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Is It Okay to Celebrate Bin Laden’s Death?

Is It Okay to Celebrate Bin Laden’s Death?



Is it inappropriate to be celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden? Is that a Jewish value?


You’ve asked what I could only call a very Jewish question. For one thing, it’s so typically Jewish to feel guilty about rejoicing. Aside from that, the wisdom of our sages on this topic runs deep and thick. When do you know a wisdom is deep? When at first glance it seems full of contradiction.

Let’s start with Solomon the Wise, who writes, “When the wicked perish, there is joyful song.”1

Sounds pretty unequivocal. Until you find another statement of the same author, in the same book: “When your enemy falls, do not rejoice, and when he stumbles, let your heart not exult, lest the L‑rd see and be displeased, and turn His wrath away from him.”2

The Talmud mirrors the tension. We find: “When the wicked perish from the world, good comes to the world, as the verse states, ‘When the wicked perish, there is joyful song.’”3

. . . while in the same volume, the Talmud has already told us, “When the Egyptians were drowning in the Sea of Reeds, the angels wanted to sing. G‑d said to them, ‘The work of My hands is drowning in the sea, and you want to sing?’”4

We aren’t the first to note these paradoxes and more. Now is not the time to list every resolution suggested. Instead, let’s get straight to the heart of the matter:

What is so terrible, after all, about celebrating the death of a wicked evildoer? Why would you even think it decrepit to rejoice that a man who himself rejoiced over the demise of thousands of others, and connived ingeniously to bring destruction and terror across the globe, should now be removed from it? Is it so horrible to feel happy that the world has just become a better, safer and happier place?

No, it’s not. That’s perfectly legit. On the contrary, someone who is not celebrating at this time is apparently not so concerned by the presence of evil upon our lovely planet. Those who are outraged by evil are carrying now smiles upon their face. The apathetic don’t give a hoot.

If so, when Pharaoh and his henchmen, who had enslaved our people for generations—mistreating them with the utmost cruelty, drowning our babies and beating workers to death—when they were finally being drowned in the sea, why would not G‑d Himself rejoice?

Simple: Because they are “the work of My hands.” For this, they are magnificent. And a terrible loss.

As another prophet put it, “As I live, says the L‑rd G‑d, I do not wish for the death of the wicked, but for the wicked to repent of his way so that he may live.”5

For the same reason, Solomon tells you not to rejoice over the fall of your enemy. If that’s the reason you are celebrating—because he is your enemy, that you have been vindicated in a personal battle—then how are you better than him? His wickedness was self-serving, as is your joy.

But to rejoice over the diminishment of evil in the world, that we have done something of our part to clean up the mess, that there has been justice—what could be more noble?

That, after all, was the sin of Bin Laden: He recognized G‑d. He was a deeply religious man—those who knew him call him “saintly.” He prayed to G‑d five times a day and thanked Him for each of his nefarious achievements. The sin of Bin Laden was to refuse to recognize the divine image within every human being, to deny the value G‑d Himself places upon “the work of My hands.” To Bin Laden, this world was an ugly, dark place, constructed only so that it could be obliterated in some final apocalypse, and he was ready to help it on its way. With that sin, all his worship and religiosity was rendered decrepit evil.

So there’s the irony of it all, the depth and beauty that lies in the tension of our Torah: If we celebrate that Bin Laden was shot and killed, we are stooping to his realm of depravation. Yet if we don’t celebrate the elimination of evil, we demonstrate that we simply don’t care.

We are not angels. An angel, when it sings, is filled with nothing but song. An angel, when it cries, is drowned in its own tears. We are human beings. We can sing joyfully and mourn both at once. We can hate the evil of a person, while appreciating that he is still the work of G‑d’s hands. In this way, the human being, not the angel, is the perfect vessel for the wisdom of Torah.

See Maharsha on Sanhedrin 39b; Midrash Shmuel 4:22.

Sanhedrin 113b.


Sanhedrin 39b.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Eliezer Moskowitz passaic nj July 15, 2014

I don't see the contradiction you bring from the two verses in Proverbs. The first one speaks about a wicked person, and on his downfall we rejoice. The second verse speaks about your enemy, that is a personal designation, not a religious one. On the downfall of an enemy Proverbs teaches us not to rejoice since (and if) he is not wicked. Bin Laden was both wicked and an enemy, and so we rejoice because he is also wicked. Simple! yes? Reply

Lynn Magnuson New Orleans, LA. July 11, 2014

The Work of G_d's hands ... VERY interesting article. The Creator made everything that has been, is and will be. The idea of hating the evil done, while at the same time recognizing that the evildoer is a human being like you or I echoes my own beliefs. To rejoice at killing is evil in itself. To rejoice at evil itself being removed is not. Some time back, I had a conversation with a friend about Hitler and what he'd done. Similar issue. The murderous regime that engulfed Germany and murdered six million. The human misery and death. And we both had a great deal of trouble bringing ourselves to recognize that Adolf Hitler himself was a human being, like you or I, created by the same Creator. Perhaps a lesson in this to those who would rejoice in the death of Palestinians. NOT cool. Not a good thing. Remember that G_d created us ALL. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA May 17, 2011

To Anon in IN. If it looks like a duck Acts like one and walks like on, it probably is one. I believe it is totally hypocritical to celebrate Purim and Passover an not be able to give a sigh of relief over Bin Laden's death. Obama did NOT want to celebrate his death. I was happy he was taken out. I don't CARE how he was killed, just that he was. This will not stop the terrorism, but it stopped HIM. I am happy for that. He was one very sick, twisted, dangerous, sadistic dude who inflicted death to THOUSANDS if not TENS of thousands of people including Muslims. Reply

Ms. Gigi Garroutte tx., tx May 17, 2011

celebrate death I wholeheartly agree Rabbi with your statement that we are commanded to celebrate the death of a may take some life's but the celebration is the death of the principality. Thank you Rabbi. Reply

Anonymous Munster, IN via May 12, 2011

Purim and Passover-Don't paint me with that brush! I do not celebrate Bin Laden's death, but I GLADLY celebrate Pesach and Purim.
I celebrate these holidays but not because our enemy suffered or was killed. I celebrate Passover because HaShem delivered us from a miserable fate and gave us a chance for taking on responsibility and for having self-determination. (BTW Pharoah lived to tell about it.)The gifts are diminished by the suffering caused to our fellow human beings. (Remember the 10 plagues we represent by taking it out of our cup of wine=joy?)
I celebrate Purim BECAUSE WE ARE COMMANDED TO BE IN A STATE WHERE WE DON'T JUDGE ONE ANOTHER-WE ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER. ie.(know no difference between Mordechai and Haman) We need to respect each other and the right to have different views. Celebrate that we have a good and merciful CREATOR and we are His/Her creatures EVERY day. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA May 11, 2011

Pakistani justice? Hahahahaha. Digbydolben, you have the right to your opinions, but I am so very happy that your opinions are not the majority in America. Let's see. What if Hitler had been handed over to the German government for "justice"? You need to check your hatred of all things American. You said we live in a bubble? I thank G-d for this. By the way, what do you think of the Mumbai massacre? That was perfectly fine? Reply

digbydolben Mumbai, India via May 11, 2011

Pathetic I feel sorry for YOU folks, who are in denial over a travesty of justice, and who actually believe in the "truthiness" of the American government. Go on believing it, until it wrecks your lives with debt, with endless wars for its plutocracy, and with a degree of international opprobrium that, in fact, you folks who live in that bubble can't even begin to fathom. Indieed, Osama WAS killed in front of his 12-year-old daughter, indeed he WAS unarmed, indeed there WAS such a heavy incursion aginst Pakistani sovereignty that Obama was willing to risk entering a "state of war" with the Pakistani Army in order to pull off this re-election stunt. And am I the only person to figure out that, from the standpoint of American natioinal secuirity objectives, the BEST thing to do with that terrorist would have been to apprehend him and then turn him over to PAKISTANI justice, in order to force the leadership of that country to decide what kind of a society it is aspires to be? Reply

Dan East Nowhere, US May 11, 2011

To those who think Barack did this for re-election I've seen several comments suggesting that killing OBL was timed in such a way as to increase Obama's chances of being re-elected. The election is 18 months away and, generally speaking, we have a short-term memory as a country. If this was truly a calculated move toward achieving a second term, wouldnt Obama wait until the election was much closer? Reply

William Winkelman Tucson, Arizona May 10, 2011

Bin Laden Was a Tragedy I felt sad that his life had to come to that. Each human being is given the chance to brighten the world with his life. Bin Laden chose to darken it. His life was motivated by hatred, not love. I mourn how he wasted the life that G-d gave him. And I feel especially sorry for his poor mother, who surely never wanted her baby to become such an evil man. I mourn that he was ever born because of what he became. No celebration on my part. Reply

ETWolverine Brooklyn, NY May 10, 2011

To digbydolben, Mumbai, India Are you in favor of allowing a terrorist and murderer of 3,000 people to continue to roam the earth? Or is it just the way he was brought to justice that you have a problem with?

From my perspective, anything that gets Osama bin Laden off the streets and ends his threat as a terrorist leader is a GOOD OUTCOME. And I don't know about you, but where I come from, we celebrate good outcomes.

As it turns out, OBL wasn't killed "in front of his children". He was not "easily apprehendible" as you claim. In fact, all of the claims you have made about OBL's status at the time he was taken down have no basis in fact. Simply put, you don't know... and neither does anybody else. You are SPECULATING. Which is just another word for "ASSUMING". And we all know what "ASSUME" stands for. Reply

Canuck Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada via May 10, 2011

Double Effect We celebrate a small victory over a formidable foe, even though that victory was only obtained by extreme measures. We should not exult simply in the fact of death. Reply

Anonymous San Diego May 9, 2011

Stop the racism and hate in Judaism. Every Human Life is of value. Regardless of what anyone believes, there is not any human being or group of human beings holier than any other, or more worthless than any other.

Just as some Jews may celebrate Osama bin Laden death for whatever reason. Such as he was a Muslim, Arab, or accused Terrorist. The same can be said about the Holocaust. Many Germans did/do celebrate the death of Jews because they are Jews, accused murderers of Jesus, etc. So, be careful about celebrating someone's death, because chances are, there will be someone to celebrate your death. Reply

sue Kanata, ON May 9, 2011

to Rebekah Hommel Dear Rebekah, you might be a sound like a compassionate, thinking person. I must admit I am so heartened to be part of this forum; I also found images of inane celebration somewhat disconcerting.
Someone inthti shuuuge pie of letters mentioned the words of Martin Luther King,.I think he has said it best for all of we sensitive Jews, anyway.
I feel so sorry for yu, feeling the despair of losing friends and family in the Trade Center, but I do wan to say that the instancy of definition re who did what became a not a dialectic but a dictate. When it comes down to evidence and fairness, I read from an aeronautical engineer on History channel that the aircraft approached at a physically impossible angle. I believe the problem of the craft more to be an earth anomaly consisting of an errant and marine based land arm., also that fish drumming on a pearl bank cause dthe swing. As the case may be, may you and survivors live in love, hopefully to share the wisdom that forgives. Reply

Thomas Karp New Haven, Ct. May 9, 2011

To digbydolben Methinks that you are in error here on several points:

The Muslims do not believe they are G-d's chosen. Rather they believe that the Torah was given to all mankind, and not just to the Jews.

They reject the idea of a 'chosen few'. They claim that there is only one message for all mankind, and not a subsidiary one for Gentiles (Bnei Noach) as opposed to Jews.

Christianity not only condones murder, it accuses G-d of willing the murder of His own son; that a unarmed Jew is sadistically killed for the sins of the world; and millions of Jews thereforth have been killed in the name of such beliefs.

As for Osama Bin Laden and The American President, what was Mr. Obama supposed to do with the 'mad dog'?

There is only one thing to do with a mad dog and that is to put it down.

Btw, wasn't it in Mumbai not too long ago that a Chabadnik father and mother were murdered in front of their son,-

while so many of your neighbors stood by and cheered?

Where were you in that? Reply

Alvena May 9, 2011

All In The World I agree with the answer Rabbe gave to the person concerned with feelings over the death of bin Laden;
G-d so loved the world and that is every thing (all that he created and allowed to move in it) , however he is not pleased with the actions of the wicked. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA May 9, 2011

Most wars have countries as enemies. Al Queda and such organizations have no country. They hide out in other countries and carry out their dirt and bombs. Bin Ladin was not assassinated, because he was not the head of a country. He was the uppermost leader of a terrorist group. The rules are different from assassinating the head of a country. I just heard Obama on 60 minutes. His orders were to do whatever needed to be done. IF he could not be captured (safety of the Navy Seals came first), THEN they had orders to shoot to kill. This is not our war. This war was declared by Osama Bin Ladin over 10 years ago. The reason Obama did NOT show the pictures is that he was not celebrating and the pictures were not a "trophy" he could brag to the world about. We do have DNA evidence. The man is dead. What does it mean, "We didn't want to spike the football"? He said he was not celebrating Bin Ladin's death. He was relieved, but not celebrating. Now, give the president some credit. He did great! Yay for the U.S.A.!!!!!!! Reply

Anonymous via May 8, 2011

wow!!!some very warped comments out there!! this has nothing to do with cowboy's a question of national secuity...i can see why politics and religions are so difficult to discucss....there is so much ignorance and's quite sad. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA May 8, 2011

Digbydolben in Mumbai, This statement is a pure lie. "This act of "cowboy justice" was a public relations stunt, meant to manipulate the American masses into re-electing Obama. " I can't believe the extent people will go to, to discredit, impune and slander our president. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA May 8, 2011

Digbydolben in Mumbai, I agree with you on ONE point only. Obama IS much less stupid than Bush. This man perpetuated attack after attack on Americans ever since he bombed a ship and bombed our embassy and bombed us ON OUR SOIL, and was instrumental in BRIBING CHILDREN to become suicide bombers by saying he'd pay their families.He kidnapped American civilians and cut off their heads. War is not "cowboy justice", my friend. It is severe, fast, disgusting, and very highly needed in certain instances such as this. It is WAR, not a public relations stunt. Are you and people who think like you OUT OF YOUR MINDS? Please tell me you are kidding. You have GOT TO BE KIDDING. The War On Terror is a stupid label because you can't ever kill evil. It will always exist until G-d send the Messiach. However, until then, we are in the business of defense and prevention as much as possible. At the time of his "assassination" (whatever you want to call it) he was planning another 9-11 attack on trains in America. Reply

digbydolben Mumbai, India via May 8, 2011

No "Turning the Other Cheek" Here! Both Jews and Muslims believe that they are "God's chosen." Both Jews and Muslims believe that something called "God" occasionally gives his "chosen" license to kill. (Read your Jewish Sacred Scriptures.)

There are numerous other religions--Christianity is only one--that would consider the extra-judicial murder of an unarmed, readily apprehendable father before his child's eyes to be an abomination, without even mentioning the violation of the sovereignty of an alllied nation.

This act of "cowboy justice" was a public relations stunt, meant to manipulate the American masses into re-electing Obama. The worst part of it, though, is that it signifies that Obama has bought into the neoconservative doctrine of never-ending "War on Terror." The American "national security state" is incipiently fascist and Obama is its imperial President--and much more dangerous than Bush, because far less stupid. Reply