Saturday, November 10, 2007

Torah saved by Catholic restored to Cologne synagogue

A torah scroll saved from the Nazis and kept in safety by a Catholic priest was returned Friday to its place of honour in Cologne's synagogue after a Jerusalem workshop had repaired the Nazi damage.

A daytime welcoming ceremony marked 69 years since "Reichskristallnacht" - the night of broken glass - an organized campaign of vandalism and arson by Nazi thugs at synagogues, Jewish shops and homes in Germany late on November 8, 1938.

As fires flickered in the Cologne synagogue, one man stepped through the yelling crowd, ran inside, saved the torah and took it home: Monsignor Gustav Meinertz.

"There were more beautiful things in there, but he knew it was important," said Netanel Teitelbaum, the present rabbi. A torah is a key ritual possession in a community.

Shortly after the Second World War ended, Meinertz handed the torah to the remnants of the Cologne community.

The desecrated torah could not be used again because of scorching and running of the ink which it had sustained in the fire. Jewish rules require every letter in a scroll, or Sefer Torah, to be perfect.

The Catholic archdiocese of Cologne under Cardinal Joachim Meisner paid for its restoration.

Only when the last verse of the Five Books of Moses had been rewritten with a quill pen was the torah kosher again.

A scribe working eight hours a day normally takes 18 months to two years to create a torah.

Rabbi Yischak Steiner, whose Jerusalem workshop did the four-month restoration, said the torah had originally been written in Germany in 1902. Many of Germany's torahs were destroyed by the Nazis so it had become a rarity.

Juergen Ruettgers, premier of the German state of North Rhine Westphalia, said at the synagogue welcome he would use the full range of legal means to deprive neo-Nazis of any foothold in Germany.

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