group do not distinguish between this story about Jews in Phoenix and Jews in Israel. We need to open our eyes and stop dreaming this madness is going to get better. John Stewart can joke all he wants, but the proof is in the pudding. In this case the the proof (that Jihad is held by all Muslims as a belief that all nonbelievers must convert or perish through violent acts) is in the Koran.

    October 31, 2010 at 6:03 am |
    • Wzrd1

      There are two types of people in the world.
      There are the normal, regular people. They live their lives in relative obscurity and don't care to get involved in the middle of nonsense.
      Then there is the other type. We've read of them in the Book of Judges. Samson defeated the Philistines with their jaw bone.

      October 31, 2010 at 8:52 am |
    • Sam

      So you say the Koran contains proof that "all muslims" accept that "all nonbelievers must convert or perish through violent acts"? I say baloney. To say that "all muslims" have read and embraced every single violent word in the Koran is as absurd as saying that "all christians" have read and embraced every single violent word in the Bible. Yes, there's no shortage of violence in the Bible, which you know if you've read it. That doesn't mean that Christians are violent, and that doesn't mean they're nonviolent.

      They're people, and some of them use religion as an excuse to justify hatred. Don't do the same.

      October 31, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  14. tjphelps

    Maybe craigslist can help in returning some stolen lands.

    October 31, 2010 at 5:56 am |
    • thor

      Yeah, like returning the area where the ancient Jewish temple stood (well before as aqsa). Shall I go on. How far back do you want to go?

      October 31, 2010 at 5:59 am |
    • LR

      You mean like...the USA?

      October 31, 2010 at 7:10 am |
    • rs1201

      yeah, well, maybe Craig's list can help us by telling us when muslim terrorists are planning on blowing up buildings, planes, schools, synagogues, and churches. It would be helpful. Perhaps, you can put in a good word with your muslim brothers about being forthcoming.

      October 31, 2010 at 7:19 am |
    • Catie

      Actually Israel has taken just about all of Palistine and wants the little bit that is left. I am a Christian and by my Baptism I will protect Israel. However, I dont condone Israel abusing its Religious inheritance. The term " given an inch but wants a mile" comes to mind over this land issue.
      CNN loggers, please for gosh' sakes educate yourselves before you write. Dont write your comments based on what you have 'learned' from the media. Do a little research first.

      October 31, 2010 at 8:03 am |
    • white

      we should also list MOST WANTED CRIMINALS ads to capture the zionists


      October 31, 2010 at 8:40 am |
  15. truth

    What an amoral woman, glad that the Torah was returned but seriously I think she had something to do with it, arrest her stupid ass.

    October 31, 2010 at 3:58 am |
    • Sam

      Press charges? They can't, at least not without going back on the "no questions asked" thing. They said they just wanted it back, no questions asked, therefore they just get their torah back, no questions asked. Your word is your word, period. Promises matter.

      October 31, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  16. annoyed with CNN's blog bashers

    You guys, stop being so hateful! Would it kill you to be happy FOR someone for once in your lives?!?!?

    I'm glad the Torah was returned.... I really do wonder what they planed on doing with it....

    October 31, 2010 at 3:24 am |
  17. rooney

    one level higher than al gueda. at least she didnt bomb the jews... just stole their religous text from them

    October 31, 2010 at 2:40 am |
    • Levi


      October 31, 2010 at 2:49 am |
  18. luckluck

    Group of Israeli Settlers (Radical Jews) put on fire a popular Church in Palestine (Jureselam).

    October 31, 2010 at 2:33 am |
    • truth

      Good, I hope all you blasphemous heretics leave Israel and go to your pagan worshiping idol loving "church". You go against Hashem with your ridiculous Greco-Roman insanity.

      October 31, 2010 at 3:57 am |
    • thor

      One small group did that – one time. It does not reflect the country as a whole, the Jewish people as a whole or say anything about anything except that small (literally like five people) group. And why mention it here? You've got an agenda and it's screaming out.

      October 31, 2010 at 5:58 am |
    • lindy

      The muslim's palestine is Jordan not Israel

      October 31, 2010 at 8:55 am |
  19. Dover

    Sounds like a Christian

    October 31, 2010 at 2:25 am |
  20. Type-ooooooh

    "and sell Torahs, but it has do be done legitimately."

    October 31, 2010 at 2:05 am |
    • SD R

      Luke: You gave a damn enough to post an opinion, which in itself is a bit curious. Enjoy the sound of your own voice much?

      October 31, 2010 at 11:55 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.