A Jewish man has been jailed in Yemen after being accused of helping smuggle an 800-year-old Torah scroll out of the country into Israel this week.
As well as an Orthodox Jew, a Muslim airport worker is also believed to have been arrested and accused of deliberately letting a rabbi from the community pass through security with the historical artefact – which Yemeni lawmakers consider to be the property of the country.
The man is believed to have been arrested after local authorities saw widely circulated images of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reading the Torah scroll with Yemen-born Rabbi Dahari, who made aliyah along with 16 other members of the dwindling community in a covert operation this week.
Israeli-American businessman Moti Kahana, who is best known for having orchestrated the rescue of the last Jews of Aleppo last year, said religious leaders were concerned that the Jewish man is being tortured in prison.
Mr Kahana, who set up New York-based NGO Amaliah, which cares for hundreds of Jewish historical artefacts from Syria – including an 800-year-old siddur, added: “When I saw the scroll in the media I knew the Yemenite government would complain – they would say that international law was broken.”
Jewish Agency spokesman Avi Mayer said he could not confirm whether a Jewish man was currently being detained in Yemen.
On the Torah scroll, he said: “The ancient Torah scroll brought from Yemen to Israel this week is the property of the Raydah Jewish community, of Yemenite Jewry, and of the Jewish people.
“The rabbi of Raydah, who came to Israel this week along with the last remaining members of his community, brought the Torah with him and has been proudly and openly sharing this cherished part of his community’s rich religious heritage. The Jewish community of Raydah has thus come to an end.
“The notion that the Torah should have been left, without protection, in a country torn apart by a violent civil war involving several parties that are viciously hostile to Jews, is preposterous. The Torah is part of the proud heritage of Yemenite Jewry and that heritage will live on in the state of Israel.”
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