Jack emails: “I wonder if the rebitzen will be able to sell these torahs with the stigma attached to them.”
The widow of a North Hollywood rabbi who has fought for years to regain four Torahs that once belonged to her late husband won another battle this week when a civil court ruled in her favor.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Tuesday confirmed an earlier ruling by a rabbinic court that Rita Pauker should get back four Torahs that had been in her husband’s family for decades, but are now being used for prayers at a Sherman Oaks synagogue.
But with appeals planned, the four sacred texts won’t be exchanging hands anytime soon.
The late Rabbi Norman Pauker had given the Torahs – valued at anywhere from $29,000 to $80,000 but priceless in sentimental value – to Rabbi Samuel Ohana, now of Beth Midrash Mishkan Israel, in the late 1990s after closing his own temple.
But whether that act was intended as a loan or a permanent gift remains at the center of a bitter dispute between Rita Pauker and Ohana.
“I’m emotionally exhausted,” Rita Pauker said. “Considering I’ve been chasing them for seven years, it’s about time.”
Rabbi Pauker died in 2002, years after he closed his own synagogue and gave the Torahs to Ohana. Although Ohana has been using the Torahs for prayers at Beth Midrash Mishkan Israel in Sherman Oaks, Pauker believes the scrolls were on loan and wants to reclaim them to give to her nephews, who are rabbis in Long Beach, New York and Florida.
Ohana, who was Rabbi Pauker’s assistant, said his former colleague gifted the scrolls to his congregation and called Pauker’s claims “ridiculous.”
“It’s unheard of,” Ohana said. “The Torah are always donated either in the memory of loved ones or in honor of somebody else. Therefore, when the rabbi closed the synagogue and he died, these Torah were not the property of the rabbi so he could bequeath them to his wife or his children. It goes from one congregation to another.
“What’s the purpose to fight and give it to another chabad?” Ohana said. “This is the congregation where her husband used to come and gave to in memory of his loved ones.”