Sherman Oaks, CA – For the past decade, Beth Midrash Mishkan Israel in Sherman Oaks has been “praying on stolen Torahs,” said Rita Pauker, whose late husband, Rabbi Norman Pauker, lent the Orthodox synagogue four Torahs in the late 1990s.
Since her husband died in 2002, Pauker has repeatedly implored Rabbi Samuel Ohana to return the Torahs so she can give them to two nephews, rabbis in Florida and New York.
But Rabbi Ohana has refused, saying the scrolls belong to the congregation, he said Rabbi Pauker gifted the Torahs years after he closed his North Hollywood synagogue, similarly named Congregation Mishkan Israel, in 1994. “He called me in front of his wife and he said, `Rabbi, I cannot bear having these Torahs gathering dust in my garage. Take them. Please,”‘ he said.
Ohana said he would return the Torahs if Pauker’s widow could prove she was going to give them to another synagogue and not sell them. Three of them are likely worth about $10,000 to $20,000 each.
The dispute, deadlocked for the past two years, seems ripe for civil court. But it likely won’t go there.
The only attorney Pauker can afford is Jeffrey Bohrer, a longtime member of her husband’s synagogue (and coincidentally a former yeshiva student of Ohana’s). But Jewish law prohibits Bohrer from bringing a lawsuit regarding a religious article in secular court.
Pauker could take the case to beis din, a rabbinical court, but neither she nor Bohrer has faith in the tribunal process.