Saddam, the Pope and Ahmadinjead
by Jonathan Rosenblum
January 8, 2007
Few Israeli Jews, it is safe to say, joined in the condemnation by Western elites of last week's execution of Saddam Hussein. In that they were,
wittingly or unwittingly, fully consistent with traditional Torah thought.
From a Torah perspective the preferred end for Saddam would have been falling into one of the meat grinders in which Saddam and his equally sadistic sons delighted in torturing their victims. According to the Midrash, the Divine Throne was only fully established at Yam Suf when the Jewish people witnessed the precision of the punishment meted out to the Egyptians: Those Egyptians who had harshly afflicted Hebrew slaves suffered slow and agonizing deaths, and those who had not shown great cruelty died quickly and relatively painlessly.
The satisfaction in witnessing Saddam's end has nothing to do with bloodlust. It derives rather from witnessing the wheels of Divine Justice in the world, and the rectification of an imbalance created in the world when evil goes unpunished.
Jews beseech God three times a day in their prayers she'oivecha m'heira yikareitu . It is hard to imagine a greater enemy of God than one upon whose orders hundreds of thousands human beings were killed – hundreds at his own hand.
Among those condemning Saddam's execution was the Vatican , which labeled it "tragic." And indeed the Church has long prided itself on its superiority to Judaism in its greater readiness to offer absolution and forgiveness.
Even God Himself, in the Jewish view, cannot offer atonement for sins done to one's fellow man, without forgiveness having first been sought and obtained from the wronged party. Certainly we have no right to forgive crimes committed against others. (At his trial, Saddam neither denied his crimes nor showed a trace of remorse.)
Far from demonstrating a superior humaneness, the lamenting of Saddam's execution reflects a certain inhuman coldness -- a refusal to contemplate the magnitude of his evil. The feiner mentschen would rather not enter imaginatively into the world of a father forced to watch his child tortured to obtain the father's confession, a world in which people went through life without every sharing their thoughts with another human being for fear that he or she might be one of Saddam's informers, a world of poison gas and torture chambers and loved ones being taken away in the middle of the night never to return.
To enter that world would be to acknowledge the obscenity of calling Saddam's execution "as ethically tainted" as the crimes that gave rise to that execution, as did Tim Hames in the Times of London. By that token, the execution of the Nazis defendants at Nuremberg was "as ethically tainted" as Hitler's crimes.
It is not accidental that the same week that the Vatican lamented the "tragedy" of Saddam's execution, the Pope met with the Iranian foreign minister and conveyed his warmest regards to President Ahmadinejad, who boasts of his plans for the next Holocaust. Both reflect a lack of moral clarity – the loss of horror at evil incarnate.
Such moral obtuseness gives rise to further evil. As our sages said, "One who is merciful when he should be cruel will end up being cruel when he should be merciful."
We Jews are also instructed to hate the sin and not the sinner. But sometimes the two are inextricably linked, as in Saddam's case. The execution of Saddam, after trial, is the means by which we, as a society, express our collective revulsion at his crimes and proclaim the value of the hundreds of thousands of lives he so casually snuffed out.
"Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of G-d He made man."
Related Topics: Jewish Ethics
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