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Burning the New Testament by Orthodox Jews in Israel

Yediot Ahronot, March 30, 1997

By Yehuda Koren

Translation and notes by Israel Shahak

Every time Paul Smilansky gets into his car he checks whether he is being followed. He also is careful to check who is standing at the door before he opens it. Smilansky, 37, a building site manager, is a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses community in Lydda. Orthodox Jews consider them to be an idolatrous cult, but the members themselves reject this definition.

Two weeks ago on Saturday night hundreds of Orthodox Jews broke into the community's place of worship, totally demolished it and stole the public address equipment. The books and pamphlets they found there were piled in the yard and a large bonfire was lit. While the books were burning, Orthodox Jews danced around the bonfire. Alvin Neuport, a veteran member of the Jehovah's Witnesses community, said "Masses of Orthodox Jews attacked our building and broke into it using axes. They danced and sang around the bonfire, into which they threw even our Bibles.1 Although the destruction and arson took place on the main street, a short distance from the home of Member of the Knesset Maxim Levy, who is also Lydda's mayor,2 and hundreds of people danced around the bonfire, no one stopped them. Only when the owner of an adjacent shop feared that the fire would spread, were the police called in."

The violent attack on the house of worship was not the first time that Jehovah's Witnesses have been attacked by Orthodox Jews. Paul Smilansky told about the daily public curses, spitting and fist fights. "They throw stones all the time. Once they hit my father-in-law on the head, causing a concussion," Smilansky said.

Ten Jehovah's Witnesses communities currently exist in Israel. They have 750 members, not including children. Most of them are Jews, a minority Christians. About one-quarter of the members are from the former Soviet Union. There are 50 members in the Lydda community, which was established 30 years ago. Previously the meetings were held in members' homes, but in 1989 the community purchased a shop in the town commercial center.

"Because of the constant attacks by the Orthodox, we built a high fence, installed a fortified door and a closed-circuit TV that shows what is going on outside," Smilansky said. "Early this month, at the end of a gathering when we were starting to go home, we were met by a rain of building blocks and large stones. My wife and children managed to reach the car, but other members locked themselves inside. The small children were screaming with fear. We summoned the police and then went outside, but the hail of stones did not cease, even under the eyes of the police."

Orthodox Jews "throw stones all the time."

The present tension seemingly erupted because four months ago many Jews of Lydda received material by mail from Messianic Jews. "Although there is no connection between us and the Messianic Jews," Alvin Neuport said, "we bore the brunt of the Orthodox anger, apparently because we live here and the Messianics do not.

"They [Orthodox Jews] poured glue into the locks so we could not get into the hall," Neuport said. "They tried several times to set the place on fire and burned the air conditioner motors."

Neuport especially blames the Habad youth. "They work against us like a military organization with intelligence units that go around and write down our license plate numbers and contact us and threaten to set the cars on fire if we will not abandon our faith."

Following the burning of the books and the destruction of the prayer hall, three Habad rabbis were summoned for questioning by the police. Among them was Rabbi Yakov Glauberman, the Habad Youth leader, who denied any connection to the affair.

"We are Judaism with a smile and pleasant ways," he said. "True, they are the enemies of the Jews, exploiting the fact that during the day the men are at work. They knock on doors and entice our women to join them. They tear families apart and do not even have mercy on little children whose souls will perish in hell because of them."

Concerning the arson, Rabbi Glauberman said, "I happened to arrive at the place by chance. I do not know who attacked or broke things but I admit that I did see the bonfire and circle of dancers. We follow them constantly only to warn the Jews to beware of them, but I denounce all violence."

The public relations attack includes warnings and briefings. Children have been warned that "cult members" will kidnap them, bleed them to death3 or, alternatively, turn them into Christians. Women have been briefed on ways to withstand their many enticements and especially their offers to examine the mezzuzahs in their homes.

"They take off the mezzuzah," claims Habad, "remove the parchment, and when you aren't looking, erase the holy Name of God and write a cross instead. Then, every time you leave your home or return to it, you will commit the abomination of kissing the cross and not the holy words in the mezzuzah," the women were told.

Elisha Rogers, a Jehovah's Witnesses member, admits that he spends some hours of each week speaking with people in their homes. "In the Middle Ages Jews were falsely accused of drinking the blood of small children and now the Orthodox Jews are using the same lie against us," he said. "The story about the mezzuzah is also foolish: we are not Christians and to us the cross is a prohibited symbol of idolatry. We are a separate religion that is recognized as such around the world."

The Jehovah's Witnesses community members felt especially insulted by the graffiti words "death camp" sprayed on the walls of their prayer hall. "In World War II Hitler also sent us to the death camps," Rogers said.

The Jehovah's Witnesses have not suspended their activities, but they keep the location of their new meeting place secret. "If they return to the old place, we will not leave them alone," Rabbi Glauberman said. "We will continue fighting them until they leave the city and Israel."

Yossi Boker, the deputy commander of the Lydda police station, said, "The police have received many complaints about assaults, insults and provocations. However, since complaints against specific suspects could not be proved we were forced to close the cases. I summoned three rabbis in the city for a talk and I made it clear to them that we would react strongly if the harassments continued. We also asked the members of the community to notify us when they finished fixing the meeting place, so that we will be prepared and prevent the next attack."4

NOTES (by Prof. Israel Shahak):

1. This is strictly according to the Jewish religious law and is often done, also in Jerusalem, since the Bibles contain the New Testament which pious Jews should burn, if they can. In Jerusalem, where Orthodox violence is more difficult than in a small town like Lydda, Bibles which contain the New Testament are often collected and ceremoniously burnt on a bonfire in an Orthodox neighborhood. No rabbi, and few politicians, have said a word about this. Needless to say, Western media will not report such events, although the Hebrew press does.

2. David Levy's brother.

3. This libel, like much Habad Nazi-like persecution of small and weak sects, is an adaptation of a prevalent anti-Semitic libel, which claimed that Jews kidnap Christian children and bleed them to death. I am afraid than many Jews (and also non-Jews) who are ready to condemn anti-Semitic libel will refuse to relate to the Habad one, although they are exactly alike in their evil intent.

4. Jehovah's Witnesses are especially attacked by the Orthodox Jews for three reasons: they are small and weak, unprotected by the diplomats of any foreign state, and their beliefs prevent them from hitting back.


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