Skip to comments.School apologizes for burning New Testament
Posted on 12/24/2001 4:49:53 PM PST by dlt
BEIT SHEMESH (December 25) - The organization that administers Orot school in Beit Shemesh issued an apology yesterday for publicly burning a copy of the New Testament a student received from Christian missionaries.
"Everybody knows we made a mistake," said Jordana Klein, spokeswoman for Sha'alei Torah. "We wouldn't do it again. We don't think it's the right thing to do."
The book-burning took place in the school courtyard the week before Hanukka, after a teacher in the boys' school found that one of his sixth-grade students had brought in a Hebrew copy of the New Testament.
The student received it from local missionaries who, according to Klein, have been active in proselytizing Beit Shemesh children.
"The teacher said: 'God sent it and He gave us the privilege, and we'll be able to burn the New Testament," said Ariel Lesnick, 11, who is in the class.
The teacher consulted with the principal, Rabbi Yair Bachar, said Klein. After receiving approval, the teacher - whose name Klein refused to divulge - took his class outside.
Then, Lesnick said, "We took a few sticks and we burnt it." The teacher emphasized that the book-burning was an anti-missionary activity and not an anti-Christian one, Lesnick said.
After receiving calls from angry parents, Bachar reconsidered the decision, which Klein described as "too hasty." He consulted rabbinic authorities on the issue and decided to appoint Rabbi David Spector - rabbi of the Givat Sharet neighborhood of Beit Shemesh - as a permanent rabbinic decision-maker for the school.
Spector ruled that missionary material should be burned, but it is the sole responsibility of the owner to burn it and the burning should take place in private.
"It was appropriate to burn the New Testament in private," wrote Spector in his ruling. He cited traditional and modern rabbis, including Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who wrote that he had burned missionary texts, which he called "books of incitement and brainwashing." Such burning is permissible even if the texts include the name of God, Spector said.
The teacher said that if missionary material were found in the school again, it would be thrown into the garbage rather than publicly burned, said Lesnick.
The Education Ministry was not aware of the incident, said spokeswoman Orit Reuveni.
"In principle, the ministry condemns book-burning as an educational act," she said. "We are not aware of this incident, but we will investigate the matter in depth."
Wayne Firestone, director of the Anti-Defamation League here, said the apology is a positive reaction to the school's "inappropriate" decision.
"The issue of conversion obviously is a sensitive one, and school officials are entitled to make requirements to try to protect their students from inappropriate materials entering the school," he said.
"At the same time, the symbolic and actual imagery of burning any books is really an inappropriate reaction to any offensive material. We're encouraged to hear that the school has issued an apology, and we hope that from the apology, they can send a better message to their own students about tolerance of other religions."
Since the burning, Bachar has addressed teachers, parents, and students - particularly the sixth-grade class - about the issue. He emphasized that the school is not against Christians but against Christian attempts to convert Jews, said Klein. The school is also planning programs to increase tolerance, she said.
The student who brought the New Testament in is not the only one missionaries have targeted. After the book-burning, one of the other students in the class said missionaries came to his home and hung a crucifix behind the mezuza, said Lesnick. The family told the missionary they didn't want the crucifix and returned it, he said.
"We obviously have a missionary problem," said Klein. "We weren't even aware of how big a problem it is in our school."
The students that missionaries approach are generally among the native Israelis and immigrants who make up about 40 percent of the student body and tend to live in old Beit Shemesh, said Klein. That section is poorer than the newer section populated mostly by Anglos, who comprise 60 percent of the student body.
The Anglo-Israeli divide may have contributed to a difference in the approach to burning the New Testament. Lesnick, whose family immigrated from New Jersey four years ago, saw that distinction among the boys in his class. "The Israelis thought it was the right thing to do, but for the Americans, you're used to seeing [non-Jews] every day, and you don't do that to somebody that's just a little different than you," he said.
His father, Marc, also noted the difference nationality may have made in the decision. The teacher, he said, is an Israeli who has never left the country. But as an American, he said, "This is not the type of education I want my kids to have. In America, they let you practice your religion, you let them practice their religion, and you kind of coexist."
Book-burning may also invoke different images for Anglos than for Israelis. "The idea of burning in general in our minds has to do with Kristallnacht and the KKK and so on," he said.
But once he brought the issue to the attention of the school, said Marc Lesnick, it "very quickly took the matter really seriously and dealt with it properly afterward."
Lesnick found out about the burning when Ariel came home from school. "My son got home from school that night, and he actually said to me, 'Dad, you know what we did today? Well, we burned the New Testament.' I said, 'You're joking,'" said Lesnick.
He discussed it with the teacher, and a few days later Bachar came to his home to talk about the incident. Lesnick is glad that they have told him they would "definitely not do this again."
Rev. Ray Lockhart, director of the Jerusalem-based Israel Trust of the Anglican Church, said burning the New Testament so publicly was "going over the top somewhat." Lockhart, whose organization focuses on ministry to the Jews, added that it's preferable to get a signed statement from parents before giving Christian scriptures to a minor.
"Clearly no Jewish person would want to see the Tanah being burnt, and would feel that whoever did it, it was an affront to their beliefs," he said.
But the school's apology, said Lockhart, mitigates the offense. "I think it shows that it's sometimes good to have second thoughts, and to recognize that we can all make mistakes in the way we make a response off the cuff without really thinking through all the implications."
Right. Jews through out history treated Gentiles as dogs, not the other war around. Carry on.