The overwhelming Western response to the death of the mastermind of 9/11 seems to be, from what the media reports, a mixture of feelings. Feeling relief. Feeling vindicated. Feeling that justice has been done. Many people seem to be feeling joyful and jubilant.
Other Western responses have also been reported. Some regret that OBL was killed–they wish he had been captured and brought to trial and imprisoned. I heard someone say that they wish he had been given the chance to repent.
Judaism actually addresses the nuances of this subject in great detail. One of the foundation-teachings of the *Torah is that we must have great respect for the sanctity of human life (and all of Creation). However, if someone rejects the notion that human life is precious and pursues innocent people with the intent to cause them real harm or death, then that person actually gives up his normative human status and becomes a “pursuer.”
He must be stopped, permanently. He has lost the privileges ascribed to those who do not seek to kill. We know that the man gunned down by American armed forces was still planning to murder more innocent people. OBL had lost his human status and became a pursuer, a shark. Therefore, the actions of the Navy Seals were as necessary as those of a lifesaver who bravely enters the ocean to kill a shark who has planted his teeth in someone’s leg.
However…Judaism is very clear on what our response should be. It says that even though it is a natural feeling that many have, jubilation is not the most human response. Even though a bloodthirsty killer may have lost his normative human status and courted his own destruction, he was still at one point, a human being who had been given the spark of life by the Creator.
The eight days of Passover, the holiday that is a remembrance of the Jewish people’s slavery and deliverance, ended less than a week ago. One of the pertinent lessons the ancient texts about Passover teach us is very clear. When Pharoah’s soldiers, who pursued their former slaves with murderous intent, were destroyed, our ancestors were admonished: do not cheer. When Pharoah’s charioteers and horses were drowning in the Red Sea our we’re reminded that God told us not to be joyous when those he created were suffering and dying.
Yes, even though they enslaved us, killed our children, and were chasing us to kill us. And yes, even though their death was necessary. We still teach this lesson today: Do not jubilate at the death of any human being, even one who has lost his humanity.
As for the victims’ families, they are still dealing with the pain of their loss and the recent news is sure to bring up painful memories. I heard one survivor say that this just made her family relive the events and reminded them there is still more to be done. We offer renewed prayers for their healing.
*The Hebrew Bible aka “Old Testament.”
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Last reviewed: 3 May 2011