Israeli police say they are studying photos and film footage that appear to show Orthodox Jewish students in the town of Or Yehuda burning copies of the New Testament.
Reports from the town spoke of about 200 books that had been distributed among the town’s Ethiopian Jewish community by Messianic Jews (Jewish Christians) being set alight.
The deputy mayor of Or Yehuda said he had received complaints about the activities of members of the Bible Society, and had urged recipients of the New Testament to hand over the “Messianic propaganda” to Orthodox Jewish students. He denied encouraging the burning of the books.
The Bible Society, which distributed copies of the New Testament in Or Yehuda, appealed for prayers from the international community, adding that it had recently noticed growing opposition to Messianic Jews and the work they were carrying out.
But this is the first reported incident of its kind in Israel and it has been condemned in a number of quarters in the Jewish state. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it viewed the burning of copies of the New Testament “as contrary to the values of the State of Israel as a democratic Jewish state”.
Rabbi Eric J. Greenburg, director of interfaith policy for the Anti-Defamation League, described the action of the Orthodox students as a heinous act that violated “the basic Jewish principles and values. It is essential that we respect the sacred texts of other faiths.”
Victor Kalisher, the Bible Society’s Israel director, said that about 4000 copies of the New Testament had been distributed at a New Age Festival in Israel during the Feast of Passover.