Menachem Rosensaft, vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendents, formally asked Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler to investigate whether Youlus’ tax-exempt organization, Save a Torah Inc., has been soliciting funds under false pretenses.
Rosensaft, who also writes a regular column for The Chronicle and teaches law at Cornell University, made the same request to Maryland Secretary of State John P. McDonough.
Rosensaft’s most recent column attacked Youlus and his organization.
In his March 23 letter to Gansler, Rosensaft repeated allegations made in a Jan. 31 Washington Post Magazine story that Youlus has made “incredible and in some cases demonstrably false representations” about the Holocaust-era scrolls he offers for sale to synagogues.
Youlus sold one of those Torahs to a Pittsburgh area man who subsequently donated it to Beth El Congregation of the South Hills.
“We respectfully request that you undertake a formal investigation as to whether Save a Torah has been soliciting funds under false pretenses, including from idealistic teenagers who have donated significant portions of their Bar and Bat Mitzvah gifts to Save a Torah,” Rosensaft wrote in his letter.
Gansler referred the matter to Secretary of State McDonough. A spokesman for McDonough’s office confirmed the department has received Rosensaft’s letter, but has not yet decided how to respond.
Tax laws differ from state to state. Even so, a Duquesne University professor said Save a Torah’s nonprofit status could be in jeopardy if Maryland officials determine he is raising money under false pretenses.
“They could lose their c3 status for that, there’s no doubt,” Nick Cafardi, professor of law at Duquesne and author of the book, “Understanding nonprofit tax organizations.”
“In order to maintain your 501(c)(3) status, you cannot act in violation of public policy, so if they’re violating the laws of Maryland they’re violating public policy.”
The Washington Post Magazine, in its Jan. 31 story, questioned the truth of Youlus’ claims that he had rescued over 1,000 Torahs throughout Europe.
Youlus claims he has found Torahs hidden in walls, buried in the ground, piled in basements of monasteries, even under the floorboards of a concentration camp barracks. He also claims to have been beaten up, threatened with jail in Siberia and forced to smuggle out Torahs in false-bottom suitcases.
According to the Post, Youlus’ stories cannot be verified and there are many details and facts the rabbi cannot remember.
Youlus sold one of his Torahs to a local man, Bob Kushner, for $14,000. Kushner donated it to Beth El Congregation of the South Hills. Youlus, who denies the allegations, subsequently gave Kushner a signed and sworn statement confirming that the Torah he purchased did in fact have the history Youlus related to Kushner at the time.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)