Rabbi Reuven Mann’s decades-long career of teaching Torah was evident during an Oct. 26 press conference about the theft of one of Young Israel of Phoenix’s Torahs.

The Torah was stolen in the early morning hours of Monday, Oct. 25, police said.

As Mann explained the significance of the Torah to reporters, he also educated them about Torah precepts, such as not stealing and forgiveness.

According to Jewish law, “No one is permitted to benefit from theft or any crime in any way,” he told reporters, a message that Mann and the Phoenix Police Department hope to get out to whoever committed the crime.

“I don’t know what (the culprits) plan to do with it,” Mann told Jewish News.

Young Israel Torah stolen
Rabbi Reuven Mann of Young Israel of Phoenix shows reporters what a Torah looks like during a press conference addressing the burglary of one of the congregation’s three scrolls. The Torah was stolen Oct. 25 after someone broke in through the door of the women’s section. Photo by Leisah Woldoff

Some members were at the synagogue past midnight preparing for a Monday morning bris, President Farley Weiss told Jewish News, and the Torah was noticed missing hours later, when members arrived for the morning service. The doors of the ark, which houses the Torah, are kept closed except during worship services, but they were found wide open, Mann said.

The Orthodox congregation’s other two Torahs were still in the ark, as well as their silver adornments.

Also missing was a set of tefillin and other religious items.

The ark’s lock had been removed, but it’s unknown whether the thief removed the lock or if it was left unlocked.

The door to the women’s section showed evidence of forced entry.

There was no other desecration of the synagogue, according to Sgt. Tommy Thompson of the Phoenix Police Department.

It was the third break-in and theft since February. The previous thefts involved a camcorder and a pushke (charity box).

The congregation plans to install a new security system for both the facility and the ark, Mann said.

The Torah’s monetary value is approximately $35,000, according to Thompson. But although the Torah has such a value, “it’s very hard for someone to sell,” Weiss said, as there is no black market for Torahs.

Weiss called the theft “shocking” and “heartbreaking” and hopes that the Torah is returned. “It would be something that they can easily do anonymously; we’d be very glad to have it back. It’s something very valuable to us.”

This article first appeared in the Oct 29, 2010 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.