Monday, January 25, 2010

Selling Torahs and stories

Something like five people have forwarded me an interestingarticle about a Torah scroll dealer from Baltimore who apparently cooks up a delicious story to sell with every old Torah that he sells to Conservative and Reform congregations.
Touting his expertise in dating parchment, Youlus says he has studied with curators "in Europe," but pressed to say with whom he has studied, he won't give names.
Personally I think paleographical expertise might be a little more useful, but maybe I'm wrong about that. CoughShapiraCough.
In a 3-hour interview, Youlus is unable to provide a single name, date, place, photograph or document to back up the Auschwitz stories or any of the others. He says that until Save a Torah was founded in 2004, he kept no records. He refers all requests for documentation since then to the foundation's president, investment banker Rick Zitelman of Rockville.


As for Youlus's Torah rescue stories, Berenbaum came to his own conclusion. "A psychiatrist might say they are delusional. A historian might say they are counter-factual. A pious Jew might call them midrash -- the stories we tell to underscore the deepest truths we live," he says. Midrash, in this context, refers to the ancient tradition of rabbis telling anecdotes and fables to convey a moral lesson. "Myth underscores the deepest truth we live," Berenbaum says.
The irony is that pious Jews do not usually call myth 'midrash.'


  1. This is disturbing for a number of reasons, not only because of what are almost certainly fabricated stories by Youlus and the deceiving of his customers. Equally troubling is the possibility of theft of sifrei Torah. Mitzvah habah b'aveirah anyone?

  2. Shades of Herman Rosenblatt.

  3. S.

    That does it. You've officially offended everyone from Silver Spring. Youlus may live in Baltimore (for all I know), but his store, the Jewish Book Store, is in Wheaton/Silver Spring, which is a suburb of Washington, DC. Not Baltimore.

    Interesting side note: The strip mall that the Jewish Book Store is in is bookended by bookstores: The Jewish Book Store on one end, and an adult "bookstore" on the other. Read into it what you will.

  4. Ha. Sorry. I didn't mean to indict Baltimore, its just that someone I know davens in the same shul as him. Conversely, someone else I know knows him through his store in Silver Spring.

    An interesting question is, did he really think he would continue to get away with this indefinitely? I guess you can ask that about anyone involved in what seems like a scheme.

  5. Years ago, I had several inherited and very pasul Sifrei Torah to dispose of. I went to Boro Park's largest dealer, and he said they were worthless, but offered me about $500 each.
    To the obvious question, he replied, "I sell them to Reform shuls".

    Yossi Ginzberg

  6. It does raise serious questions about the kashrut of his sifrei torah. I know at least two community members who have purchased sifrei torah from him (pasul torahs that he fixed). If his honesty is in question, can one trust the kashrut of his safrut?

  7. You're asking, do they have to be checked? Weren't they also presumed pasul initially because of his say-so?

  8. My understanding is that several people purchased older sifrei torah from Rabbi Youlus that he fixed. If his honesty and integrity are called into question, can his safrut be trusted?

  9. JDub,

    I thought the prevailing rule is that a yid who cheats non-orthos has a chezkas kashrus in dealing with orthodox Jews.

    Similarly, a mashgiach proves his frumkeit by not eating at the place he works.

  10. Yerachmiel:

    I assume (hope) you are joking. In any event, who says this is limited to non-orthodox jews? I know several Orthodox Jews who bought sifrei torah from this guy who were told that it was a Holocaust torah that was "rescued."



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