Rabbi Hillel Smulowitz carefully studied the old Torah. It was rolled to Yitro, the fifth parsha in the book of Exodus, which contains God’s revelation of the Ten Commandments.
Yitro, according to Smulowitz, was the parsha the Torah was rolled to when it was stolen from Jewish Hospital Sunday, then left outdoors — in the rain, in a tree.
Nevertheless, he found the scroll pretty much intact.
“I see letters rubbed out, but they can be repaired,” the lead mashgiach of the Vaad HaKashruth, Louisville’s kosher-certifying body said. The parchment had a little dampness, he noted, but there was no serious water damage.
So Smulowitz pronounced the good news: The Torah was not pasul – ritually unfit – and could be used for Jewish worship.
It was a happy ending to a strange story.
Louisville Metro Police arrested David James Macon Jr., 27, no address given, on Tuesday for allegedly taking the Torah from the chapel at Jewish Hospital. He has been charged with theft by unlawful taking (over $10,000) and burglary in the third degree.
LMPD Public Information Officer Lamont Washington said hospital security cameras taped a white man entering the chapel and taking the scroll from the ark. Macon was later arrested in the hospital wearing the same clothing as he had during the theft.
Sara Klein Wagner, president and CEO of the Jewish Community of Louisville, said University of Louisville security contacted her Monday to say they found a Torah perched in a small tree near the UofL School of Dentistry. She and Tom Wissinger, vice president of The J, went downtown to pick it up and bring it to the campus on Dutchmans Lane. That’s where Smulowitz and Rabbi Emeritus Stan Miles of Temple Shalom inspected it on Wednesday.
The exact age of the Torah, which has been valued at $30,000, wasn’t known. “It’s not a new one, that’s for sure,” Smulowitz said.
In a statement, Jewish Hospital said it was “grateful that the Torah had been recovered.”
“It was secured, but intentionally kept in a public area to be in the presence of our patients, employees and all that we serve,” the statement said. “It is unfortunate that anyone would tamper with such a sacred document.”
Rabbi Nadia Siritsky, vice president of mission at KentuckyOne Health, of which Jewish Hospital is a part, said The Torah was part of the initial chapel, which was established in honor of Joseph H. Greenstein, the husband of the first female president of Jewish Hospital, Sara Greenstein. The chapel was renovated earlier this year with a gift by Janet Lynch in honor of her parents and grandparents. As part of the upgrade, the chapel was made wheelchair accessible.
Siritsky credits the Torah’s new cover, which was purchased from Israel, for “mercifully and miraculously helping preserve the integrity of the Torah throughout this ordeal.”
In addition to some faded letters, some older repairs to the parchment of the Torah were spotted by the rabbis, but nothing that could prevent its use. They did recommend it be left open to dry out.
Things could have been much worse, according to Smulowitz. “If a whole bunch of words were rubbed out,” he said, “that would have been difficult to repair.”