A Spiritual Response to Bin Laden's Death

Spiritual reflection on Osama bin Laden's death.

Like so many Americans and people around the world, I’ve been riveted by the news of Osama bin Laden’s death on Sunday. 10 years ago, on that fateful September morning, I woke up as news of the first attacks on the Twin Towers interrupted the regularly scheduled programming—and the next decade of our lives.

Sunday night, I was getting ready to sleep when the news flashed that bin Laden was dead. I sat on the edge of my bed, riveted. Commentators proclaimed this “the defining moment of the Obama presidency!” Young people, adorned in American flags, danced in the streets in front of the White House. Family of loved ones who died on 9-11 gathered quietly in the twilight, near the hole where the Twin Towers once stood. Now, I wondered, might they finally be able to rest?

I searched my soul for a full response. As a rabbi, I look to Jewish tradition and our sacred text for guidance. Proverbs teaches, “When the wicked perish there is song.”

I viscerally understand the dancing in the streets, the spontaneous expression of joy and relief, a collective anthem of rebuke for the wicked evil bin Laden deployed throughout the world. He was a murderous, vile, despicable man—y’mach sh’mo—may his memory be erased!

When the wicked are killed, what does that song sound like?

Jewish spiritual tradition demands humility, even in the face of hatred. In the Exodus story, we are taught that Pharaoh’s army pursues the newly freed Israelites. When the soldiers are swallowed by the sea and drowned, the former slaves sing and dance. A midrash (rabbinic legend) does not portray this outburst favorably. “The Holy One rebuked us,” we are taught. How can you sing now? Look what I had to do to my creation!”

Look what I had to do to my creation.

I do not dispute that bin Laden got what he deserved, nor that we are better off as a country and a world that he is dead.

But I cannot fully rejoice at the death of another human being, even a monster like bin Laden.

This is a time of embrace, to humbly consider our future as a nation, as a people who cling to hope.

Hope that we will now engage one another in a national conversation about our ethic of care for our neighbor in addition to keeping safe from our enemies.

Hope we can learn from our differences and celebrate our shared American story.

Hope that we can imagine a new future for humanity and our planet.

Hope that we best honor the victims of terrorism and their loving survivors by restoring our national dream of compassion, independence, liberty, and justice for every citizen of this great land.

So I sing, but I sing softly.


With gratitude to my colleagues, Rabbi Lisa Tzur & Dan Moskowitz for their inspiration.

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Mary Youle May 13, 2011 at 01:18 PM
Thanks for eloquently expressing the sentiments I share. Mary Y.
Rabbi Michael Adam Latz May 13, 2011 at 05:16 PM
Thank you, Mary!
cookie montgomery May 14, 2011 at 03:33 AM
Thank you, Rabbi! I have been feeling so conflicted during this time. Feeling relief at his death, yet knowing that G-d doesn't celebrate anyone's death. You have reaffirmed my belief on this issue. Shabbat Shalom. cookie
Rabbi Michael Adam Latz May 18, 2011 at 01:24 AM
Thank you, Cookeleh!
Inge Einer May 28, 2011 at 05:56 AM
Rabbi Latz, I also was very disturbed by the announcement of the killing of Bin Laden. These are my reasons: Our government assassinated bin Laden. If democracy, fairness, the rule of law are important to this country, it is not demonstrated by an assasination. Our government may have killed a man we called evil, but in the process something of our humanity was sacrificed. Would it not have been more useful to our understanding to have heard from him in court? If we could know what it is that drives the hate, the will to destroy, perhaps we could do something to avert such things in the future. What was his story? Why would he do such things? Perhaps we should also look at our past actions which resulted in the deaths of so many. Bombs do not discriminate between the innocent and the guilty. Why have we as a nation chosen to study and multiply ways of hitting and so neglected ways of talking? What does the action our government too in our name say to our children? It says that if people say a person is guilty, we are justified in killing. This is what the Klan did. This is what vigilantis do. No matter how evil people say he was, did he not deserve a day in court? Did we not deserve to know if he truly did all people claimed he did. Those who were killed in the terrorist attacks will not come back because we caught and killed Bin Laden. Is it vengence we claim? Inge


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