Police are investigating the theft of two Torah scrolls, taken about a week apart, from two synagogues in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Both Torahs were discovered missing as much as a month ago but were reported stolen only recently, police said.
A Torah stolen March 24 from the Riverdale Jewish Center on Independence Avenue wasn’t reported until April 12, a police spokesman said.
Another was discovered missing April 1 from the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale on Henry Hudson Parkway, but synagogue officials reported the theft April 18, according to police. Valued at about $25,000, the Torah was last seen March 25.
Hebrew Institute executive director Shimmie Kaminetsky said he delayed reporting the missing Torah hoping it would be found in the home of a congregant who may have borrowed it.
"When you have a synagogue like ours, with so many people involved, these Torahs are lent out regularly" to people who are mourning or sitting shiva at home, Kaminetsky said. "We were hoping it would turn up."
But upon learning that another local Torah was missing, "That led us to believe something was going on," he said.
Riverdale Jewish Center officials did not return phone calls.
Key to the police investigation is whether the stolen Torahs were recorded in the Universal Torah Registry program operated by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. Registered Torahs are marked with invisible codes that can be identified by police.
Some 10,000 Torahs from around the world have been registered since the program’s inception in 1982, said JCRC assistant executive director David Pollack.
Kaminetsky said not all of the Hebrew Institute’s Torahs were registered, so it was unclear whether the stolen scroll was ever coded. He also could provide no background information about the Torah.
Pollack said the crimes would be investigated by the Police Department’s Torah Task Force, an elite unit of homicide detectives and prosecutors.
Kaminetsky said the large wooden ark containing most of the synagogue’s nine Torahs is not generally locked. He said new security measures are being examined.