Police in Turkey claim to find, seize 2,000-year-old Torah scroll

Ancient text was reportedly taken Friday, when police stopped two cars for an inspection in Samsun; 5 people detained

Part of an item seized by Turkish police on March 26, 2021. (Turkish police)
Part of an item seized by Turkish police on March 26, 2021. (Turkish police)

JTA — Police in Turkey say they have seized a 2,000-year-old Torah scroll in a coastal city 300 miles east of Istanbul.

Separately, remnants of an abandoned synagogue in Istanbul caught fire in what police say may have been arson.

The scroll was seized on Friday when police, acting on intelligence, stopped two cars for an inspection in Samsun, Sputnik reported. In one of the cars, police said, they found 19 pages of an ornate Torah with golden letters with pages framed by an engraved leather passe-partout.

Five people detained in connection with the find are suspected of illegally dealing in archaeological finds.

The Sputnik report did not contain further details about the document, which would be one of the world’s oldest, if the information reported is accurate.

Last year, Turkish police seized a Torah scroll worth about $1 million they said was smuggled out of Aleppo, Syria.

The report about the suspected arson involves the former Kasturya Synagogue. Its gate is a registered archaeological site and is undergoing renovations. Wooden boards encasing the gate’s stone surface caught fire on March 19 in the suspected arson, the Salom Jewish paper reported.

Police and firefighters are investigating.

The Kasturya Synagogue was demolished in 1937.

In 1970, Turkey had 39,000 people who self-identified as Jewish. But the community has shrunk by more than 60% due to emigration and assimilation, arriving at its current number of 15,000 today, according to a 2020 demographic survey of Jewish populations in Europe.

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