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U.S. Jewish Groups Welcome Bin Laden’s Death, But Urge Continued Vigilance

posted by Nicole Neroulias

As religious and secular outlets alike scramble to cover the hell out of the death of Osama bin Laden, the two emerging angles have been “what’s the appropriate way to react to the news” and “was the at-sea burial Islamically appropriate, and does it matter?”

It’s impossible to come up with a concise roundup of links, even narrowed down to something like “the Muslim reaction” or “the 9/11 family reaction.” Nevertheless, the attempts keep coming, including this Religion News Service feature, for which I collected a bunch of “Jewish reaction” notes that ended up on the cutting room floor. Here’s that bonus material:

Bin Laden was killed early Monday in Pakistan, but the official announcement came when it was still May 1 in the United States and Europe, which Jews solemnly observed as Yom HaShoah, their Holocaust Remembrance Day, this year.

The response from Jewish groups and leaders reflected enthusiasm tempered by this historical perspective, noting that bin Laden’s death won’t eliminate the threat of terrorism – and may, in fact, provoke retaliation – at home, in Israel or abroad.

The American Jewish Committee and B’nai Brith International both saluted the U.S. military’s efforts, and said the news sent a decisive message to terrorists around the world. But concerns remain about the al Qaeda network’s response and whether Pakistani officials had known about bin Laden’s Abbottabad mansion hideaway, they agreed.

“But for now, we should take this moment to reflect on the successful pursuit of a mass murderer, who was responsible for such devastating loss of life in the United States and in so many places around the globe,” B’nai Brith’s statement read.

“It sends an unmistakably powerful message of American resolve to go after those who would wreak human havoc in the name of their perverted hatred, packaged as fanatical faith,” said David Harris, AJC executive director.

Even the Republican Jewish Coalition uncharacteristically credited the Obama administration on “a job well done,” but urged continued vigilance “against the continued threats from the forces of radical Islam and from those around the world who wish to do us harm.”

“This was a victory for the United States, but the war against radical Islam goes on,” stated Matt Brooks, RJC executive director. “We urge the Obama administration and the Congress to give their strong support to our intelligence community and military, which keep us safe from attack and bring justice to terrorists.”

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, author of “You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism,” and president of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, said bin Laden’s at-sea burial had striking Jewish parallels: to the unknown graves of Moses, the great hero of Judaism, and Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, whose ashes were scattered at sea.

“Some actors in history are so big, for good or for bad, that the place of their burial really needs to be unknown,” he explained. “Their presence on earth needs to end with incredible finality, and in all of these cases, we sever the relationship either due to the potential cult status, as is the case of Moses, or of their memory being so intolerable to us, as is the case with Eichmann. With bin Laden, it’s a mixture of both, depending on who you are.”

Despite the parallel to Eichmann’s burial, and the coincidence of the news breaking during Yom HaShoah, Hirschfield was reluctant to play up the “profound spiritual irony” into a comparison of bin Laden’s actions and the Holocaust.

There is some precedent for cheering someone’s death in Judaism, such as when the Egyptian soldiers drowned in the Red Sea in the Passover story. But, Hirschfield added, the appropriate level of celebration comes down to your proximity to the enemy’s actions. “The closest someone is to the pain caused by Osama bin Laden’s terror, the more reasonable the catharsis of celebration,” he said, giving the examples of family members of 9/11 victims and troops killed in Afghanistan.

“But the degree of celebration has to be proportional to the proximity. Yet people who feel far from bin Laden stand around and cheer, and (some) people who have suffered directly are more circumspect… Whatever you’re feeling, take a moment to acknowledge that the other perspective may have a place in our national response.”

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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