Rabbi’s Corner – Burning Words of History: Sweden, Book Burning, & Tisha B’Av

The Jewish world and our allies were in an uproar last week when Swedish local police approved an application from someone to hold a rally outside Israel’s embassy in Stockholm on Saturday, where he would burn a Torah and a Christian Bible.  The man’s rationale for the rally and the burnings: it was to be a response to the burning of a Quran outside a mosque in Stockhom last month. He called the gathering and proposed Torah/Bible burning “a symbolic gathering for the sake of freedom of speech.”

The Swedish government’s decision to allow this rally and sacred book burning sparked shock, outrage, and protest from around world. Jews, Christians and Muslims joined together to try to prevent this rally from taking place, calling it a “hate crime” and in diametrical opposition to the meaning of “a gathering for freedom of speech.” Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu condemned this decision and requested that the Swedish government revoke it. Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, said that the burning would “create an environment of fear.”

It took world-wide protests, along with the dedicated efforts of Amanah, an interfaith Muslim-Jewish group in Sweden, to stop the rally and book-burning from happening. (Amanah’s mandate is to combat discrimination, antisemitism and Islamophobia, thereby creating a trusting Swedish society. To read more about this entire incident and the outcome, see here: The Torah Wasn’t Burned This Time. But What’s Next? (Haaretz)

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the threat to burn sacred Jewish and Muslim books was to occur not too long before we observe the Jewish commemoration of Tisha B’Av (the “9th of Av). Tisha B’Av begins this coming Wednesday evening, July 25th at sundown. It commemorates the destruction of both the first second Temples in Jerusalem (the first Temple was destroyed in 586 bce by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonyia, and the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 ce). The Temples were pummeled, burned and decimated, totally extinguishing the ancient Israelites’ ability to practice their religion in the way they were commanded by God. The destruction of the Temples were acts of oppression, aggression, war and violence. Much more devastating than the rally and book-burning in Sweden.

However, many such smaller acts eventually lead to larger action: history bears witness to this. The Holocaust did not begin with mass exterminations on a grand scale. It began with smaller, subversive actions that grew larger and more heinous as time went on.

The situation in Sweden teaches us that when good people work together to achieve peace, harmony and justice, righteousness will prevail. Goodness has the ability to conquer evil when we join forces for what is moral and noble.

Tisha B’Av is our Jewish reminder that the Jewish people are strong and resilient. We mourn for what we lost, yet we emerge from the ashes stronger and with a renewed sense of dedication and effort. It reminds us of the pain caused by baseless hatred and division among people. As we mourn the loss of the Temples, we are called to examine the destructive consequences of intolerance and discrimination. In a world still plagued by acts of antisemitism and Islamophobia, the essence of Tisha B’Av echoes the urgency of building bridges between communities and seeking common ground.

When we join together with good people of all faiths, we can combat all forms of racism, hatred, xenophobia and bigotry. By engaging in open dialogue, understanding, and cooperation, people of different faiths can dismantle misconceptions and stereotypes, fostering a culture of respect and acceptance. Embracing the principles of compassion and empathy, we can challenge the seeds of hate and prejudice and work towards a shared vision of coexistence. Then we can fulfill the prophet Micah’s hope: “when all sit under their vine or fig tree and none shall make them afraid.” (Micah 4:4)

We invite you to join us for TBS’ Tisha B’Av commemoration this Wednesday evening at 7:00 pm, in the Chapel.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel
Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom

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