Is is proper to celebrate when a wicked person dies?

I love this issue because it separates Torah scholars from pretend Torah scholars. Anyone who says that the Torah prevents us from celebrating the death of a terrorist is a pretend Torah scholar and a fool.

Most congregational rabbis have only a shallow grounding in Torah. So they are the ones saying we should not celebrate the death of Bin Laden. You less likely to find roshei yeshivot (the head of yeshivas) saying such nonsense. Check out the relevant lectures on yutorah.org such as this one by Rabbi Aryeh Leibowitz.

Rabbi Ari Kahn talks about the demise of Osama Bin Laden.

Rabbi: “I saw lots of handwringing.”

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld writes:

How does our religion teach us to respond to the death of a hated and evil man like Osama Bin Laden?
When hearing about the downfall of an enemy, the rabbis remind us of the verse from Proverbs:
“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.”
This is in line with the tradition that no matter how wicked our enemies are their destruction is not a cause for celebration. The Talmud tells us that “God does not rejoice with the fall of the wicked.” As the rabbinic teaching goes, as the Children of Israel were crossing the sea and the army of Pharaoh was drowning, God rebuked the angels for showing excessive joy. And to this day, our liturgy reflects that by limiting the psalms of joy that we recite to commemorate that event.
The reason for this muted celebration is twofold.
First there is recognition that even when our enemy falls, this does not signal an end to all our troubles. Just because one enemy or one army or one threat has been removed does not mean we are entirely safe.
Second, we must acknowledge that the destruction of the enemy did not necessarily arise from our own merits. We are perhaps not worthy of the good fortune that we have received and so we do not want to tempt God, as it were, or remind the Angel of Death of our own defects.
So our tradition is clear: Public rejoicing about the death of an enemy is inappropriate.
However, our tradition is also clear that it is appropriate to express deep gratitude when hearing about the death of Osama Bin Laden.
We should express gratitude to the Navy Seals who bravely killed him. We should express gratitude to all those who were involved in removing this horrible being from our world. And we should express gratitude to our Maker for removing a danger from our lives.

RABBI ARI KAHN SAYS: Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld is a very nice man. He’s gotten attacked…because he decided to rename his shul when he became the rabbi there — the National Shul… Once you become the national shul, you become the spokesman for national Jews and you go on the radio…

Most of what he wrote is almost fair but he’s wrong.

The other person I’m going to pick on much more is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach because he deserves it much more. His website says he’s America’s rabbi.

Rabbi Boteach writes about the death of Osama Bin Laden.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach also writes:

A few moments after hearing that the United States military had killed Osama bin Laden, I quickly tweeted congratulations to President Obama, the American military, and the American people for having neutralized 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) I mentioned that Bin Laden’s death was not a cause for celebration or parades but rather a time for thanks and gratitude to G-d that evil had been rooted out and 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 me and Rosie sparked a huge debate over Twitter. 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.

…But nowhere in the Bible, or anywhere in Jewish literature, is there
any justification for celebrating the taking of a life, however
necessary, and Proverbs 24 expressly forbids it. “Do not rejoice when
your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.”
Although the Jews have suffered more than most, the stubborn refusal
to celebrate the demise of our enemies, or any military triumph, has
been the hallmark of Jewish history.

Rabbi Kahn: How authoritative are these midrashim when we have other sources?

The conclusion of the Gemara (Talmud) is that God causes us to have joy [when the wicked die]. The Gemara wants us to realize that from God’s perspective, the world is imperfect. God is like a parent who has to discipline his kid. It does not bring Him great joy.

The Gemara says we do not celebrate Hallel on the seventh day of Pesach…because we in effect celebrate the same day seven times on Pesach. The days are not distinguished in terms of the sacrifices on Pesach. On the seventh day of Succot, you’re bringing a new korban (offering). The Gemara says nothing about those who drowned in the Sea of Reeds.

I give more weight to an early Gemara than a late midrash.

If somebody is wicked in the eyes of God and man, then you can rejoice in their death.

Here is somebody [Osama Bin Laden] who wants to destroy the state of Israel and to kill as many Jews as possible and killed thousands of innocent people. This makes him evil in the eyes of God and man. Therefore, to celebrate his death is justified.

Somebody who’s killed innocent people and is hell-bent on killing more innocent people and that person is neutralized, you say baruch HaShem. You are allowed to be happy. It is this attempt to be America’s rabbi, to be the national synagogue, to explain Judaism in a politically correct way, causes someone to misinterpret Judaism.

The problem is making these sweeping statements about the Jewish tradition. Learn the Jewish tradition and then speak about it.

How should you go about celebrating the death of a wicked man is a more subtle point.

According to the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch, Jews should celebrate the death of non-observant Jews and heretics (though few if any rabbis would hold by this today).

Rambam Avel 1:10
רמב”ם הלכות אבל פרק א

הלכה י
כל הפורשין מדרכי צבור והם האנשים שפרקו עול המצות מעל צוארן ואין נכללין
בכלל ישראל בעשיית המצות ובכבוד המועדות וישיבת בתי כנסיות ובתי מדרשות
אלא הרי הן כבני חורין לעצמן [כשאר האומות] וכן האפיקורוסין [והמומרים]
והמוסרין כל אלו אין מתאבלין עליהן, אלא אחיהם ושאר קרוביהם לובשין לבנים
ומתעטפים לבנים ואוכלים ושותים ושמחים שהרי אבדו שונאיו של הקדוש ברוך
הוא, ועליהם הכתוב אומר הלא משנאיך ה’ אשנא.

Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deyah 345:5

שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות אבילות סימן שמה סעיף ה

כל הפורשים מדרכי צבור, והם האנשים שפרקו עול המצות מעל צוארם, ואין
נכללים בכלל ישראל בעשייתם, ובכבוד המועדות וישיבת בתי כנסיות ובתי
מדרשות, אלא הרי הם כבני חורין לעצמן כשאר האומות, וכן המומרים והמוסרים,
כל אלו אין אוננים (ג) ואין מתאבלים עליהם, אלא אחיהם ושאר קרוביהם ח
לובשים לבנים ומתעטפים לבנים ואוכלים ושותים ט ושמחים. הגה: ז] הפורש מן
הצבור ולא רצה לשאת עמהם במסים וארנוניות, מתאבלים עליו (תשו’ רשב”א סי’
תשס”ג) ח] אבל אין שאר בני העיר צריכים לבטל ממלאכתן בשבילו לעסוק עמו
(כן משמע בנ”י סוף מ”ק).

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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