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Is It Okay to Celebrate Bin Laden’s Death?

Is It Okay to Celebrate Bin Laden’s Death?

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Question:

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

Response:

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.


Sources
See Maharsha on Sanhedrin 39b; Midrash Shmuel 4:22.
FOOTNOTES
1.

Proverbs 11:10.

2.

Proverbs 24:17–18.

3.

Sanhedrin 113b.

4.

Sanhedrin 39b.

5.

Ezekiel 33:11.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, 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.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Discussion (130)
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?
Eliezer Moskowitz
passaic nj
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.
Lynn Magnuson
New Orleans, LA.
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.
Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell
Riverside, CA, USA
May 17, 2011
celebrate death
I wholeheartly agree Rabbi with your statement that we are commanded to celebrate the death of a principalities.....it may take some life's but the celebration is the death of the principality. Thank you Rabbi.
Ms. Gigi Garroutte
tx., tx
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.
Anonymous
Munster, IN
lubavitchindiana.com
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?
Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell
Riverside, CA, USA
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?
digbydolben
Mumbai, India
chabadva.org
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?
Dan
East Nowhere, US
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.
William Winkelman
Tucson, Arizona
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.
ETWolverine
Brooklyn, NY
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