He adds that Una Taneh Tokev--a medieval prayer recited during the high holy days--urges us to repent in order to avoid the severe decree. "Nelford didn't do that," he says. "Not only didn't he end his life with sense of prayer or repentance--he ended it by suicide as a murderer. The real Jewish issue is that he murdered himself in addition to her, and we don't give people the right to do that."

"One value of life is you don't like the people who take it away from someone."

Paley says that the essential issue here is not the sanctity of life, or the possibility of repentance, but forgiveness: "By Jewish law he murdered not one but two people--himself and the girl. He's culpable for both crimes. There's no legal reason to forgive him."

While the New Testament emphasizes the penitent's need to get right with God, Jewish teachings stress getting right with the victim. "Before you ask the forgiveness of God, you have to ask the forgiveness of the person wronged," says Rabbi Stephanie Dickstein, an assistant dean at the Jewish Theological Seminary. In the case of Roskot and Nelford, the problem is not only that Nelford isn't around to ask forgiveness--it's that Roskot isn't around to grant it.

In wrestling with how to respond to the suicide of a murderer, we might do well to recall a violent death recounted in Hebrew Scripture. We learn in the book of Exodus that after the Red Sea parted, the Israelites crossed to the other side, but when the Egyptians tried to chase them, the walls of the sea collapsed and the Egyptians drowned. According to a midrash, the angels in heaven began to cheer, but God silenced them, saying: "You may not cheer. The Israelites are free and my plan for their redemption is unfolding, but some of my other children are dead, so you may not cheer."

God doesn't ask the angels to cry for the Egyptians. But he does remind them that the death of even the vilest of his creations is a somber moment.


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