Handling a Tanach Translated by a Heretic

QUESTION

Canada

I recently found a copy of a Hebrew-English Tanach translated by Christian David Ginsburg in a local beit midrash. How should this be handled? Should it be disposed of? If so, how so? If it were to be of historical importance to someone, could it be sold to them?

ANSWER

The starting point of this discussion is the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 6:8) who writes that one may not burn a Torah, its commentaries, etc, however regarding a Sefer Torah written by a heretic he states:

אבל אפיקורוס ישראל שכתב ספר תורה שורפין אותו עם האזכרות שבו מפני שאינו מאמין בקדושת השם ולא כתבו לשמו אלא שהוא מעלה בדעתו שזה כשאר הדברים והואיל ודעתו כן לא נתקדש השם ומצוה לשורפו כדי שלא להניח שם לאפיקורוסים ולא למעשיהם .

However, should a Jewish heretic write a Torah scroll, it and the name of God it contains must be burnt, since he does not believe in the sanctity of [God’s] name and did not compose it for this purpose. Rather, he considers this to be similar to any other text. Since this is his intent, the names [of God he writes] do not become holy.
It is a mitzvah to burn it so that no remembrance will be left of the heretics or their deeds. In contrast, if a gentile writes [God’s] name, it should be buried. Similarly, sacred texts that have become worn out or which were written by gentiles should be buried.

Your question opens up some fascinating discussions, but I would start by asking you some simple questions – do you have to burn Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus? Freud’s Moses and Monotheism? These are certainly much worse and burning them would be even more mandated by the principle of what the Rambam (Rambam Yesodei HaTorah 6:8) writes regarding the mitzvah to burn a Sefer Torah written by a Jewish heretic “so that no remembrance will be left of the heretics or their deeds”.

The case of Sefer Torah written by a heretic that requires burning is first and foremost a chidush that it has no kedusha, and hence destroying it would not be forbidden.

The question at hand is whether the obligation to burn such texts applies specifically because it is a Sefer Torah or not. At first glance, it seems peculiar to assert that there should be a greater obligation to burn this text compared to an actual heretical work. One might attempt to explain why there is something uniquely objectionable about a Torah scribed by an apikores (heretic). This explanation could hinge on the notion that the act of scribing is inherently a sanctifying act under normal circumstances, and a Torah scroll is typically considered a holy object. In this case, however, all these sacred elements have been intertwined with the work of an apikores who negates the very essence of what the Torah stands for.

This seems to me miles apart from a non-Torah scroll, non-sanctified object, printed (and not scribed), by a publisher, based on a text and (non-objectionable) commentary of someone who converted to Christianity and yet still believes that this is a sanctified text.

Regardless, I hope this whole discussion is theoretical. I would be very bothered by a true Hava Amina (presupposition) that we should burn books. Destroying missionary literature and the like is fine. I tear up junk mail, so certainly this type of pernicious and dangerous material. But book burning has a much more negative association with it. I quote Heinrich Heine – “Where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also”

Recent Posts

Browse by Category