Dozens of sifrei Torah that Saddam Hussein ordered destroyed
have been smuggled out of Iraq in an operation masterminded
by Mossad, the Israeli secret service, according to the
London Sunday Times.
At least 50 sifrei Torah lay for decades in a
warehouse in Baghdad after being hidden by Iraqi Jews who
left for Israel in 1950-51.
Mossad has retrieved 30 of the sifrei Torah after
bribing members of the Iraqi army. One of them, thought to
have been written 70 years ago, was put on display last week
in a synagogue in Afula. Another, 200 years old, has been
exhibited in New York.
Many more sifrei Torah, some far older and more
valuable, are still in Iraq. "There is a fair chance that we
will recover and return them to Jewish hands so that they can
be presented in synagogues in Israel and across the world,"
said one source.
Mossad is believed to have started the operation after its
agents in Baghdad learned of a meeting at which Saddam's
generals told him that 50 sifrei Torah had been found
in the city's Battawein district where the Jewish community
used to be concentrated. He is said to have replied: "Burn
The news appalled officers at Mossad's headquarters in Tel
Aviv, prompting comparisons with Kristallnacht in 1938
when the Germans burned Jewish shops, synagogues and
sifrei Torah in Germany.
Mossad soon learnt that some of Saddam's officers, realizing
the value of the sifrei Torah, were prepared cooperate
in return for money. The agency's station in Istanbul, which
carries out espionage in Iraq, was ordered to investigate.
It is not known how much Mossad paid either to the Iraqi
officers or to merchants based in Jordan who acted as
intermediaries. It may have been as much as $45,000 for
The rescue of the sifrei Torah appears to have been
part of a much larger operation to recover artifacts linked
to Iraq's once sizable Jewish community.
The Jewish community of Iraq is very old -- some say it dates
back 2,500 years to the days of the first Beis
Hamikdash. They generally enjoyed good relations with
their Arab hosts. After Iraq declared its independence from
British rule in 1932, Jews held prominent positions in the
country: Sasun Haskail, the first minister of finance, was
The climate turned hostile after the creation of Israel in
1948. About 121,000 of the 137,000 Jews who lived in Iraq
were flown to Israel in 1950-51. There was a further exodus
following the 1991 Gulf war, and a mere 68 are now left in
Israeli sources said last week that efforts to rescue the
remaining sifrei Torah were continuing. "We know where
they are. Some of them served the Iraqi Jewish community for
hundreds of years," said a source in the Israeli Ministry of
"We will not leave them in the hands of the Iraqis. The state
of Israel, with the help of all its secret and non-secret
organizations, will bring the sifrei Torah back