Hate the ISIS Leader, but Don’t Rejoice at His Death
Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi is dead. He was a monster. The world is a much better place without him. He was one of those who was created in the image of God, but chose to erase the Creator’s countenance from his visage by murdering, raping, plundering, and beheading.
Beasts like Al Baghdadi rejoice in seeing their helpless victims cower before them. They dress them up in orange jumpsuits and then saw off their heads with glee. But when confronted with their own deaths, they blow themselves up along with their innocent children to escape their captors. Death by cowardly suicide — think of Hitler, Goebbels, and Goering — is always the escape of cowardly murderers.
Still, we should not rejoice in Al Baghdadi’s death. There should be no spontaneous celebrations outside the White House, as there were for arch-butcher Osama bin Laden. It would have been better if Al Baghdadi had never been born.
It is not a cause for celebration when evil is defeated. Rather, we bow our heads in silent resignation amidst the ferocious determination to eradicate evil wherever it is found.
To be sure, we should thank President Trump, the heroic American military, and the American people for having neutralized a monster. But we should heed the words of the Bible: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles” (Proverbs 24:17).
This is not a time for celebration or parades, but rather a time for thanks and humble gratitude to God Almighty that evil had been rooted out and innocents have been protected through the elimination of a vile, bloodthirsty killer.
That we do not rejoice at the fall of our enemies does not mean that we should not hate evil. To the contrary, we must. Judaism stands alone as a world religion in its commandment to excoriate wickedness. Psalm 97 is emphatic: “You who love God must hate evil.” Proverbs 8 declares: “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” Amos 5 demands, “Hate the evil and love the good.” And Isaiah 5 warns, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil.”
And concerning the wicked, King David declares unequivocally: “I have hated them with a perfect hatred. They are become enemies to me” (Psalm 139). Hatred is a valid emotion, the appropriate moral response, to the human encounter with inhuman cruelty. Mass murderers must be reviled with our contempt.
But hating evil does not mean that we dance over the charred fragments of the putrid remains of Al Baghdadi. At the Passover Seder, Jews, upon recalling the Ten Plagues, poor wine out of our glasses 10 separate times to demonstrate that we will not raise a glass to the suffering of the Egyptians, even as they were engaged in genocide. We wanted their evil destroyed. But the fact that evil exists at all is a flaw in creation that must be corrected without celebration.
We wish there never was evil in the world. It would have been far better for there never to have been a Pharaoh, a Hitler, or an Al Baghdadi. When Hitler escaped Allied justice by blowing his brains out in a Berlin bunker, we gave thanks to God that his unspeakable evil had finally come to an end. But who could possibly rejoice after so many innocents had been annihilated? The same is true of the death of the ISIS leader. Who can celebrate? The victims’ families are still bereft. They are still gone. We do not gloat over the triumph over evil, because its very existence must forever be mourned.
Many readers will no doubt point out that on Purim, Jews celebrate the death of Haman. But this is incorrect. We celebrate the deliverance of an innocent people from genocide.
But for my Christian brothers who would go further and quote to me Jesus’ injunction that we are to love our enemies, I respond that to love murderers is to practice contempt for their victims. Those who do not hate Al Baghdadi have been morally compromised. A man who rapes a woman and then decapitates her has cast off the image of God from his countenance and is no longer our human brother.
As a Jew who has studied the New Testament, I state emphatically that Jesus never meant to forgive God’s enemies. His words are specific. He says to love your enemy. Your enemy is the guy who steals your parking space. God’s enemies are those who stone women to death. Jesus meant to forgive petty slights rather than monstrous evil.
I do not believe in revenge, something the Bible explicitly prohibits. The ancient 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 barbaric taking of an organ itself. But I do believe in justice, and forgiving murder or loving a terrorist makes a mockery of human love and a shambles of human justice.
Ecclesiastes expressed it best: There is not just a time to love, but also a time to hate. I hate Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi — but I will not rejoice in his death. It would have been better for the world had he never been born. But once he was, and once he directed his life to unspeakable cruelty, it was necessary for him to be stopped and killed. And for that I give thanks to God and the brave soldiers of the American military for making the world a safer, more just and innocent place.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of Judaism for Everyone and founder of the World Values Network. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.