An ancient Jewish text taken from Turkey by Israel’s search-and-rescue team, known as ZAKA, after the recent earthquake, has been returned, representatives for Turkey’s Jewish community confirmed on Twitter Sunday.
The text, a copy of the ancient Book of Esther called the Megila of Antakya,, is now being kept in the country’s Chief Rabbinate, the head office of the country’s chief rabbi, in Istanbul.
“Artifacts belonging to all kinds of beliefs and cultures that have existed within the borders of our country for centuries will continue to be carefully preserved in these lands,” the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism tweeted Sunday. The ministry also said that it was looking into accusations the religious manuscripts had been stolen or smuggled out of the country.
“All allegations regarding the evaluation of parchment within the scope of Law No. 2863 are meticulously investigated by the Anti-Smuggling Department of our Ministry and the process is handled in coordination with our Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
Turkish news website Haber7 first reported the news of the return on Monday.
According to Israel’s national daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, an elderly man approached Major Haim Otmazgin, head commander of ZAKA, with the ancient religious text in the days after the earthquake. The man said he had recovered it from a synagogue in the Turkish city of Antakya. The building had been severely damaged by the earthquake on February 6, with Antakya Jewish Community President Şaul Cenudioğlu and his wife Tuna Cenudioğlu dying during the disaster.
According to Yedioth Ahronoth, the man requested Otmazgin guard the Book of Esther due to the city’s close proximity to Syria and concern “they would fall into the wrong hands”.
Otmazgin told the news outlet that ZAKA would consult a “Chabad emissary in Istanbul in order to find out whom we should entrust the scrolls with.” The Book of Esther from Antakya, estimated to be at least 200 years old, was then taken to Israel by members of ZAKA on February 15.