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    Banned books – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. A Jewish high school in Sydney recently banned a certain book from study by English students. Does Judaism have any list of banned books?

    A. The Mishnah in Sanhedrin chapter 10, warns that a person who reads “external books” (probably meaning the Apocrypha, books excluded from the Tanach) has no share in the World to Come.

    Some understand this as referring to the public Synagogue lectionary, not to reading by an individual in private. However, by the Middle Ages the passage was generally seen as banning even the private reading of unacceptable books. That this was applied to the sensual poetry of Immanuel of Rome can be understood, but some even placed a ban on Maimonides’ philosophical writings. The Shulchan Aruch is opposed to certain books (Orach Chayyim 307:16) as is Rabbi Moses Isserles (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 246:4).

    In more recent centuries the modernist works of the Haskalah were severely frowned on, though some yeshivah students used to secrete such books under their big Gemara folios and read them when the rabbi was not looking. The best approach is self-discipline and inculcating the instinct to recognise things to avoid – not only books but TV shows and anything else that does not fit with decency and faith.

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