The Bible Says What? ‘Babies will be dashed against the rocks’
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The Bible Says What? ‘Babies will be dashed against the rocks’

Rabbi Young-Somers takes a controversial topic from the Torah and applies a Reform Jewish response

Memorial in Jedwabne 

(Fczarnowski/Wikipedia)
Memorial in Jedwabne (Fczarnowski/Wikipedia)

In the Polish town of Jedwabne in 1941, about 1,600 Jewish men, women, and children were massacred.

A witness described it: “Beards of old Jews were burned, babies were killed at their mothers’ breasts, people were beaten murderously and forced to sing and dance.”

Their non-Jewish neighbours forced the bloodied and wounded Jews  into a barn, which was then doused with kerosene and lit.

Set against that terrible example is this passage from Psalm 137:3 and 9: “For there they that carried us away captive… required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion… Happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us — he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.”

The imagery is not only horrific, but it is also incredibly similar to the horrors suffered in Jedwabne.

The truth is there are parts of Tanakh that inhabit a world of violence that is beyond acceptable today.

But we do not live in a world in which such violence is unknown. For Jews it exists within living memory.

It is also possible that it was within the living memory of those exiled in Babylon, weeping by the river, that such violence had been committed.

The Psalm becomes, therefore, a revenge fantasy, in which a completely disempowered, exiled community goes perhaps too far in imagining their oppressors receiving a taste of their own medicine.

Last month we lost Eva Kor, a Holocaust survivor who advocated for forgiveness, despite what she and her twin suffered at the hands of Josef Mengele. Her response shows our own answer to the the Shoah doesn’t have to be akin to the Psalmist and that of violent revenge.

  • Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers is Reform Judaism’s Community Educator
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