The unauthorized dismantling of the historic Aron ha Kodesh (Ark) from the synagogue in Siret, Romania, and its removal to Israel, where it is to go on auction next week (Feb. 20) appears to have been a huge undertaking as it involved the construction of a replica of the ark, which was installed in the synagogue some time in the past 3 years.
Experts and Romanian Jewish leaders are alarmed and want to have the auction halted while an investigation is under way.
Photographs taken at the site on Tuesday (Feb. 12) confirmed that the Aron currently in the synagogue is a greatly simplified copy of the original. Photos from April 2016 show that the original Ark was still in place at that time.
The auction house in Jerusalem — Moreshet — posts pictures of the dismantled sections of the original Ark. Moreshet has said that the original Ark had been replaced by a replica already three years ago. It said it had documentation on the sale of the original.
However — the Federation of Romanian Jewish Communities (FEDROM), the official owner of the synagogue and its fixtures, expressed shock at the news and on Wednesday issued the following statement:
FEDROM (and implicitly the local Jewish Community), is the rightful owner, and the sole owner recognized by law, of all and any synagogues existing on Romanian territory, but as such, it has no knowledge about the selling, dismantling, replacement-replica, or taking the Ark (Aron Kodesh) out of the synagogue and out of the country. Furthermore there are no visible signs of forced entry or robbery on the site.
We will take all necessary steps of action to clarify this tangled issue.
Prof. Ilia Rodov, Chair of the Department of Jewish Art at Bar Ilan University, said the case rendered him “speechless.” He called the replica “a Mr. Bean-style mock of the original.”
We post here comparative pictures, showing the replica and the original (photos taken by JHE Director Ruth Ellen Gruber in 2006).
The replica copies the shape and form of the original Ark, and also reproduces decorative features, but in a simplified, cruder manner.
The differences in the capitals of the columns, for example, and the lettering above the Torah cabinet are very visible:
Even the iron railings of the stairs leading up to the Ark were copied in a simpler form: