On the Burning of Books

“Where books are burned in the end people will burn.” – Heinrich Heine

Rosh HaShanah is just a few hours away. However, I want to take a moment to raise an important issue.

As many of you are already aware, a church in Gainesville, FL has created quite a stir around the world with their plan to hold a Koran burning on Saturday, September 11th. World leaders, politicians, spiritual leaders, and prominent figures have condemned the plans of the small church, and have pleaded with them to reconsider.

I am adding my voice to the cacophony of voices. Why you might ask?

On May 10th, 1933 the Nazis burned 25,000 books – including those written by Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, who had predicted in 1820 that “where books are burned in the end people will burn.” Eight years after the Nazis began burning books, they began burning people.

During the middle ages, the church burned copies of the Talmud in various cities across Europe, claiming that the Talmud mocked and denied Jesus and led Jews away from faith in him. This too resulted in thousands of Jews across Europe being killed, tortured, raped, and beaten.

The reason why I, as a rabbi, am speaking up is because the issue with the upcoming Koran burning in Florida is not really about the Koran. It is also not really about Islam. Rather, it is about human dignity and decency.

History has time and again reinforced Heinrich Heine’s observation that those who begin by burning books will end by burning people. Intolerance of thought (whether one agrees with it or not) is always the beginning to greater oppression. When one can justify a voice not being worth hearing, it is only a small step to saying not just the voice, but the person is not worth hearing, let alone living.

As a Jew, and as a follower of the Jewish Messiah, I must also speak out against the fear and hatred of the Other that truly lies at the root of this book burning. It is totally acceptable to differ on opinions. In America, we also have the freedom to choose (or not to choose) our own faith. You can agree or disagree with the content of the Koran, or specific interpretations of Islam. But when you begin the path of destruction, you begin to fall down a very slippery slope.

Tonight we Jews around the world begin a period of introspection and repentance. As we seek G-d to have mercy upon us, we must first begin by extending mercy to those around us. Particularly with our “enemy.”

Rev. Terry Jones … Please rethink this foolishness.

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Simchat Yisrael Messianic Synagogue in West Haven, CT, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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6 Responses to On the Burning of Books

  1. Alaina Wood says:

    Great Post.

  2. Judah Gabriel Himango says:

    I am anticipating the response: the Scriptures record righteous men burning not only the holy things of a false religion, but also the destruction of their holy places and the killing of their priests. And God considered it right for this to happen. Heck, there are commandments to kill those who would lead Israel to other gods.How would you answer such people, Rabbi?

  3. Monique says:

    Judah, I'm not the rabbi, but I'm married to him, so I'll throw in my two cents.This is the same logic that haredi extremists use to justify the persecution of Messianic Jews in Israel. In fact, only two years ago (3?) a group of Haredim burned New Testaments in Israel … I didn't sit in their living rooms when they hatched this plan, so I don't exactly which chapter and verse they felt justified by … but I'd imagine their dialogue sounded like the hypothetical argument you've presented.The fact that Messianic Jews have been on the receiving end of such violence should make us extra-sensitive.I'd say to those who cite the Torah to support book burning that they're engaging in an act of extreme arrogance. They're saying that they alone know what G-d requires of them, that G-d has directly ordered them to carry out noxious acts, and that no one is entitled to challenge this assertion.We've seen through history the outcome of this line of zero-sum thinking. Nobody wins.

  4. Dan Benzvi says:

    This pastor is just an attention grabbing impaster.

  5. rik says:

    Reb Joshua,and Monique, this, is, a good post.It brings the historical reference to the burning of books,particularly sacred writings in a religously charegd arena. Rabbi Joshua would you agree that while we endevor to put scriptual boots on the ground(Feet shod with the gopel of peace), we need the historical perspective as one of the tools to enshure sound doctrine and correct application. To put it simpely. Is'nt that the core of apologetics and the beginning of a life of worship. Judah, I belive Josh's artical is your answer. I to am not Rabbi Joshua, however sense you made you'r referance to scripture as the question I can't help but to respond. 1st, There is a time and purpous for everything under heaven. a time for war and a time For PEACE. Tenach is full of times such as when G-d told Moses raise your arms, staff in hand. What happened? Not hand to hand combat but as Moses stayed obediant in a universal symbol for Peace (sometimes surrender). HaShem used His angels to slice & dice. Remember Hezekiah & Isaiah(2Chr.19-21)who did War on there knees. And again the angels. Then the comming of Messiah, who is Torah incarnet. (Simcah Torah Is awsome) And Messiah brought Sound Doctrin to Israel in the Beatitudes. Along with an attitude adjustment. We know buy scripture(2Peter 3:9)HaShem is longsuffering; for it is not his purpose that anyone should be distroyed, but EVERYONE should turn from his/her sins. Remember, in compassion, the Day of The Lord will come. We begin our time of Shabat with, He, being merciful, forgives iniquity and dose not destroy, frequently He turns away His anger and dose not stir up all his wrath. For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, and exceedingly kind to ALL who call upon YOUR NAME.L'Shanah Tovah and your eternity.

  6. rik says:

    Rabbi Joshua,Monique,and Judah, I woula like to apologize for missquoting Kohelet 3:1. By the very sentance structure,the focus of the beginning of the chapter is Season. Obviously there are various climates and envrironments that are critical for why G-d dose what He dose: Espesialy concerning the topic at hand. For everything thre ia a season,And a time for every pursuit, under the heavens. I'd like to an vers'14-15I know that whatever G-d dose will last forever; there is nothing to add or subtract from it; and G-d has done it so that people will fear him. 15:That which was is here already; and that which will be has already been, but G-d seeks out what people chase after. Your G-d chasers I love you.L'Shanah Tovah

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