The excellent E.L. Doctorow novel City of God opens with the book’s narrator, the Episcopal Rev. Thomas Pemberton, discovering that his church has been robbed. Among other things, the thieves took some brass candlesticks, a bunch of purple robes, and the church’s cross. When a local cop comes over to investigate, he admits he is surprised anybody would rob Protestants. "They’ll hit a synagogue for the watchamacallit, the Torah," says the detective. "Because it’s handwritten? Not a mass-produced item? It’ll bring, a minimum, five K. Whereas the book value for your cross has to be zilch."
Sadly, it’s not only a pilfered Torah that will sell for a high amount. Today’s New York Post reported that some of the victims of Bernie Madoff’s landmark Ponzi scheme have resorted to selling off their Judaica:
Antique auctioneer Jonathan Greenstein told Page Six rare Judaic artifacts that "haven’t seen the light of day in generations" are surfacing in light of the desperate times some collectors are facing. Two victims, Rabbi Alexander Schindler and wife Rhea, "lost a substantial sum of money" with Madoff, said Greenstein. They now plan to recoup some cash by putting an ancient Torah crown and a diamond-encrusted Torah pointer from Amsterdam up for auction.
When a rabbi has to sell off his own Jewish artifacts, what we have we come to?
Oh, and just to follow up on that story from City of God: in case you were wondering what happened, they found the cross after all – on the roof of a synagogue on the Upper West Side.