Don’t Read that Book!

By Rabbi Jon Hanish
A Rosh Hashanah Family Service Sermon for 3rd – 6th Graders


Time for a quiz!
What do these books have in common?
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
To Kill a Mockingbird
Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary
And Tango Makes Three
The Twilight Series

These books were challenged, restricted, removed or banned in 2009 and 2010 from library shelves and school reading lists. Not ten years, not 20 years ago…. During this past year… in the United States! And this is just a short list of familiar titles. What’s a banned book? A book that a group of people decides shouldn’t be read because of things they don’t like that occur in that book.

Who likes to read the adventures of Harry Potter? Well, the Harry Potter series tops the 100 most challenged books of the decade list. All that “Wizarding” can lure young minds away from God…. Which distracts you from the main point of the series, which centers on friendship, community and overcoming overwhelming odds in the fight of good versus evil.

One of my favorite books for children under five…. And Tango Makes Three is a beautiful story about adoption and parenting. You can find copies of it downstairs in our early childhood center and on more than one occasion I’ve read it to our youngest children. It is based on a true story about two penguins that adopted an abandoned egg at New York City’s Central Park in the late 1990’s. They love and care for the egg and the subsequent child that springs from it. They are perfect parents. The complaint? Both penguins are male. In addition to making this year’s list of banned books, it also makes the top ten list of most challenged books of the last decade coming in at number four.

And what could be wrong with Anne Frank? It is a cornerstone of Holocaust literature and was written by a 13 year old girl. Well, it was challenged at the Culpeper county, Virginia public school system by a parent because it contains inappropriate sexual content. Yes, Anne does have a crush on an older boy. And, yes, they do kiss. But if that is the only message you’re getting from a reading of her diary, you’re not focused on the primary themes. My youngest daughter Sydney read about Anne’s life when she was seven years old. She saw it as a story of heroism…. Which is the appropriate way to interpret Anne’s short life.

In 1990, in Culver City, first grade readers of Little Red Riding Hood had more to fear than the big bad wolf, at least according to school officials. The book was pulled from the recommended reading list because of the presence of a bottle of wine in the young girl’s basket.

As Jews, we’re used to having our books outlawed and burned. In the second century, the Emperor Hadrian outlawed the teaching of the Jewish scriptures. So, of course, he decided to burn Torahs. About 900 years later, there was a rabbi named Maimonides. He wrote a book called The Guide for the Perplexed. Some people loved it. Others hated it. Many communities banned and sometimes burned the book. Oh by the way, those were Jewish communities banning and burning it. Since that time, it has since become a classic of Jewish literature. And obviously, during World War Two European synagogues and yeshivas were ransacked and books were burned indiscriminately. All it had to be was a Jewish book and it was destroyed.

Who should decide what you read?

Now, if your parents think a book isn’t appropriate for you, well, that’s their right. They are the personal censors for every child in the room. I know that there are books that I think are inappropriate for my children until they get older but I’m not asking the local library to remove the books from the shelves. Ultimately, we should have the right decide what we want to read. The decision should not be made for us.

So, why talk about banned books? Well, we are known as the people of the book. As Jews, we know the importance of books and knowledge. We know that there are many ways to interpret a text. We know that one person might hate a book and another will draw great meaning from it.

It’s Rosh Hashanah. I believe that we should all attempt to become better people, every year, every month, every week, every day. Sometimes we forget our responsibility to the world. On Rosh Hashanah, we are reminded that it is our responsibility to make the world a better place. One way we can make the world a better place is by reading a banned book during Banned Books Week. The American Library Association has a list of books that were banned and challenged during the last year. They want you to read a book off of that list. Why don’t you support the rights of libraries to have books of every kind available by sitting down as a family and selecting one or more banned books to read the week beginning Sept. 24?

On your way out of the sanctuary, you’ll find a list of books banned or challenged over the course of the last year. Pick up the list. Celebrate the freedom to read. Help make our country, our world, a better place by reading! We are the people of the book after all!

Shanah Tovah.

Read a Banned Book During Banned Book Week
Sept. 25 – Oct. 2

The 10 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2009
1. ttyl, ttfn, l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
2. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
4. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
6. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
7. My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult
8. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
9. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
10. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier

Taken from:

The Top Ten Challenged Books of the Decade (2000-2009)
1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl, ttfn, l8r, g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

To see the top 100 challenged books of the decade go to:

For a PDF entitled THINK for Yourself and let Others Do the Same, go to: