Last week, Knesset member Michael Ben-Ari tore up a copy of the New Testament in public. In a civilized society, there is no place for such contemptible behavior by individuals, let alone by public officials. If Ben-Ari really believes sincerely in what he does and says, he constitutes a danger both to Israeli democracy and to Jewish relations with non-Jews in general and with Christians in particular. If Ben-Ari is simply a demagogue seeking publicity, he is no less a danger and a disgrace to all of us. He claims to defend Jewish rights in light of historical persecution of the Jews. How, then, can he possibly protest if Jewish books are once again burned or destroyed by anti-Semites?
When the Romans martyred Jews in the Hadrianic persecutions, burning them wrapped in Torah scrolls, the sages commented that the parchment was burned but that the letters flew to heaven.When the situation is reversed, and a minority group which has suffered over the centuries from persecution, at long last attains majority status and power, that power must be used responsibly and fairly.
We are the first generation of Jews in two millennia to have an independent state and an army. In the 12th century, Judah Halevy posed the challenge of that behavior at the nadir of Jewish power. In his dialogue between a Jew and a king, when the Jew brags that Christians and Muslims practice humility but then go out and kill and conquer half the world, the non-Jewish king replies, “That’s because you don’t have the power, and if you had the power, you would also kill.”
Non-Jews can burn the parchment and paper of Jewish books; only Jews can destroy their letters, their message.
Raphael R. Jospe
The author is a senior lecturer in Jewish philosophy at Bar-Ilan University.