Menachem Youlus is a Baltimore rabbi and Torah scribe who falsely claimed he had rescued Holocaust-era Torah scrolls from Eastern Europe, selling the scrolls at inflated prices. On August 24, 2011 he was arrested on charges of mail fraud and wire fraud, and on February 2, 2012 he pleaded guilty.
Youlus claimed he had personally traveled to Eastern Europe and beyond to recover Torah scrolls lost or hidden during the Holocaust, including some from the sites of concentration camps at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. He said that during his travels he had been beaten and imprisoned, and called himself the "Jewish Indiana Jones" during a Torah dedication in 2004. In court he admitted that from 2004 to 2010 he had made up the stories of his travels; he had never been to the places he had claimed. The Torahs he sold did not have the claimed provenance.
Save a Torah foundation
Youlus created the non-profit foundation "Save a Torah", purportedly to finance his travels and the restoration of the rescued Torah scrolls, dedicated to rescuing and restoring Torah scrolls hidden, lost or stolen during the Holocaust and other world upheavals and placing them in Jewish congregations. Instead he sold Torah scrolls he had obtained by other means, partly at inflated prices. According to prosecutors, he defrauded the charity and its donors of $862,000.
In January 2010, the Washington Post reported that many Torahs purportedly rescued from Holocaust sites in Eastern Europe appeared to be old Torah scrolls mostly acquired when American congregations closed, and resold at high prices because of Youlus's unsubstantiated assertion that they were rescued from Holocaust-related sites. Similar questions were reported in an April 14, 2010 New York Times article concerning a Torah at New York's Central Synagogue.
On August 24, 2011, Youlus was arrested and charged with fraud. According to prosecutors, he made up the stories about the Torahs' origins. Youlus was also accused of taking more than $340,000 of the $1.2 million raised by Save a Torah, including $145,000 or more for his personal use. Through an attorney, Youlus initially denied the allegations. He later pleaded guilty to fraud, having used monies from the fraud to cover his personal expenses. On December 17, 2012, Youlus began serving a 51-month prison sentence at the federal correctional institution in Otisville, New York. Convicted of two counts of mail and wire fraud in a Manhattan federal court on October 11, 2012, Youlus is slated to be incarcerated until August 26, 2016.
Youlus was arrested in Manhattan on fraud charges on August 24, 2011, for claiming to have toured Europe in search of lost or hidden Torah scrolls – the holy Jewish texts containing Hebrew scripture. He distributed the scrolls among American synagogues and communities, sometimes at inflated rates, and diverted almost one third of $1.2 million into his accounts for personal use.
Youlus embezzled more than a million dollars from "Save a Torah". He got that money transferred to a Jewish bookstore, owned by him in Wheaton, Maryland, on a pretext of payment for restoring old and damaged scrolls. He was charged for writing $344,000 in checks to himself from the bookstore account, $200,000 in personal expenses, and for using $90,000 to pay private school tuition fee for his kith and kin. He was also charged for donors' $145,000 amount meant for saving a Torah; instead, been diverted to his personal bank account.
David M. Rubenstein, one of the founders of Carlyle Group, who had bought a Torah and donated it to Central Synagogue, sought the authenticity of scrolls by hiring Michael Berenbaum, a Holocaust historian and former director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Holocaust Research Institute. Berenbaum said "What I found is the claim for the origin of the Torah could not be verified."
Menachem Z. Rosensaft, an adjunct professor of law at Cornell University and general counsel of the World Jewish Congress, was skeptical about Youlus's claim of discovering an old Torah at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as his parents were liberated from that camp and he was pretty sure that the camp was burned down by British Army during World War II.
On complaint lodged by Menachem Z. Rosensaft, vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, the state of Maryland began investigating "Save a Torah". Having looked into the matter, state officials found that Youlus' stories "may be misleading". And, Michael P. Schlein, investigator for the Office of the Secretary of State of Maryland said: "we could probably or reasonably assume they could not be wholly accurate."
Investigations also revealed that he barely traveled abroad during the years he claimed to have traveled in quest of old texts.
|“||Between 2004 and 2010, I falsely represented that I had personally obtained vintage Torah scrolls — in particular ways, in particular locations — in Europe and Israel. I know what I did was wrong, and I deeply regret my conduct.||”|
He also pleaded guilty to mail fraud and wire fraud, admitting that he had used the United States Postal Service and email to further a scheme to solicit donations and siphon money claiming for restoration and preservation of Torah scrolls.
As part of his plea agreement, he will repay his victims $1.2 million. Youlus was free on $100,000 bond until he was sentenced on October 10, 2012, by Judge Colleen McMahon to just over four years in prison.
He received Peacemaker award for 2005 from the Olender Foundation.
- "Manhattan U.S. Attorney Charges Maryland Founder of "Save a Torah" Charity with Fraud" (PDF). U.S. Justice Department. August 24, 2011.
- Moynihan, Colin (February 2, 2012). "Rabbi Admits Torah Tales Were a Fraud". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-02-04.
- "'Jewish Indiana Jones' admits Torah fraud". BBC News. February 3, 2012. Retrieved 2012-02-04.
- Wexler, Martha; Lunden, Jeff (January 31, 2010). "Rabbi to the Rescue: Menachem Youlus is called the Indiana Jones of Torah recovery and restoration. But there are doubts about his thrilling tales.". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-02-04.
- "A Mission To Salvage Holy Message: Wheaton Rabbi Scours World for Torahs Buried, Hidden During Holocaust", Katherine Shaver, Washington Post, September 24, 2004; Page B01 
- "Rabbi to the Rescue: Menachem Youlus is called the Indiana Jones of Torah recovery and restoration. But there are doubts about his thrilling tales", Martha Wexler and Jeff Lunden, Washington Post, Sunday, January 31, 2010; W12  
- James Barron, "Two Torahs, Two Holocaust Stories and One Big Question", New York Times, April 14, 2010.
- James Barron, "Rabbi Fabricated Swashbuckling Tales of Saving Holocaust Torahs, Prosecutors Say", The New York Times, August 24, 2011.
- Jeff Lunden, "'Jewish Indiana Jones' charged with fraud", The Washington Post, August 25, 2011.
- Martha Wexler and Jeff Lunden, "Maryland Rabbi Pleads Guilty to Fraud in Torah Scheme", Washington Post, February 3, 2012.
- The New York Times Rabbi Fabricated Swashbuckling Tales of Saving Holocaust Torahs, Prosecutors Say
- Gearty, Robert; Connor, Tracy (February 2, 2012). "'Jewish Indiana Jones' Rabbi Menachem Youlus admits to Torah scam and faces jail". NYDailyNews.com. Retrieved 2012-02-04.
- The Jewish Chronicle Maryland pact gags Save A Torah under threat of penalty
- Benjamin Weiser, Torah Fraud Earns Rabbi Prison Term (Oct. 11, 2012). New York Times.
- Peacemaker Award - 2005. Rabbi Menachem Youlus
- Local Torah buyer debates scroll’s authenticity
- PBS's Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly - Video from August 1, 2008 on Save a Torah
- A profane swindle? - 'Holocaust Torahs' can't be real
- Two Torahs, Two Holocaust Stories and One Big Question
- Auschwitz Torah - A synagogue honors a Torah saved from the Holocaust.
- Saving the Torah