In Today's Israel, the Bible Would Not Have Passed the Censor

It’s not necessary to recall the famous adage: 'Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.' But it’s worth asking what will become of a place where books are banned.

Copy of "Borderlife," by Dorit Rabinyan, at Israeli book store.
Moti Milrod

Abraham, our patriarch, had a concubine named Hagar. She gave birth to Ishmael, who is the forefather of the Muslims. Abraham banished Hagar and her son to die in the desert of hunger and thirst. He didn’t spare a moment’s pity on her or her son.

Moses, our teacher, married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro; she was a black woman. Ruth the Moabite – the grandmother of Jesse, who was the father of King David – was a non-Jew par excellence; she didn’t even convert in accordance with Jewish law, as interpreted by our modern-day rabbis.

King David sent Uriah the Hittite to die in battle, then kidnapped his wife Bathsheba and begot King Solomon with her; Solomon, according to our tradition, was considered the wisest of men. David’s son Amnon raped his sister Tamar – an incestuous relationship in the very house of the admired King David, among whose descendants all Jews long to be counted.

King Solomon had 1,000 wives, meaning he betrayed them all with other women. And one of them was the Queen of Sheba, a black woman from Ethiopia and a non-Jew.

All this and more is written in the Book of Books, which innocent Israeli children study in the Israeli school system.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and the Education Ministry’s pedagogical council haven’t yet banned teaching the Bible to Israeli children, even though what is written there could very easily, according to their way of thinking, ruin these children and damage their psyches, since they don’t yet have “a systematic outlook that includes considerations of preserving the nation’s identity and the significance of assimilation.” After all, the Bible has stories of intermarriage, crimes, fraud, rape, murder and incest, acts of treason and evil counsel, endless wars; it tells us that most of Israel’s kings did evil in the eyes of God.

Yet Dorit Rabinyan’s book, which describes a love story between an Israeli and a Palestinian, with all the problems that entails for both halves of the couple, is – according to the pedagogical council and its sages, with Bennett’s support – one that must not be taught. For years now, the Education Ministry has done everything in its power to make the Jewish people forget its greatest talent – learning and acquiring knowledge. The demands made of students keep declining from year to year. The ministry and the minister who heads it won’t rest until everyone here is a boor and an ignoramus, people who will enthusiastically buy the absolute zero they are taught by the national babysitter.

And now they are also banning books and forbidding schools to teach a work of literature that has been very well received by the reading public. “Borderlife” is a topical book that depicts the problematic nature of our life in this country, the problematic nature of relations between Jews and Arabs. Yet at the same time, it shows the Arab as someone it’s possible to love.

It’s not necessary to recall the famous adage: “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” But it’s worth asking what will become of a place where books are banned.

Dr. Shlomo Herzig, the official in charge of the literature curriculum, did everything he could to prevent this wretched decision by the ministry’s “pedagogical department,” but to no avail. What is this department? Will it also ban the Bible, Shakespeare’s plays, Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace,” Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” A.B. Yehoshua’s “The Lover,” S. Yizhar’s “Hirbet Hiz’ah” and “Discovering Elijah,” Eli Amir’s “The Dove Flyer” and “Jasmine,” Sami Michael’s “Victoria,” Shai Agnon’s “The Lady and the Peddler” – and pardon me for the many other fine books I’ve left off this list – since all of them are ripe for immediate banning according to the bizarre criterion used to ban Rabinyan’s book?

Once, as a student, I pretended to be ill so I could stay home and read “Crime and Punishment,” in which a young man decides to murder an old woman, just because. Yet to this day, I haven’t killed anyone. If I were a student today, I would want to read the book the Education Ministry decided to ban, in the best style of benighted regimes.

The author is chairwoman of the Book Publishers Association of Israel and the head of Schocken Publishing House.