Inside the Samaritans' Quest for What Is Theirs

2 Torahs were taken from a synagogue, launching an international hunt for them
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 30, 2018 4:16 PM CDT
Updated May 6, 2018 10:05 AM CDT
After a Terrible 1995 Theft, the Samaritans' Search Began
Members of the ancient Samaritan community take part in the ritual of Passover Sacrifice on Mt. Gerizim, overlooking the West Bank town of Nablus, Sunday, April 29, 2018.   (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

The Good Samaritan still exists or, at least, his people do. The religious sect adheres to the word of God as written by Moses—they still slaughter sheep on Passover, for instance—and was once 1 million people strong. The current count has them down to 810 members, who straddle both Palestinian and Israeli territory. The crime that Daniel Estrin documents for NPR happened in the former, in the city of Nablus in the early hours of March 21, 1995: a Torah and a codex were stolen from a synagogue, "perhaps the most ancient Torahs stolen in the Holy Land since the Crusaders pillaged Jerusalem." And thus began a convoluted international quest to bring them home. Estrin met Benyamim "Benny" Tsedaka, a 125th-generation Samaritan who has been following leads in the case.

First came word that men in Jordan had the documents and wanted a $7 million ransom, then $2 million. It went nowhere. Then there was the "Dealer," who in 2011 received video files showing the documents; two years later, Estrin went with him to Amman to rendez-vous with the thieves' frontman. There, the story shifted: One scroll was now allegedly in Syria; a rumor placed the other in London. But a trip to London, complete with a hopeful visit to a diamond magnate, brought another dead end. Then came some twists: One Samaritan Estrin met with pointed out that the thief knew where the key to the ark was kept, and was able to remove one scroll from a copper case that was left behind—things, he suggested, only Samaritans who hailed from a priestly family could do. Were Samaritans behind the theft? Estrin still isn't sure. But he does know they'll never get the Torahs back in one piece. Read the full story to learn why. (More Longform stories.)

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