Thursday, March 12, 2009

Don't Fight Over Me

In the paper the other day there was a story about Rita Pauker, the widow of Rabbi Norman Pauker. Rita has been desperately trying to get the Torahs back from the congregation they had been loaned to since her husband's death seven years ago. After Rabbi Pauker’s congregation closed in 1998, he entered into an agreement with Rabbi Ohana stating the conditions of the loan. Each Rabbi signed the agreement. Even though the Beit Din (Jewish court) ruled in favor of Rita, it wasn’t enough to get Rabbi Ohana, a former assistant to Rabbi Pauker, to hand them over. Not only does Rabbi Ohana not want to give the Torahs back, he claims that he never signed any such agreement suggesting the document is a fake. Rita was hoping to gift the Torahs to relatives in the Rabbinate and Rabbi Ohana is claiming that he is protecting the Torahs from being sold. He said that when a Torah is gifted it belongs not to one person but the entire congregation. I understand the logic but it seems kind of convenient. While Rabbi Ohana decided to appeal to a higher Jewish court in Jerusalem, Rita has gone the civil route and hired a lawyer.

Why is Rabbi Ohana, an unpaid leader of a tiny congregation in Los Angeles, fighting so hard to keep the Torahs? Without a Torah it would be just a bunch of people gathering. I get why he’s fighting so hard but perhaps he should consider giving back all but one (from the photo it looks like there are four). While I believe that a Torah is not a family heirloom, I hope there is some way Rita will find Shalom, whatever the outcome.


MaryWalkerBaron said...

Isn't there something in the Talmud about settling ownership of some sort of garment? Surely there is some sacred text to guide at least a discussion of this issue.

Arava said...

I think the Beit Din wrestled with this for a while before rendering a decision. No one will be happy with an all or nothing decision. And It seems (in this struggle) personal desire is bigger than halacha- maybe for both parties. Like a child caught in the middle of a divorce, I feel sad for the Torah...

ravaj said...

that was the very first talmud piece i ever studied! if two people have hold of a garment and one of them says it is mine and the other one says it is mine, to whom does it go? the answer is to split it in half. the piece i loved is then if two people have hold of a garment and one of them says it is mine and the other one says half of it is mine. to whom does it go?

what do you think the answer should be?

the answer is that the first person gets three-quarters and the other one gets one quarter.

meanwhile, it is a long established fact that many people do own torah scrolls. also, many that own scrolls, lend them. and, sadly, many shuls with loaned torahs refuse to give them back when so requested. unpleasant story.