The man, Yosef Hamadi, left the city of Rida along with 22 other Jews. All of them, apart from him, decided to immigrate to London.
Before leaving Yemen, he decided to take with him a Torah scroll written in the local synagogue about 10 years ago. Due to the recent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Yemen, he was afraid that the scroll would be burned or looted in riots and so decided to bring it to Israel.
He faced no problems at the Yemeni border control. "A Torah scroll? It's the word of God. Bon voyage," they told him, letting him take the holy item out of the country without causing any trouble.
The Egyptians let him transport the item easily as well. Where did the problems start? In the State of Israel.
Last Monday, after landing at Ben-Gurion Airport, Hamadi innocently walked through the Green Channel, as who would have thought that in order to bring a Torah scroll into Israel one would have to pay NIS 7,200 (about $2,050)?
The Customs officers confiscated the Torah scroll and told the shocked immigrants that he would need a permit from the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry to bring it into the country.
"Please let me bring the Torah scroll in," the man begged. "I want to pray with it on Tisha B'Av." But his pleads were ignored.
Customs Office: We acted with great sensitivity
Hamadi somehow managed to reach Gilad Mizrahi, an advisor to Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, and ask for his help. Following a series of talks, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry provided the longed-for permit, and the Customs Office agreed to release the book for NIS 7,200 in value added tax.
Last Thursday, Mizrahi paid the money out of his own pocket, received the book and handed it over to the Yemeni immigrant.
"There are three more Torah scrolls we want to rescue from Yemen, but with such an attitude it might be better to leave them there," Hamadi said angrily. "The Muslims treated this item as the word of God, and in Israel of all places it was confiscated. Israelis shouldn't be surprised that Yemen's Jews prefer not to immigrate to Israel."
In any event, he said, the Torah scroll he saved would be transferred to a Yemeni immigrants' synagogue in the city of Shaaraim.
The Customs Office said in response that although the immigrant failed to declare the Torah scroll, no action was taken to confiscate it and no fines were imposed.
"We acted with great sensitivity. We tried to help him get the required permits from the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry to bring the Torah scroll into the country, and immediately after the tax issue was settled it was released. These are the Israeli procedures. You can't bring in a Torah scroll without taxes and permits."
Mizrahi turned to Knesset Member Carmel Shama-Hacohen, chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee, who promised to look into the matter.
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