Monday, July 11, 2011

Eine Kleine Book Burning

Yom sheni, 9 Tamuz 5771.

Photo taken from Wikiality post on book burning
Almost everyone who had a TV growing up can remember an episode of a program that profoundly affected his life.

When I was a kid, there was a Hall of Fame or something like that about a town that went a little crazy over book burning.  The climactic scene took place in the local church or the town hall.  As everyone gathered for a final Blitzkrieg against freedom of the press, one man stood and read passages from a book to his frenzied audience.  The events he read out of context were so terrible -- passages that detailed violent murder, rape and horrific treatment of captured enemies -- that people in the meeting place were crying out, covering their children's ears, and in general getting worked up to burn. that. book.
Book burning in Nazi Germany - photo from Wikipedia
The book was the Bible.

Of course, the story ends with the upstanding Christians in the town coming back to their senses, and deciding to put the home fires out before it was too late.

I am not one of those who will defend the guy who cries "Fire!" in a crowded theater.  I think purveyors of child porn should have things done to them that should not appear in a family-friendly blog.  In other words, my boundaries for freedom of speech and freedom of the press are the same as they are for most normal people.

But that program ingrained in me the need to read before I freak.  It is very important to me to try not to take what is said in a news interview at face value, as I know that Mister Editor can cut and splice his way to making the interviewee state clearly and with full conviction that he daily eats bits of his grandmother on toast, and has done for years.  This is not to say that I don't occasionally have fun with what appears on the news.  But making true judgment takes more information than one thirty-second sound byte.

This is even more necessary in the case of passages taken out of context from a book.  Not only is it important to know who is quoting from the text and to try to think about what his motivations might be.  It is also important before jumping on an "anti" bandwagon to read the book.
Book burning in Pakistan - photo from Reuters

I am not going to read Torat Hamelech.  I am assuming it is in Hebrew (which is not my language of  clear judgment).  It is a scholarly tome, meant to be studied in yeshiva by earnest young men who discuss and argue passionately every passage.  Because I will not read it, I do not think that I am qualified to judge it based on a passage quoted here and there in the press, by people who may not have the Torah's interests at heart.

It seems from several stories I have heard and read, trying to collect enough data to have an opinion on the matter, that most of the people pontificating on this book have not read it either, and are basing their judgments on the time honored journalist method of "he said she said," flavored with a predisposition toward wanting to stone those radical "settler" rabbis.  (For a little more detail on this viewpoint, see David Bedein's op-ed piece here:  Sadly, several Torah Jews seem to care more about showing the world how rational they are than about finding out what the text actually has to say before they speak out against it.

Hello, people!  It's Tamuz.

With all of the fire Israel and the Jewish people must constantly take these days, perhaps at least among ourselves we could read the text inside before we burn the rabbis with the book.


Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach said...

Thank you for this cogent perspective on the matter!

I cannot add a thing.

Bless you.

Avisonenthal said...

The Israeli police kicked in Binyamin Kahane's door at least five times for the crime of writing a parsha sheet called "Darcha shel Torah". This is nothing new.