Torah For Today! This week: Russia’s Salisbury sightseers?

Torah For Today! This week: Russia’s Salisbury sightseers?

Rabbi Ariel Abel takes a topical issue and applies an Orthodox Jewish response

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

 Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov
 Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov

 Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov (pictured) were named as the suspected attackers of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal who, in broad daylight, smeared deadly Novichok on the door handle of his home. They left the scene, smiling at their endeavour.

So, what does the Torah say about smiling assassins?

In early biblical history, in the time of nascent Israelite royalty, the Amalekite who witnessed the death of King Saul on Mount Gilboa celebrated it in the presence of David, his son-in-law, thinking that he would be happy his persecuting father-in-law was dead.

David was so disgusted that he executed the Amalekite soldier in the Israelite ranks.

Perhaps the most well-known biblical story is how Haman returned home happy and glad of heart that he had sealed the fate of the Jews of Persia to doom.

He ultimately hanged along with his co-conspiring sons and his militia were destroyed, giving us the festival of Purim – the festival of the downfall of smiling assassins and partying perpetrators of genocide.

The Proverbs of Solomon teach: “On the downfall of your enemy, do not rejoice and in his stumbling let your heart not
be glad.”

Our rabbis repeat this teaching word for word for emphasis in the Ethics of the Fathers, which is the text central to classical Judaism teaching crucial elements
of wisdom, jurisprudence and ethical behaviour.

Although it is natural to be relieved to see an enemy dead and to celebrate an end to tyranny, it is always a tragedy that such action is required.

Earlier still, the Midrash tells of the three counsellors of the Egyptian Pharaoh – Balaam, Jethro and Job. They were consulted on the fate of the Israelites.

Only Jethro, a heathen priest, spoke up for the Israelites as he was not happy to see them suffer and was rewarded with Jewish grandchildren.


  •  Rabbi Abel serves Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation and is padre to HM Armed Forces
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