Ancient Books Stolen From Safed Synagogue Mysteriously Returned

The ancient books stolen from Rabbi Yosef Karo synagogue in Safed about three weeks ago were returned on Tuesday morning. The identity of the thieves and those who returned the books remains a mystery.

Thirty rare religious texts, some 300 and 400 years old, were stolen from the synagogue.

Rabbi Ephraim Ben-Shimon, 63, is the manager and librarian at the Rabbi Yosef Karo synagogue in the ancient Galilean city. Since the incident occurred, Ben-Shimon stayed in Jerusalem refusing to return to his home in Safed.

Ben-Shimon said he received a message on Tuesday morning that a delivery man was waiting for him with a package.

"He said that someone requested he pass it on to me and drove away. There are no details as to who the sender of the package is. I gave the police the delivery man's information," Ben-Shimon said.

"From my perspective the affair ended the moment the books were returned, now the law must do what it deems right."

Ben-Shimon said rare volumes have accumulated over the centuries. "It is difficult to assess the value of the books stolen because they cannot be bought," he said and then added that an expert estimated the value of a single book in the library at $50-100,000.

The synagogue itself is estimated to have been established in 1536, when Rabbi Karo arrived in Safed from Toledo. The structure was damaged in an earthquake in 1837 and was later rehabilitated.

Ben-Shimon is of the opinion that "the thief saw that the incident won a lot of resonance and publicity in both the general and ultra-Orthodox media. He understood he could not sell the books and returned them".

Ben-Shimon believes that a miracle reunited him with the ancient texts, more so than any other factor.

"I am sure that troubles surrounded the thief, these ancient books put curses on anyone who steals them," said the Rabbi. "In Judaism we must pray for everyone to experience only good and I hope the thief regrets what he did and we will pray for him to," he added.

According to Ben-Shimon many of the synagogues in the old city of Safed have been robbed in recent years. "I am sure thieves are drug addicts are responsible. Those are the type of people who are not afraid of anything. I have one suspect in minf and the police have arrested him but unforutnately the court released him."

The rare books had been kept in the holy arch and were only visibile to visitors through glass doors. Few times, with the instruction of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the head of the synagogue Rabbi Eliyahu and Rabbi Meir Mazuz were permitted to leaf through the ancient texts.

Ben-Shimon promises to install video cameras and an alarm system in the synagogue. The police station in Safed says they will investigate in an attempt to identify the thieves.