The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Burning a Bible, a Koran, a Tanakh, or a Torah scroll.

I wrote this on September 10th, 2010, while Pastor Terry Jones was threatening to burn a Koran.

I'm fairly disgusted that some demogogue with 40 followers can hold hostage the attention, the passions, and the religious devotion of so many people all over the world. I also know that in my father's lifetime, the holy books of my religion were burned across Europe by hateful mobs who took it a step further and burned the corpses of the adherents of those holy books after snuffing out millions of their lives, and the latter activity is infinitely worse than the former.

I see four levels of atrocity here. In my religion, a single letter of scripture, written as such, is sacred. Orthodox Jews will bury a damaged holy book rather than see it suffer any further insult. Among many Jews, if we drop a prayer book, or book of scripture, we kiss it before we put it back. I find this very touching, but I understand the perspective that sees such behavior as overly sentimental. A mezuzah affixed to a door is a case, with a scroll inside, with a piece of the Torah inscribed on it. Many Jews will kiss the mezuzah on their way in or out of the door.

Among Jews and Muslims, a translation of our holy texts is not itself a holy text. To a Muslim, the Koran is written in Arabic, and in other languages, it is a translation of the Koran, and not the Koran itself. Similarly for Jews with our scriptures.  I have a friend who is a Lutheran minister, and we were comparing religious services. I told him that we sing psalms in our services, and he replied that he did the same. I didn't believe him at first, because I doubted that his parishioners spoke Hebrew. To a Jew, singing an English translation of a psalm is very different than singing a psalm.

So to inflict intentional damage on a word of scripture is bad, but I have to admit that I sometimes print out prayers I find online, and I don't have a problem recycling the paper after I'm done with it. This is a level of desecration that doesn't really bother me. In a sense, reading a holy book electronically, and then deleting the file is destroying the book, even if all you did was empty the cache on your browser.

The second level of desecration is intentionally damaging or destroying a printed holy book. This is much worse, but ultimately, the world will recover. Millions of bibles are printed (and probably thousands in Hebrew) every day, and however many printed Korans get burned by this Florida idiot, more will be printed, and the ones who are inspired by this act of desecration to commit acts of violence and desecration in return probably are less familiar with the contents of the holy book they mourn than they should. Burning a printed holy book is ugly and bad, but not irrevocable.

The third level of desecration is burining a Torah scroll, or something similar in other religions. Why is this worse? Because a Torah scroll is hand-written, on animal parchment, and the labor of months or years to produce. Every sofer (scribe) has their own artistic touches, and no two Torah scrolls are the same. I'm not familiar enough with Christianity nor Islam to know of what kinds of artifacts the adherents of those religions come into contact with that are similarly precious. It might take burning a small portion of a church or mosque to inflict similar atroctity. The third level, therefore, moves smoothly into burning or destroying a place of worship.

The fourth level of desecration is to murder a believer for being a believer. The gruesome videotaped murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl for being a Jew is more atrocious than burning a million Korans. The murder of the Sikh Balbir Singh Sodhi in Arizona four days after 9/11 because he "looked Muslim" is more atrocious than burning a million Bibles. Human beings are more precious to their Creator than copies of books, or places of worship. Jews and Muslims both say that one who saves an individual human life, it is if they have saved the whole world.

And even then, the spark of Divinity that burns in each human soul can never be extinguished, not by murder, not by hate, not by doubt, and not by despair. Two-thirds of all Jews on earth were murdered in my father's lifetime, and that flame could not be extinguished. Prayer books and Torah scrolls could be destroyed, synagogues razed, and whole towns of people murdered, but ultimately, the Nazis could not stop the existence of Jews. They couldn't even stop the existence of Jehovah's Witnesses. Centuries of crusades could not eliminate the Muslims nor the Christians. Oppression of Sikhs could not wipe them out.

The peoples of the Book need their book to be peoples of the book, but as long as one copy of their volume of Sacred Law remains, their faiths will continue. If even one person dies because of Terry Jones' desecration, the killer of that person will have committed a far worse desecration than Terry Jones will.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. I was always taught that if a Bible was beyond use for any reason (tattered, for example), it should be burned. Similarly an old American flag, if it's tattered or faded, should be burned. Both these items should be burned reverently, rather than on public display.

    Perhaps the Christian perception of how to dispose of Bibles comes from the fact that Christ is referred to as the Word of God (Gospel of John, chapter 1) and that Word is then eternal, while the word printed in a Bible is ephemeral.

    In some Christian traditions, Communion elements that are not consumed during or after a Eucharistic service must be burned. This would be to prevent desecration or improper use of the elements.

    W.Bro. Chris Hansen, WM
    Goliath Lodge #5595, UGLE