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Attorney general sues to stop potential sale of rare Jewish books, manuscripts

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(The Center Square) – Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost wants to stop the sale of ancient Jewish texts and books at the nation’s first permanent Jewish institution of higher learning in Cincinnati.

Yost filed for a temporary restraining order to prevent Hebrew Union College from selling copies of the Talmud and other ancient books after the school expressed interest in parting with them to offset growing deficits.

Yost said donors have given money to fund the Klau Library and care for the rare books and manuscripts.

“These sacred texts are invaluable artifacts – religious and cultural treasures,” Yost said. “Their sale would not only betray donor trust but also may violate legal restrictions placed on the gifts.”

The collection includes 14,000 items in the library’s rare book room, with some potentially worth millions of dollars. Yost said the texts were given to the library with the understanding they would be preserved and maintained for use by scholars and researchers worldwide.

He also said any sale could breach the Hebrew Union board’s fiduciary duties to the library’s public beneficiaries. For books that can be sold, sale proceeds must be used to acquire other collection items. Using sale proceeds to reduce the college’s deficit could constitute an illegal use of assets donated expressly to fund the collection.

“A library without its most precious artifacts and texts is like a body without a soul,” Yost said. “We are committed to ensuring that these irreplaceable items remain available to the public and are cared for as their donors intended.”

Hebrew Union College was founded in Cincinnati in 1875. In 1950, it merged with the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. A Los Angeles campus was opened in 1954, and a Jerusalem campus opened in 1963.

According to the school’s website, the Klau Library in Cincinnati includes rare incunabula, illuminated manuscripts, Biblical codices, communal records, legal documents and scientific tracts.

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