It's not Jewish to celebrate this: just give thanks

Wave of relief: people celebrate the killing of Osama Bin Laden at Ground Zero in New York this week

Wave of relief: people celebrate the killing of Osama Bin Laden at Ground Zero in New York this week

Just after hearing that the United States military had killed Osama bin Laden, I quickly tweeted congratulations to President Barack Obama, the American military, and the American people for having neutralised this monster.

I added a second tweet that quoted the Bible: "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles." (Proverbs 24:17)

Judaism stands alone as a world religion in its commandment to hate evil. Exhortations to hate all manner of evil abound in the Bible and God declares His detestation of those who visit cruelty on His children. Hatred is a valid emotion, the appropriate moral response, to inhuman cruelty. Mass murderers most elicit our deepest hatred and contempt.

On the other hand, the Bible also says that we are not to celebrate our enemy's demise. We do not dance over the body of a murderer like Osama bin Laden. Indeed, at the Passover Seder we Jews, upon mentioning the Ten Plagues, poor wine out of our glasses ten separate times to demonstrate that we will not raise a glass to the suffering of the Egyptians, even though they were engaged in genocide.

We wish there never was evil in the world. It would have been far better for there never to have to been a Pharaoh, a Hitler, or an Osama bin Laden. But are we now going to jump for joy that a mass-murderer has been brought to justice? No. This is a time to give thanks to God and show gratitude. But who can celebrate? Families are still bereft. People are still missing. 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.

I do not believe in revenge, something the Bible explicitly prohibits. The 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 taking of an organ itself. But I do believe in justice, and forgiving murder makes a mockery of human love and a shambles of human justice.

Shmuley Boteach is an American Orthodox rabbi and author

    Last updated: 3:51pm, May 18 2011