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Rockville, MD - Washington Post: Doubts About Thrilling Tales By Menachem Youlus And His Save A Torah Mission

Published on: January 25, 2010 09:53 AM
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Dubbed The Indiana Jones of Torah Scribes Rabbi Menachem Youlus has regaled congregations and the media with tales of adventures in Europe. The 48-year-old rabbi from Baltimore says he has found Torahs hidden in walls, buried in the ground, piled in basements of monasteries, even under the floorboards of a concentration camp barracks.  [Photo: Alexey Tolchinsky]Dubbed The Indiana Jones of Torah Scribes Rabbi Menachem Youlus has regaled congregations and the media with tales of adventures in Europe. The 48-year-old rabbi from Baltimore says he has found Torahs hidden in walls, buried in the ground, piled in basements of monasteries, even under the floorboards of a concentration camp barracks.  [Photo: Alexey Tolchinsky]

Rockville, MD - In October of 2001, Robert Kushner of Pittsburgh received an e-mail that got his heart racing. His nephew had come across a notice in a Jewish genealogical newsletter about a mass grave discovered outside the Ukrainian town of Kamenets-Podolsk. Along with the remains of Jews killed in the Holocaust, the grave contained two sacred Torah scrolls, one of them wrapped in a “Gestapo body bag.” A Maryland man had bought one Torah, the newsletter said, but the second scroll needed a home.

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Kamenets-Podolsk was the town from which Kushner’s father had emigrated in 1920. One of his father’s sisters never left, and Kushner, 74, wondered, “Could her body be one of those buried in that mass grave?” He contacted the man who had made this horrific yet miraculous find: Rabbi Menachem Youlus , co-owner of the Jewish Bookstore of Greater Washington. Kushner and his wife traveled to the bookstore in Wheaton and found themselves charmed by the slightly built, chatty Orthodox rabbi.

“We literally fell in love with him,” Kushner says. “He exudes honesty, integrity. He’s as pleasant as could be.”

Youlus showed the Kushners the antique scroll and recounted his adventure: While traveling in Ukraine, Youlus was approached by an unnamed farmer who offered to sell him a handwritten map. As Kushner remembers the story, the farmer said he had been told by his father that if he ever encountered anyone wearing a skullcap, he should show him the map. The farmer led Youlus to his land, which had a pigsty built on a foundation of Jewish gravestones. Seeing Hebrew writing on the map, Youlus bought it and went off with the farmer to a spot marked on it. The rabbi started digging and uncovered a mass grave containing the bones of more than 200 people, as well as two relatively intact Torahs. He and his driver reburied the human remains and marked each individual grave with verses from the Book of Psalms. Months later, Youlus—who is also a Torah scribe—restored the Torahs to kosher condition so they could once again be read in synagogues.

Read the full lengthy story at The Washington Post 



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1

 Jan 25, 2010 at 10:02 AM Anonymous Says:

Maybe its true and maybe not, but the bottom line is he is restoring Torahs to Jews at pretty cheap prices. A new TOrah is 30-50k today so to buy a Kosher one for under 10k is a bargain no matter whether he bought it from corrupt museum officials in Ukraine or found it in a mass grave.

2

 Jan 25, 2010 at 10:06 AM Anonymous Says:

This is a very convoluted story if you read all 5 pages in the WA Post and seems to be missing bits and pieces.

3

 Jan 25, 2010 at 10:22 AM Jack Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

Maybe its true and maybe not, but the bottom line is he is restoring Torahs to Jews at pretty cheap prices. A new TOrah is 30-50k today so to buy a Kosher one for under 10k is a bargain no matter whether he bought it from corrupt museum officials in Ukraine or found it in a mass grave.

yet, if a person is a liar, can you trust their integrity in regard to the torah being kosher?

4

 Jan 25, 2010 at 10:31 AM Anonymous Says:

if this is true, that he was making up fake holocaust stories about torahs, this is a new low.

5

 Jan 25, 2010 at 10:40 AM Baal Korei Mumche Says:

These old torahs are almost never kosher and it does not pay to restore them.
This thief is taking advantage of the nievete of these non orthodox jews who do not know better. Even many Orthodox jews do not know better. There is no such thing as a "bargain priced torah". Every time you fix a cracked letter in an old sefer, it is virtually guaranteed that there are other cracks that you have not come across yet and new cracks are continuously forming even in letters that have been fixed. That is the metzios and any Sofer who tells you otherwise is not being straight and is probably just trying to make a buck with a hefty repair bill. Unfortunately most Rabbis are not well versed in safrus and so they are also often easilly duped.

6

 Jan 25, 2010 at 11:08 AM Anonymous Says:

Knowning Menachem, it is terribly difficult to imagine that he would do the slightest thing dishonest.

7

 Jan 25, 2010 at 11:10 AM Jimbo Says:

Seems crooked to me. I read the entire article. He changes major facts of stories when confronted with evidence. He gives identical stories to different parties. Most damaging, he sells to Reconstructionist synagogues. No sofer worth anything would do that. Of course the article can be misleading, etc, but I doubt the major facts of the story in the paper are complete fabrications. It seems obvious to me that this man is a crook of the lowest form.

8

 Jan 25, 2010 at 11:23 AM Anonymous Says:

This Rav personally reburied every mes ! Tzaddik. He should receive a kibud from the Kehillah. The European Vaad should investigate this further and build a fence and ztionim.

9

 Jan 25, 2010 at 11:36 AM doubter Says:

Why doesn't anyone have the courage to come out and call him what he is:
a con-artist.

10

 Jan 25, 2010 at 11:36 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #6  
Anonymous Says:

Knowning Menachem, it is terribly difficult to imagine that he would do the slightest thing dishonest.

It usually is. But how can you (or he) explain these allegations? I highly dount it's all fabricated.

11

 Jan 25, 2010 at 11:50 AM The Truth Says:

It is very easy to sit in front of a computer screen and accuse someone you know nothing about.
It is also very easy to meet a charming and pleasant man and get taken by his incredible stories.

I can not judge (and I don't think anyone else should either) just from reading a Washington Post article. We always need some concrete evidence to either support or dismiss anything.

In recent years it has been revealed that there have been a few fake holocaust stories, so anything is possible.

Either way, this makes a fascinating story.

12

 Jan 25, 2010 at 11:57 AM mordechai Says:

Reply to #8  
Anonymous Says:

This Rav personally reburied every mes ! Tzaddik. He should receive a kibud from the Kehillah. The European Vaad should investigate this further and build a fence and ztionim.

if he's indeed a con-artist as it seems from him selling "two" sifrei tora to 5 different people - how do you know that he did what he claims he did ???

13

 Jan 25, 2010 at 12:14 PM Shmoo Says:

Are you guys really willing to label a frum Jew as a con artist based entirely on one newspaper article? And we wonder why Moshiach hasn't come yet...

14

 Jan 25, 2010 at 01:02 PM Anonymous Says:

I have known this man for many years & he is the most erliche person, as straight as an arrow. I DONT CARE WHAT SOME STUPID SENSATION-HUNGRY WRITER SAYS, AS THEY ARE TRYING TO SELL NEWSPAPERS. dont believe this garbage

15

 Jan 25, 2010 at 01:17 PM Anonymous Says:

As my Poppy used to say (with apologies to the great James Garner),
"If it sounds too good to be true, chances are it isn't."

16

 Jan 25, 2010 at 01:24 PM Kogan Says:

The story of the mass grave reburial should be vaery easy to confirm. I cannot imagine that he would not safeguard the map he bought from the farmer. If he can present it there are people in the Kamenetz Podolsk region that can confirm his story. And if that is not true then he should better have an explanation for the people who bought the Torahs. Most likely most of his Torahs are bought from the museum or archives officials in the Ukraine.

17

 Jan 25, 2010 at 02:16 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #14  
Anonymous Says:

I have known this man for many years & he is the most erliche person, as straight as an arrow. I DONT CARE WHAT SOME STUPID SENSATION-HUNGRY WRITER SAYS, AS THEY ARE TRYING TO SELL NEWSPAPERS. dont believe this garbage

I'm not saying and I don't have proof either way, but just because you know him for many years to be an erliche yid doesn't make it a fact. Lest we forget the erliche butcher from Monsey who was a Baal Koreh, Baal Tefilah, Magid Shiur etc. for many years.

18

 Jan 25, 2010 at 03:21 PM j.l Says:

kamnis podolsk is known the first mas kilings of yews in poland ther is mass grave of 30.000 the place is knowen piepol wisit graves but very few go to the mas gravesit does not have to bediscovered they are knoewn remember "yiscor" J.L

19

 Jan 25, 2010 at 03:30 PM formelly Says:

what you say makes no sense, and if the article is true what he did is fraud 100% and disgusting and maybe a new low.

People bought it not because it was a cheap price for a Torah, but for the historical and emotional reasons.

Imagine, if someone sold you a silver Kiddush cup that your grandfather or other relative who perished in the Holocaust for $10. But then find out the whole story is fake and it is a just a silver cup. Would you say, oh well, it is still worth $10, or would you be furious and what to get the guy?

ViN, maybe contact him for a comment?

21

 Jan 25, 2010 at 05:00 PM formelly Says:

it seemed he lied, so his good deeds that came from that lie is worth ZERO. A mitzva abu avera is not a miztva and he and you should know that

22

 Jan 25, 2010 at 05:54 PM He called her a "Rabbi"?! Says:

What kind of self-respecting erlich yid calls a reformster rabbit a "rabbi"? It raised a red flag for me.

23

 Jan 25, 2010 at 07:22 PM Zev Says:

Rabbi Youlus is very know t/o Baltimore to have impeccable references, fine middos and a tremendous Bal Chessed. He also employs other equally as fine Yidden that check his work and are also fine soferim in their own right. Before you all start screaming about Monsey and the treif story and making comparasins you had better have your facts straight. In the Monsey case they caught him with the goods red handed. As that story unfolded all of the truth was revealed by co-workers, distributors, customers, etc. Here we have one article by a Goyish newspaper that seems to incriminate a very fine Rav here in Baltimore. The best you can do in this situation is ask a sheila or call Rabbi Youlis yourself. He is easy enough to find and is not running anywhere. Bye the way - I know the whole Mishpocha from all sides. I don't think there is any smoking gun.

24

 Jan 25, 2010 at 08:56 PM Richard Nixon Says:

Nice website. Nice Video.

How come no pictures of the mass grave, floors, walls, convents, etc. in which he has found the sifrai torah or of the 200 graves he dug?

25

 Jan 25, 2010 at 09:10 PM Richard Nixon Says:

Reply to #8  
Anonymous Says:

This Rav personally reburied every mes ! Tzaddik. He should receive a kibud from the Kehillah. The European Vaad should investigate this further and build a fence and ztionim.

I'd like to start a fund to put up proper matzaivos on the 200 graves as well as proper security for the whole area.

26

 Jan 25, 2010 at 10:59 PM soifer Says:

Menachem would. Buy back the torah for price paid so what's the tumult.

27

 Jan 25, 2010 at 11:02 PM anonymous Says:

did anybody consider that maybe the newspaper was upset because he refused to divulge sources or info to them? sounds like the newspaper has an agenda of payback against him.

28

 Jan 25, 2010 at 11:10 PM Anonymous Says:

I find the denial here mind boggling. The same denial as the organ trafficking scandal. Read this part of the article:

"Asked in the shop about his Bergen-Belsen adventure, Youlus at first jokes about his dumb luck -- being a "schlemiel" and literally stumbling on a holy treasure. Confronted with the camp historian's denial, he shoots back: "It's not Bergen-Belsen. ... She [Gal Berner] says it was Bergen-Belsen." Which camp was it? He can't remember: He says he has toured so many concentration camp sites. Why did he allow Gal Berner to tell this story on the video? He says he's never watched it."


Wait let me get this straight. He didn't remember the concentration camp he found the Torah in? He is just a "schlemiel" who found a Torah laying around.....

29

 Jan 25, 2010 at 11:43 PM Anonymous Says:

is anyone home?? Can't yo see what is going on here?I know Menachem and he is smart enough not to give details of recovery operations in a foreign country to a journalist. He is an ehrlicher yid who works lsheim shomayim.

31

 Jan 26, 2010 at 03:20 AM me Says:

I'm very discomforted by the notion that an ehrlicher sofer would sell a safer to place that will be defiled. A reform or reconstructionist synagouge where everyone drives to temple on Shabbos in order to hear "Michalileha mois yumos". Aside from that I think it is almost beyond belief that a Torah buried for 60 years could be restored to kosher condition. Even if one shem is damaged, it can't be erased and rewritten, the omud would need replacing. but you can't just replace one omud, so three or four amudim would need to be rewritten because of one word. Yet, it seems that all his seferim are saveable . Forgetting that two sifrei Torah allegedly wound up in five places, it's interesting that none of them seems to be placed in an orthodox congregation.

That said. An allegation in a Goyishe newspaper should not carry more weight than a court indictment which is also not an indication of guilt or innocence.

32

 Jan 26, 2010 at 09:41 AM Anonymous Says:

The unflattering picture of him makes him look guilty.

33

 Jan 25, 2010 at 04:12 PM Anonymous Says:

Menachem is well known as a Baal Chesed who has helped numerous downtrodden individuals and families, never seeking any fanfare or public acknowledgment for overextending himself on behalf of others. He has been involved for many years in kiruv (rechokim and krovim). It seemed apparent to me that his focus on putting Sifrei Torah into the hands of the Non-Religious was motivated by his desire to awaken the hearts of our brethren to Avinu Shebashamayim. Clearly (as evidenced by every article mentioning his work) he has succeeded in focusing attention by many non-religious congregations and individuals on the beauty and authenticity of Toras Hashem. Hopefully the little sparks that have been created by the "buzz" surrounding his work will turn into true flames yearning for more and returning neshamos with Teshuva Shelaima to their rightful place among Klal Yisroel.



The accuracy of the details in the stories are as relevant as the details of stories told about the Besht and countless other Chassidishe Rebbes (which is where the term "Chassidishe Mayseh" comes from). The primary concern of all these stories isn't whether they occurred in the exact manner stated, but whether they achieved their true purpose, which is to be mekarev libom shel yisroel l'Avihem Shebashamyim.



Did he stretch the truth? Perhaps. But this shouldn't detract from his primary mission, which is to be Mekarev those who are slowly falling completely away from Yahadus to the point where there is nothing left to "ignite. We should only hope that those who felt a special connection to HKB"H at the time they've seen these Sifrei Torah will yearn for more, ultimately leading them to Avinu Shebashamayim.

34

 Jan 28, 2010 at 09:22 PM RZangpo2 Says:

I am the "nephew" referred to in the first paragraph of the Washington Post story.

Like my Uncle Bob, I can't agree with those who call Youlus's stories "Midrash," or say that they serve a greater truth. On the contrary, it seems that he makes them up himself to create a market, and to inflate the prices of the Torahs he acquires who knows how - probably on the Eastern European "gray market" he himself refers to. The story of "corrupt museum curators" rings true to me. I know that curators of archives in Belarus and elsewhere did the same thing with pages of census records that were of value to Western genealogists. No doubt these curators were underpaid - if they were paid at all after the fall of Communism - but that IMO does not excuse their crime: the deliberate erasure of history.

If Youlus's stories are untrue - and the Post article certainly raises that suspicion - then he himself is guilty of the same crime. How ironic that he claims to be doing just the opposite!

35

 Jan 29, 2010 at 09:12 AM RZangpo2 Says:

In response to those who continue to defend Youlus, let me be clear. He abused the faith of those he convinced to trust him and, as I said, deliberately erased/falsified history.

Youlus played on the emotions of my Uncle Bob like a violin. As the Post article says, Bob was deeply moved at the thought that this Torah may have come from the very grave containing his aunt's body - may indeed have been the very Sefer Torah his father read from at his Bar Mitzvah. At the very least, he thought it was a sacred relic of the very community his father came from, and so it had a deep, particular meaning to him.

Yes, it's still a sefer torah - kosher or not, I don't know - and my Uncle Bob did donate it to his synagogue in memory of his father. That's good. But that Youlus could reduce my Uncle Bob practically to tears with his phony story, just to get him to buy his wares - that's heartless. And that's the real answer to those who stick up for Youlus and call him an erlicher Yid and a baal chesed.

36

 Feb 04, 2010 at 11:35 PM A yid Says:

Reply to #5  
Baal Korei Mumche Says:

These old torahs are almost never kosher and it does not pay to restore them.
This thief is taking advantage of the nievete of these non orthodox jews who do not know better. Even many Orthodox jews do not know better. There is no such thing as a "bargain priced torah". Every time you fix a cracked letter in an old sefer, it is virtually guaranteed that there are other cracks that you have not come across yet and new cracks are continuously forming even in letters that have been fixed. That is the metzios and any Sofer who tells you otherwise is not being straight and is probably just trying to make a buck with a hefty repair bill. Unfortunately most Rabbis are not well versed in safrus and so they are also often easilly duped.

Not to consider myself a true mumche in the rules of sifrei torah, but I have personally lained from four different old sfarim that he fixed, and I know of other lainers who are mumchim who have read from the same sfarim, and I can tell from personal experience that the sfarim are written properl and exquisitely. I have personally seen Rabbi Youlus working on sfarim, and i have discussed his techniques with him, and I truly believe that they are kosher. Furthermore, I can assure you that this is not just a business endeavor, for not only have I seen the shelf of posul sfarim in his workshop that he could easily forge as kosher, but the Christian Science Monitor said in their article on him a few years ago that he is in debt to his work.

In addition, I want to point out, as others already have, that in addition to the wp article seeming to miss some things here and there, someone who is stealing artifacts from foreign countries is not going to openly release information about it. Rabbi Youlus has told me some of the stories of where he has found sfarim, and if they were true, they were not things to be shared with the public. Finally, knowing him, I believe him to be a pious man.

37

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