A debate appears to be raging: who owns Syrian Jewish bibles?Are they communal or national heritage? At first sight, Rabbi Avraham Hamra's objection to the national library of Israel safeguarding the priceless manuscripts he himself helped to smuggle out of Syria sets a precedent. But who does Rabbi Hamra speak for, given that he is not connected to the Damascus Jewry Organisation in Israel, which supports the library's initiative? Report by i24 News.
According to the proposal, the bibles would remain in
climate-controlled conditions in the library and Damascus Jewish
immigrants in Israel would be partly responsible for overseeing their
safekeeping. The Damascus Jewry Organization in Israel, the main group
representing Damascus immigrants, supports the library's initiative.
However the man who helped organize the operation to transport the
holy books into Israel, Rabbi Avraham Hamra, opposes the library's
proposal. Hamra is not connected to the Damascus Jewry Organization, and
says he may challenge the decision in court. The rabbi argues the
bibles are Syrian Jewish cultural property, and that the library had
promised to transfer them to a Syrian Jewish heritage center in Israel
he plans to build.
Eight of the ancient bibles were smuggled in to Israel between 1993
and 1995 in a covert operation by Israel's Mossad spy agency and the
ninth was smuggled out of Syria in 1993 with the help of a Canadian
Details of the Mossad operation remain classified, but Shabtai
Shavit, the Mossad director at the time confirmed that Hamra, the
then-leader of the Damascus Jewish community who now lives in Israel,
helped to organize the operation.
A catalog from an exhibition in 2000 calls the manuscripts the
"religious and spiritual treasure of the Syrian Jewish community" and
says the Israeli library would safeguard them "until the establishment
of a Syrian Jewish heritage center in Israel."
However the center has not yet been built, and the library denies it
ever promised him the manuscripts. While the library has asked Hamra to
be a member of the proposed steering committee involved with the
safekeeping of the bibles, he declined their offer.
"It is not my property, but it is the property of my community," Hamra said.
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AP piece(with thanks: Lily)
Israel Hayom and AP (with thanks: Lily)