No Holds Barred: Hate bin Laden, don't rejoice at death

Who can celebrate? Families are still bereft. American soldiers continue to die in Iraq and Afghanistan. We do not gloat at the triumph over evil.

Bin Laden 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Bin Laden 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A few moments after hearing that US troops had killed Osama bin Laden, I congratulated President Barack Obama and the American people on Twitter for having neutralized this monster. I added a second tweet: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” (Proverbs 24:17) I mentioned that bin Laden’s death was not a cause for celebration, but rather a time for gratitude to God that innocents had been protected via the elimination of a cold-blooded killer intent on murdering the defenseless.
Within minutes, my close friend Rosie O’Donnell tweeted to her followers, “Do rabbis condone violence – war – murder?” The exchange between O’Donnell and myself sparked a huge debate. It’s an important debate, and I want to clarify my position as well as offer the Jewish-values take on bin Laden’s death.
IN JUDAISM, exhortations to hate all manner of evil abound in the Bible, and God declares His detestation of those who visit cruelty on His children. Psalm 97 is emphatic: “You who love God must hate evil.”
Proverbs 8 declares, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.”
Amos 5 demands, “Hate the evil and love the good.”
And Isaiah 5 warns, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil.”
Concerning the wicked, King David declares unequivocally: “I have hated them with a perfect hatred. They are become enemies to me.” (Psalm 139) Hatred is a valid emotion, and the appropriate moral response to inhuman cruelty. Mass murderers must elicit our deepest hatred and contempt.
On the other hand, the Bible also says we do not dance over the body of a murderer like bin Laden. Indeed, at the Pessah Seder we Jews, on mentioning the 10 Plagues, remove wine from our glasses 10 times to demonstrate that we will not raise a glass to the suffering of the Egyptians, even though they were engaged in genocide. Likewise, after the Red Sea split and drowned the Egyptians, Moses and the Jewish people sang “The Song of the Sea.”
Yet, the Talmud says God Himself rebuked the Israelites: “My creatures are drowning in the sea, yet you have now decided to sing about it?” We wish there were no evil in the world. It would have been better for there never to have to been a Pharaoh, a Hitler, or an Osama bin Laden.
Over 3,000 people died on 9/11. Are we now going to jump for joy that their killer has been brought to justice? No. This is a time to give thanks to God. Who can celebrate? Their families are still bereft. American soldiers continue to die in Iraq and Afghanistan. We do not gloat at the triumph over evil; its very existence must be mourned.
Many readers wrote to me noting that on Purim, Jews celebrate the death of Haman. Incorrect. We celebrate the deliverance of an innocent people from genocide.
But for those who go further and quote to me Jesus’s injunction that we are to love our enemies, I respond that to love murderers is to display contempt for their victims.
Those who do not hate bin Laden have been morally compromised. A member of the Taliban who cuts off a woman’s nose and ears, or an al-Qaida terrorist who flies a plane into a building has cast off the image of God and is no longer our human brother. They deserve not amnesty but abhorrence, not clemency but contempt.
And since humans cannot bestow life, neither can they act in the place of God and forgive those who take life.
TO MY Christian brothers and sisters I say, as a Jew who has just completed a book about Jesus that is thoroughly sourced in the New Testament, that Jesus never meant us to forgive God’s enemies. His words are specific. He says to love your enemy. Your enemy is the guy who steals your job or your parking space. God’s enemies are those who blow up airplanes and would destroy worlds. Likewise, in advocating turning the other cheek, Jesus never meant that if someone kills 3,000 American citizens you are to also let him kill 3,000 British citizens. Rather, Jesus meant to forgive personal, human slights rather than monstrous, spiritual evil.
I do not believe in revenge. The ancient Jewish understanding of the biblical injunction of “an eye for an eye” was always financial restitution for the lost productivity of an eye rather than the barbaric taking of an organ itself. But I do believe in justice, and loving a terrorist makes a mockery of human love and a shambles of human justice.
Ecclesiastes expressed it best. There is not just a time to love, but also a time to hate. I hated Osama bin Laden, but I will not rejoice at his death. It would have been better had he never been born, but once he was, and once he dedicated his life to unspeakable cruelty, it was necessary for him to be stopped and killed. And for that I give thanks to God and the brave soldiers of the American military.
The writer is the author of Judaism for Everyone and founder of This World: The Values Network, which is now launching The American Institute of Jewish Values to promote universal Jewish teachings in American culture. For more information, write to info@ThisWorld.US.