Moments after President Obama’s speech announcing the death of Osama bin Laden, I tweeted a message of thanks to the president and the American military for eliminating the world’s most bloodthirsty terrorist; but added a second tweet quoting the Bible, “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 thanks and gratitude to God that evil had been rooted out and innocents protected.
Truth regardless of consequences Within minutes a debate broke out between me and my good friend Rosie O’Donnell, who tweeted, “Do rabbis condone violence – war – murder?” Thousands of followers on both sides joined the lively exchange.
Judaism stands alone as a world religion in its commandment to hate evil. 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 of the wicked, King David declares, “I have hated them with a perfect hatred. They are become enemies to me” (Psalm 139). Hatred is a valid emotion, the appropriate moral response to the human encounter with evil.
But the Bible also commands that we are not to celebrate our enemy’s demise. Indeed, at the Passover seder we Jews, upon mentioning the Ten Plagues, pour wine out of our glasses to demonstrate that we will not raise a glass to the suffering of the Egyptians. Likewise, after the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea, Moses and the Jewish people sang a triumphant song of thanks. Yet the Talmud says that God himself rebuked the Israelites: “My creatures are drowning in the sea, yet you have decided to sing?”
It would have been far better for there never to have been a Pharaoh, a Hitler, or an Osama bin Laden. When Hitler blows his brains out in a Berlin bunker we give thanks to God that his unspeakable evil has come to an end. But who could possibly rejoice after so many innocents have died?
The same is true of 9/11. Three thousand of our brothers and sisters died. Are we now going to jump for joy that their killer has been brought to justice? Who can celebrate when families are still bereft and American soldiers continue to die in Iraq and Afghanistan? We do not gloat over the triumph over evil because its very existence must forever be mourned.
Many tweeted in response that on Purim Jews celebrate the death of Haman. Incorrect. We celebrate the deliverance of an innocent people from genocide.
But for my Christian brothers who go further and quote Jesus’ injunction that we are to love our enemies, I respond that to love murderers is to practice contempt against their victims. 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 from his countenance and is no longer our human brother. He deserves 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.
Jesus never said to forgive God’s enemies, but yours. Your enemy is the guy who steals your parking space. God’s enemies are those who launch rockets against children. Likewise, in advocating turning the other cheek, Jesus never meant that if someone kills 3,000 American citizens go ahead and allow them to kill 3,000 Britons as well. Jesus meant to forgive petty slights rather than monstrous evil.
The Bible explicitly prohibits revenge. But forgiving a terrorist makes a mockery of love and a shambles of justice. The human capacity for love is limited enough without our making the reprehensible mistake of directing even a sliver of our hearts away from the victims and toward the culprits.
Ecclesiastes expressed it best. There is not just a time to love but also a time to hate. I hate Osama bin Laden but I will not rejoice in his death. It would have been better had he never been born. But once he was and chose his evil path it was necessary for him to be killed.
Insights such as these, gleaned from Jewish wisdom and values, can provide America with much moral direction in a nation whose only values-based discussions seem to revolve exclusively around gay marriage and abortion. It is for this reason that I and others are joining together to launch a Jewish values institute, initially based in Englewood, that will focus on training a new generation of scholars in the art of broadcasting Jewish values to illuminate modern moral conflict.
It is fitting that at our first event – Sunday, May 8, in Alpine – we welcome House Majority leader Eric Cantor of Virginia because, whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, you cannot but admire the staunch and proud Jewish identity of the youngest House majority leader since the Second World War and the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in American history. On the occasions that I have visited with the congressman at the Capitol to discuss biblical values as they pertain to leadership, I have been awed by the dignity this warm Southern gentleman accords each visitor, in the best spirit of the rabbinic teaching to “Greet every person you meet with a kind and pleasant countenance.”
Now, Cantor, along with Speaker John Boehner, has invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress so that the Israeli leader can make his case directly to the American people of Israel’s vision for peace in the Middle East.
It is our hope to inspire more Jewish men and women in politics, media, commerce, and the arts to celebrate their Jewish heritage and be experts in, and exponents of, Jewish values, not just in their personal lives within the Jewish community but in every aspect of public endeavor. The time has come to inspire Jewish youth to marry their professional careers with a spiritual calling.