What Books Shall We Burn Now?

What Books Shall We Burn Now?

by Rabbi Arthur Waskow


The Inquisition burned the Talmud.

Nazis, on May 10,  1933, burned thousands of books—among them the works of Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, André Gide , Maxim Gorki, George Grosz, Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, and Helen Keller.

And now we have amongst us in America some who call themselves Christians, who have called for burning the Quran, and who have chosen September 11 as the day to do so.

The great German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine wrote in his 1820-1821 play “Almansor”: “Where they burn books,  they will finally also burn people.”

What to do?

Some religious folk have urged that gatherings on September 11 read together from the Quran, Torah and Talmud, and the Christian Gospels.

September 11 is Shabbat Shuvah - the special Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when Jews focus even more deeply in turning themselves toward God and to changing their lives toward compassion and reconciliation with other people.

Rabbi Phyllis Berman has suggested that in synagogues, there be added to the regular readings of that day a passage from the Quran. (See below for suggested passages.)

The Shalom Center also suggests that people gather on September 12 in a public place that honors religious freedom and celebrates American diversity - “E Pluribus Unum, “From the Many, One”  as the Great Seal of the United States proclaims. 

Such places might be near the Liberty Bell - “Proclaim Liberty throughout the Land to All the Inhabitants Thereof”;  or a central library; or local Holocaust Museum or Anne Frank Memorial Center;  or memorials to the dead of World War II, in honor of their fighting to protect freedom from those who burned both books and people; or similar sites.

There Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Bahais, Wiccans, Native American animists might join together in reading from the Quran, the Torah and Talmud, the Christian Gospels, and the sacred texts of other traditions.

We suggest 2 pm on Sunday, September 12 (time for those who are in church that morning, as well as those who enjoy sleeping late that day, to assemble).

In New York, speaking out for freedom and diversity might mean joining a vigil at 7:15 pm Friday evening September 10 at 51 Park Place [near the Park Place stop of the #2 or #3 subway], the location of the Muslim-rooted community/ cultural center that has been the object of both attack and warm support. That date/time has been chosen by the support group New York Neighbors for American Values. (See their website here.)

NY Neighbors writes:  “We know that [because Rosh Hashanah is just ending and Shabbat just beginning and Eid El-Fitr, the closing celebration after Ramadan, is also just ending] some from both the Jewish and Muslim communities will choose not to attend because of this schedule, but, on balance, we decided to go ahead [in order to precede September 11 anti-Muslim events].  We are not unmindful of the religious calendar and ask that those who can not join us because of their religious observance that evening wear white in solidarity.”

I would add that those who cannot take part that evening might join in a gathering at Park51 to read some Quran passages at 2 pm on Sunday, September 12. 

Since many American Jewish and Christian households may not have a Quran at hand, we have selected just three passages that lend themselves to the message of peace, dialogue, and compassion. The translations come from Muhammad Asad’s The Message of the Qur’an: The Full Account of the Revealed Arabic Text Accompanied by Parallel Transliteration (publ by The Book Foundation, England, 2003). This edition includes many many notes citing authoritative Muslim scholars explaining the texts.

Before you read these texts, let me add that I know some texts that seem much more violent also appear in the Quran. So do such texts in the Torah, the Gospels, the Upanishads, etc. But the great teachers of all our traditions have insisted that “all their paths are peace.” All teach that some version of “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the central wisdom.

“Behold,  we have created you all from a single male and female, and have made you into nations and tribes so that you might come to deeply know one another [not to hate and despise each other]. Truly, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of God. Behold, God is all-knowing, all aware.” (49:13 [Asad])

“True piety does not consist in turning your faces towards the east or the west—but truly pious is he who believes in God, and the Last Day; and the angels, and revelation, and the prophets; and spends his substance—however much he himself may cherish—it—upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; and is constant in prayer, and renders the purifying dues; and [truly pious are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril: it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God.” (2:177 [Asad])

“There shall be no coercion in matters of faith.” (2:257 [Asad])

Ah-meyn, ah-min, amen! -

Please forward this message to your friends.

With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace—-


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