Ukraine court says seized Torahs belong to Jews

Over 300 scrolls taken by Soviet authorities in the 1920s will remain in the hands of the Kiev Jewish community

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A Torah scroll (illustrative photo: Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
A Torah scroll (illustrative photo: Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

A Ukrainian court has ruled that hundreds of Torah scrolls that were seized by Soviet authorities nearly 100 years ago belong to the local Jewish community and not the state archives.

The landmark decision on Wednesday came at the end of a two-year legal battle that threatened to see the scrolls confiscated from the Jewish community shortly after they were returned. The Central Kiev Synagogue can now keep the religious scrolls and not surrender them to the state archive, which had claimed ownership of them, the court ruled Wednesday.

The saga began in 2009 when Russia gave back over 300 Torah scrolls that were taken from Ukrainian synagogues by Soviet authorities in the 1920s.

But although the scrolls were returned to the Central Synagogue of Kiev, Ukrainian authorities demanded that they be handed over to the archive.

The campaign to keep the scrolls in the hands of the Jewish community was spearheaded by Alexander Levin, the president of the World Forum of Russian Speaking Jewry, according to Alex Selsky, the director of the Forum. 

Kiev Jewish community leader Alexander Levin with a Torah scroll (photo credit: courtesy)
Kiev Jewish community leader Alexander Levin with a Torah scroll (photo credit: courtesy)

Levin said the decision was “historic justice.”

Selsky said that the court ruling had far-reaching significance in that it could serve as a test case for future efforts to restore other items to the Jewish community.

“This is relevant to other scrolls,” he told The Times of Israel on Thursday. “It is a very important decision for other Jewish property that was seized.”

Selsky said that synagogues that were taken over by Soviet authorities could now possibly be returned to the Jewish community.

Although many of the returned scrolls were in terrible condition due to the manner in which they were stored, some have been restored and are used during synagogue services.

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