A Jewish man and a Muslim airport worker were arrested in Yemen for helping smuggle out an 500-year old Torah scroll. The Torah was smuggled out by the last group of 19 Jews who fled the country last week. Britain’s Jewish Chronicle reported the event, saying the airport employee is accused of purposely allowing the rabbi through security with the scrolls. The government of Yemen considers it an artifact and the property of Yemen.
The issue of the Torah scroll became known to Yemenite authorities due to media reporting of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reading from the ancient scroll.
The covert operation bringing the Jews to Israel was accomplished through coordinated efforts by the Jewish Agency for Israel and the US State Department. Despite open anti-Semitism that has led to several Jews being killed in recent years, the Yemen government objected strongly to the expatriation of the Jews.
— Udi Segal (@usegal) March 21, 2016
Jewish Agency spokesperson Avi Mayer said he could not confirm the arrest, but regarding 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.”
— Avi Mayer (@AviMayer) March 21, 2016
“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.”
Moti Kahana, an Israeli-American businessman living in New York, who coordinate the covert airlift, expressed concern the man was being tortured in custody.
He was quoted by the Jewish Chronicle, saying, “When I saw the scroll in the media I knew the Yemenite government would complain – they would say that international law was broken.”
After the recent airlift, approximately 50 Jews remained voluntarily in Yemen, with 40 living in Sanaa in a compound adjacent to the American Embassy, under protection of the government.