A Liberal rabbi provoked a strong communal response, after reciting Kaddish for 62 Palestinians killed at the Gaza border two weeks ago, despite confirmation that 50 were members of Hamas.
What does the Torah say about praying for our enemies?
Isaiah the prophet openly wept for the distress of Moab. “Therefore, I will weep…and with my tears I will water you, Heshbon and Elaleh …”
Moab, like the Arab nation, is closely related to us. However, the Moabites were sworn enemies of the Jews. As Jews, we feel the sorrow of our enemies suffering, even as we resolutely defend ourselves from their aggression.
Former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks highlights the Talmudic understanding of shofar-blowing on Rosh Hashanah as hearing the cry of our enemies; when we do, we become sensitive enough to repent.
The sobbing and wailing of the shofar reflect the distressed sounds of the mother of Sisera, an arch-enemy of early Biblical Israel, who waited in vain for his return from the battlefield.
In contrast to Isaiah’s mourning for Moab, Talmudic tradition does not prohibit celebrating the demise of an adversary. The Talmud states that when Pharoah’s army drowned in the sea, the angels stopped singing, but Israel was commanded to rejoice, singing the Songs of Moses and Miriam.
Similarly, Deborah the prophetess sang following Sisera’s downfall.
Furthermore, we do not recite Kaddish for the Pharoah’s drowned legions. We can feel deeply sorry for our enemies’ predicament, but it is not our business to promote them in the afterlife for their efforts on earth.
In the same way, the recent storming of Israel’s border fence was not an attempt to fall into a friendly embrace – it was to kill and maim.
Kaddish, a prayer for peace and life, is not a suitable concluding prayer for such murderous intentions.
Rabbi Ariel Abel is Padre to HM Armed Forces and Rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation
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