A Rooting Interest in DeathAmish Tech Support runs an annual "dead pool," in which blogger-participants attempt to guess 15 famous people who will not be with us at year-end. I heard of the pool on Meryl Yourish's site. I didn't participate, because I felt uncomfortable having a rooting interest in death.
Meryl added an interesting twist: A Dead Arab Dictator's matching fund. She would contribute $25 to Magen David Adom (Red Shield of David), a very worthy cause, for each Arab dictator that went to his eternal damnation during the year. Several other bloggers (and some of Meryl's readers) promised to match, so that the total now is $200 for each dead Arab dictator.
Another blogger, Luis Albright, quotes much Talmud in painting Meryl's participation in the dead pool generally, and especially her leveraging of dictator deaths for ambulances, as "un-Jewish," in posts here and here.
While I agree with much of what Albright has written, his criticism is too harsh. Albright quotes many sources for his argument. The most succinct is a story from the Talmud (Talmud Bavli, Megila 10b) recounting God's reaction when, with Pharoah's army drowning, his ministering angels wanted to sing him songs of praise. The Holy One, according to the Talmud, responded thusly: "How can you sing to me now? My children are dying." I have always thought this one of the most powerful lessons in all of Holy Writ. But it can be misused. This story, and all of the sources Albright brings, ascribe not to man but to God Himself the exquisite sensitivity Albright would have us show to the suffering of even such depraved people as Yassir Arafat and Bashir al Assad. I'd agree that Godliness generally, and this sort of bottomless compassion in particular, is an ideal toward which we humans should strive. But we fail, all of us, even Albright. Albright is (as he himself declares) an observant Jew. So it is almost certain that for eight nights last month, he sang (as I did) the hymn "ma'oz tsur"after lighting chanukah candles in his home. Sung in a rousing, joyous, spirit-lifting niggun (melody), here are some of the lyrics :
Le'eit tachin matbe'ach/Mitzar hamnabe'ach/Az egmor b'shir mizmor/Chanukat hamizbe'ach . . . Cheil Paroh v'chol zaroh/Yardu k'even bimtzulaIn English, that's
. . . Rosh yemini nisei'ta/v'oyeiv sh'mo machita/
Rov banav/v'kin'yanav/al ha'eitz talita.
When you will have prepared the slaughterSo while God may have remonstrated at joyful song in the face of Pharoah's death, we humans -- in a hymn sanctioned by our rabbis -- still mention it in joyful song millenia after the fact. The reference in the third lyric (after the second ellipsis) is to Haman the Amalekite, the villain of the Purim story. Arafat, Assad, the mullahs of Iran, and the "royal" family of Saudi Arabia, are modern day Hamans. Their deaths will be a deliverance for the Jewish people. Meryl's attitude toward their demise is not quite saintly, but it's also not un-Jewish.
for the blaspheming foe,
Then I shall complete with a song of hymn
the dedication of the Altar . . . Pharaoh's army and all his offspring
went down like a stone into the deep.
. . . You raised the head of the Benjamite and You blotted out the name of the enemy, on the gallows You hanged his numerous progeny, his possessions.
UPDATE: It can be argued that the tone of "ma'oz tsur" is not one of joy at the enemy's death, but of relief and thanksgiving at Israel's deliverance. That's a mighty fine line, since the destruction of the enemy was pretty much the sine qua non of the deliverance. But I think a charitable reading of Meryl's posts puts her on the right side of that line, if you want to draw it.