Dear Rabbi,

I am shocked and horrified by the tragedy in New York, as is the rest of the community I live in.

There are dozens of people I know who never use bad language, and who are mindful of their speech and who do everything in their power to live a just life; however, now they are writing things like, “I would kill him myself,” or, “I want to chop him up and make him suffer.”

I understand the anger, shock and grief, but is this how we are supposed to respond, with a thirst for vigilante justice?

I just don't know what to say to these people.


Your question is a good one. It would seem that when G‑d commands us against bearing grudges or taking revenge, it is specifically for times like these, when we feel so strongly.

The Human Reaction

We must remember that we are all human and prone to normal human reactions. It is normal for people to feel this way, even if it is not “correct” morally. As the Talmud says, “One can't be blamed for what they say out of pain.”1

This is not the time to educate people on how to modify their reactions. Not because it is wrong to do so, but because at this time it will not work.


Nobody who says these things has actually tried, or really contemplated, acting on their feelings. It is clear to most people that when there is no immediate danger at hand, one should not take the law into one’s own hands. We are all glad that the perpetrator has been caught, and we hope that our justice system will find the correct punishment for him.

What people are doing is venting their frustration and feelings of impotence in the face of something so horrible and incomprehensible. By doing this, they are able to let it go. Look at it as an alternative to crying.

Forgiving Harm to Another

As much as we should hope for peace and benevolence, and as much as we should be forgiving towards those who try to harm us personally, from a Jewish perspective, one should not respond with forgiveness when someone else is harmed.

When calamity befalls someone else, we should be outraged, and even argue with G‑d, as Abraham did in the story of Sodom,2 and Moses did while the Jews suffered in Egypt.3

There are times when an act of evil can only be cured through force. Although G‑d commands this to be done only in extreme cases, it is ultimately so that there can be the path to greater peace. In the case of the tragedy in New York, and in most cases that we encounter on our own, justice will be meted out through the justice system, not through vigilantism, as you so rightly point out.

This is in contrast to when someone does something wrong to you personally. In that case, you should strive to forgive, even as the other person receives their punishment. For example, if someone stole something from you, you should seek retribution, but ultimately you should forgive that person.

In conclusion, it is difficult to fault someone at a time of pain. I am certain that these angry statements being made are merely ways that people are coping with an astonishing tragedy.

See this insight in How To Take the Law Into Your Own Hands.

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
Ask the Rabbi @ The Judaism