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Burning the Talmud in London

June 21, 2015 | by Rabbi Jonny Roodyn, Aish UK

Neo Nazis are planning a hate-filled rally on Shabbat in Golders Green, including burning the Talmud.

I had to take a second look at this article "Extremists Threaten to Burn Talmud, Rip Israeli Flag, at London March in Jewish Neighborhoood" to make sure I had read it correctly.

The Neo Nazis who are planning on staging a rally in Golders Green on Shabbat July 4th have now upped the stakes. Drawing inspiration from their medieval predecessors, they are seeking to provoke, insult and enrage us by burning volumes of the Talmud.

Why this would not be considered a hate crime is beyond me, and we must contact the authorities to make sure that this evil plan together with this hate-filled rally does not get off the ground.

There is a reason why we are known as ‘the people of the book’, from time immemorial, literacy and scholarship has been part of our national identity. Jews pioneered universal education at a time when in the wider world, knowledge was power and literacy was preserved for the elite few who sought to retain that power.

But our relationship with the written word goes beyond scholarship; we revere our books. When a book falls to the ground we pick it up accompanied by a loving kiss. If a Sefer Torah, the holiest of all books is dropped, all present are required to fast. On Simchat Torah we dance with our books in an ecstatic whirl, showing our emotional connection with our intellectual legacy.

British society stands at a crossroads not knowing where to draw the line between extremism and freedom of speech. Yes, these are tough questions, but an act of provocation such as this is designed to evoke memories of previous book burnings in Europe from the middle ages until the Nazi era. And unfortunately we know what happened in the aftermath.

At the same time, we need to look inwardly. That is the reason why we fast when a Sefer Torah is dropped; we ask ourselves, “Why has this happened to us?”

It is no coincidence that the Nazi rally is taking place on the 17th of Tammuz, a day of fasting that commemorates the day the burning of a Torah scroll by a wicked man called Apostomus. This ushers in the period of the three weeks culminating in Tisha B’Av, the day when both our Temples were burnt to the ground and our people were exiled from our land. These fast days are not times to get angry; they are times to focus inwardly and resolve to make a change for the better.

Do we respect our books and use them for study or do they gather dust on our shelves? Do we respect those who both study these texts and embody their values as we should? Why does it take the threat of a Neo Nazi conflagration to wake us up?

This article originally appeared on

An Update from the Author

It's not every week that the eyes of the Jewish world are focussed on Golders Green. It's normally a quiet suburban neighbourhood with a plethora of Kosher restaurants and synagogues.  But the threat of an unprovoked anti Semitic demonstration on Shabbat in the heart of the area was a source of concern world wide.

This concern was exacerbated by threats made by a lone individual to burn a copy of the Talmud. It transpired that this individual had no direct connection to the rally and was using it as an opportunity to agitate. This was never intended to be in public, the law does not allow for that, and private individuals have far more Liberty to do as they wish in their own home.

The Jewish community acted with tremendous unity and wisdom and eventually was successful in having the police relocate the rally to an area far away from the main centres of Jewish life. I am sure that even if the rally does take place there, it will be dismissed as an irrelevance by all.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Metropolitan Police and the Community Security Trust for achieving this result and we are fortunate to live in a country that protects our rights and sensitivities.

The intention of my precious article was not to sow seeds of panic. Panic doesn't help us and only strengthens our enemies who seek to disrupt our way of life. The message was that, as well as doing all we can to stop it from taking place that we take stock and focus inwardly.

Rally or no rally, this Sunday will be the fast of Shiva Asar BeTammuz, commemorating the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem and the start of three weeks of national mourning.  Mourning over a Temple that was lost due to senseless hatred.

These weeks are a time to reflect both on our personal lives and our national wellbeing. They are an opportunity to redeem a fractured world with acts of loving kindness and unity.

If we can only harness the communal unity and sense of identity and belonging that the threat of the rally created, who knows, we may be celebrating rather than fasting this Tisha b'av.

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