Burning question: Is a Torah less holy than a Koran?

If you had to list the reasons why Israel should exist as a haven for the Jewish people, freedom from the burning of holy Torah scrolls would have to rank pretty high on the list.

By
March 9, 2016 21:00
4 minute read.
Torah scroll

Torah scroll. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

If you had to list the reasons why Israel should exist as a haven for the Jewish people, freedom from the burning of holy Torah scrolls would have to rank pretty high on the list.

This act of hate is closely associated with the Holocaust, when the psychotic Nazis would relish the destruction of the Jews’ book of inspiration and knowledge. On occasion, we’ve seen it happen elsewhere, such as in New York shuls desecrated by hateful vandals or in modern-day Europe at the hands of neo-Nazis.

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Torah scrolls under Israeli control should theoretically be safe. But earlier last month vandals believed to be Palestinian entered a synagogue in the Jewish community of Karmei Tsur, piled the Torah scrolls together and set them afire. If you missed the international condemnation of that vengeful act of hate, it’s not because you weren’t paying attention.

It was nonexistent.

Media coverage wasn’t very heavy, either. From what I can find there was only an AP dispatch and some Jewish media coverage. The Times covered Jewish attacks in the area on Arabs, but didn’t notice the burning Torahs.

Yes, I know: in the eyes of most of the world Jews don’t belong in the territory they call the West Bank (and in the eyes of some, anywhere in the Middle East), and so, whatever happens to them, they had it coming. Let them count their blessings that nobody was hurt in this particular incident (even as countless stabbings and other murders terrorize Jews in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel.) It would be encouraging to hear statements along the lines of, “Regardless of how you feel about the politics of Israel’s control of territory, violent attacks and desecration of holy places are somewhat polarizing and must be stopped and condemned in the highest levels of the Palestinian government.”

Israeli leaders never seem to have a problem condemning the bad behavior of right-wing Jews. On January 31, a group defaced some property, including a mosque, in the village of Hawara. It was removed by Israeli authorities. Two weeks earlier, when vandals set fire to a mosque in Der Istya an IDF spokesman called it “deplorable on every level.”

And yet we’ve heard little on the Torah burning aside from the outrage of the Anti-Defamation League and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow that he will find the perpetrators. “I expect the international community to condemn the desecration of a synagogue, an act that is the result of incessant Palestinian incitement,” Netanyahu wrote in a Facebook post.

Compare the silence to US President Barack Obama’s denunciation in April, 2011 when a US pastor burned the Koran.

“The destruction of any holy text including the Koran is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry,” the president said then, according to CNN. He called the display by the Dove World Outreach Center an event that could help al-Qaida recruitment.

Tony Blair, former UK prime minister, declared that the act of burning the Koran is “disrespectful, wrong and will be widely condemned by people of all faiths and none.”

And the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, notoriously nonchalant about attacks on Jews, said burning the Koran “contradict[s] the efforts of the United Nations and others to promote tolerance, intercultural understanding and mutual respect between cultures and religions.”

“Abhorrent and simply wrong,” said Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel.

Is not the desecration of Torahs an equally intolerant and bigoted act, abhorrent, antithetical to tolerance with the potential to inspire more extremist violence? (It doesn’t seem to take much at all to do that.) It’s important for world leaders to take a more consistent position when it comes to public statements on the Middle East. Just because Israel is the more powerful side of the dispute with the Palestinians does not mean it is always wrong and that hateful acts, contrary to Ban Ki-moon’s recent justifications, are understandable, if not inevitable.

Acts of hatred call out for condemnation because silence implies consent.

Take a close look at the act of burning the Torah in an Israeli synagogue.

It reveals a mindset. Vandalism of construction equipment or power lines or other infrastructure might suggest a protest against the building of settlements on land the Palestinians claim as their own (despite never having had sovereign control over it, and Jordan losing it in a war.) The burning of a Torah is something different entirely – an attack on Judaism itself, and what makes the Jews a people and the very document that attaches us to the land.

It is the steadfast refusal of Palestinians for over a century (not just since 1967) to acknowledge the ancestral Jewish claim to the holy land of Israel that is the biggest stumbling block to peace.

Progress will come only when responsible leaders assert not only that Israel has a generic “right to exist” but that it is the land of the Torah, and deserves to be protected as such. This would go a long way toward encouraging its enemies to give up their dream of chasing us away.

The writer is a financier, real estate developer and investor in commercial real estate, a board member of the American Jewish Congress, co-founder of Magenu.org and president of Our- Place, a non-profit organization that provides support, shelter and counseling for troubled Jewish youth. He is a frequent commentator on political and social services matters


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