Rabbi Avi Weinstein

On Bin Laden: Jews Get WASPy.

In Uncategorized on May 9, 2011 at 7:45 am

As a species, we are not as highly evolved as we would like to think. The veneer of civilization is very, very thin.  I have read many Jewish responses to the assassination of Bin Laden, and, at least among the published responses, the qualified reaction of relief, but no joy at the death of a human being is the most popular opinion offered in the name of “Judaism”. The most popular sources are the verse from Proverbs enjoining us not to celebrate the downfall of our enemies and the Midrash where God stops the angels from singing after the Egyptians have drowned in the Red Sea.

There are many sources that countenance a more visceral triumphalist response, most prominently, the Book of Esther where we dress up in costume, ridiculing our long dead enemies. In a shabbat prayer during the Torah service, we look forward to the day when the  “Father of mercy” is asked to avenge the suffering of His people in very graphic language that leaves little to the imagination.

It is a time honored tradition that we cherry pick our sources so that our temperaments will be buttressed with the sanction of sacred writ. Into the mix, I throw out a quote that seems to dance between the weddings of unqualified joy at Osama’s death, and somber relief at the evil one’s demise.

Beloved is the human who was created in His image. Execessive affection was designated for him [as a result] of being created in the image, as it is written: ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, By man shall his blood be shed, For in His image did God make man’… (Pirkei Avot 3:14)

The first line is often quoted, but people forget to quote the Biblical prooftext that makes the opening statement “Beloved is the human…” a little less straightforward.  If the reason a human is beloved is that humans are enabled to kill those who murder among their species, how exactly is that demonstrative of being beloved?

It seems that anyone who kills another is desecrating an image of God, and therefore deserves the ultimate punishment, but why should the punishment be destroying another image of God? It must be that any murderer forfeits his ‘image’ thus becoming a counter image that needs to be removed by those who retain the ‘image’.

The intentional murder of non-combatants would certainly fall into this category. How one responds to the killing of Bin Laden is a matter of taste, but nothing more consequential than rooting or booing a football team. I don’t paint my face, strip half naked with letters on my torso, but I do celebrate the triumph of my team, as I am disappointed when they lose.  I also think that those who get loaded and act profanely are within their rights even if I wish they were sitting a little farther away.

For me, any response to Bin Laden’s demise is a question for Miss Manners and nothing more, and yes, I believe that I have my sources too.


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