A high-profile rabbi and aspiring politician stirred up controversy in British media when he burned a Bible on the eve of Passover.
Rabbi Shneur Odze, a 33-year-old United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) candidate for mayor of Manchester, tweeted a photo of the burning bible last Monday.
“Grateful to whoever put a missionary bible amongst our synagogue’s books. Was wondering what I’d burn my Chametz with,” he tweeted, a reference to the leavened bread that Jews destroy on the eve of the Passover festival.
The tweet has since been deleted, but Britain’s Daily Mail reported on the incident on Sunday.
The Hebrew-English Bible was published by the Society for Distributing Hebrew Scriptures and placed in a local synagogue without permission by a member of the Christian group.
Odze claimed that the book contained not only the Old Testament, which Orthodox Jews consider holy, but also the Christian New Testament. The rabbi told the Mail that he had no option but to burn it, since it was produced by “an extreme proselytizing Christian sect of former Jews trying to convert practicing Jews to a belief in Christ as the prophesied Messiah.”
Giving it away, he said, would have led to the “fraudulent” Bible being given to someone else, compounding the issue, and simply throwing it away would “disrespect what is still a religious tract.”
He later tweeted that “it’s given to Jews as a ‘Jewish bible’ pretends to be a Jewish bible and it’s not.”
A spokesman for the right-wing populist UKIP told the Mail that “While we understand the act, it was ill-advised to put a picture of it on social media which was also provocative and likely to be misunderstood.”
UKIP was instrumental in the Brexit vote for the UK to leave the European Union. It is suspicious of immigrants, especially Muslims. One of UKIP’s most senior spokesmen, Gerard Batten, wanted Muslims to sign a declaration rejecting violence.
A UKIP European Parliament lawmaker, Stuart Agnew, in 2015 supported banning ritual slaughter of animals both by Jews and Muslims in an apparent attempt to target the latter, though the party’s former leader, the flamboyant orator Nigel Farage, did not support the proposal, and it never became policy.
Odze, who once served as a councilor in north London for the Conservative Party, faces an uphill battle to become the first mayor of one of the UK’s biggest metropolitan areas. He is running against the Labour Party’s Andy Burnham, who is considered the strong favorite.
Additionally, although the city has the second largest Jewish community in Britain, many Jewish community groups, representing the descendants of immigrants who fled persecution in Eastern Europe and Spain, are deeply critical of UKIP’s platform of drastically reducing immigration and ending foreign aid.
The politician-rabbi is a member of the Chabad Lubavitch ultra-Orthodox Hasidic sect, and serves several communities in the northern British city. He has previously run as a UKIP candidate for European Parliament and is a close friend of former UKIP head Farage and current leader Paul Nuttall. He also chairs the UKIP Friends of Israel group.
He previously courted controversy when he refused to shake women’s hands.