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Can You Yell ‘God’ in a Crowded Cemetery?

Sharon's thugs brutally deported our Jewish brothers and sisters from their homes, ruined countless Jewish lives, burned down synagogues and buildings and hot houses and fields. Are we not allowed to say now that God punished Sharon for his wickedness?

Sharon's thugs brutally deported our Jewish brothers and sisters from their homes, ruined countless Jewish lives, burned down synagogues and buildings and hot houses and fields. Are we not allowed to say now that God punished Sharon for his wickedness?
Photo Credit: Pierre Terdjman/Flash90

Yitzhak Aharonovich, of Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu party, is Israel’s Minister of Internal Security. His first government role was as Minister of Tourism, which probably qualified him for his latest career move.

I don’t like the fact that Israel has a ministry devoted to internal security. The name brings to mind not images of little children playing care free in the park as it does images of long, gray corridors and interrogation rooms. Until 1995, the office was named Ministry of the Police, which brought to mind traffic tickets and cops fighting over their pensions. I liked it better that way.

Israel already has a Ministry of the Interior, which, by rights, should be taking care of Internal security—it’s in the name, even. Who needs, on top of a ministry taking care of the interior, another ministry taking care of the security of the interior?

Here’s what Minister of Internal Security Aharonovich was busy with this week:

As you may have noticed wherever you looked or listened in Israel these past three days, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon died on Saturday, after a long sleep. No one took the news lightly. The man had admirers, but, boy, did he have enemies. One of his loudest enemies inside Israel were the students of yeshiva Torat Hachayim, who were among the thousands of Jews Sharon had forcibly deported from Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip.

Some of those students reacted with exuberant glee to the news of Sharon’s passing, and even hung up leaflets literally congratulating him on his demise, complete with a citation from the Shulchan Aruch regarding the proper mourning ceremony for Jewish traitors (the terms mumarim and mosrim are subtler, but in this context, they mean traitors).

Our gemora teaches (Bav BB 16b) that a man is not judged for things he said or did in his time of stress. This is not a criminal rule, but a social one, and it also hints at the way Heaven evaluates our speech and actions at such times.

In my opinion, these yeshiva guys were entitled to their expression of satisfaction at the death of the man who ruined their lives. I wish everyone in Israel shared their freedom of spirit. What’s more normal and mentally healthy than to rejoice at the passing of the wicked man who sent brutal cops to drag you and your parents and your children onto the waiting buses, and abandoned your property so your enemies could come and burn it down.

Secular Israelis have a habit of citing bits of verses which turn out to mean entirely different things than the full verse does. Most memorable is the clipped cite “he who steals from a thief is absolved,” which basically means that if I ran off with your car after it had been stolen by someone else, I get to keep it. That’s a distortion of the actual mishna (Bav BK 62b) which says that while a thief must pay back double what he stole, the one who steals from a thief is absolved from paying double and must only return the stolen item to its owner.

A similarly convenient cite is from Proverbs 24:17: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice.”

That sounds like a firm warning by Scriptures that when you see your enemy getting what he deserves, you shouldn’t be happy. The only thing missing here is context, which is provided by the next verse, 24:18: “Lest God will see and disapprove of you and turn His wrath away from him (your enemy).”

In other words, this is good advise to anyone taking their relationship with God seriously: God is watching all of us, and if you make a lot of noise, you’re practically begging Him to judge you on your gloating.

But it’s not a prohibition against gloating. In fact, if you’re certain your falling enemy is wicked – gloat away. Just make sure your side of the street is nice and clean.

Whichever way you come down on this issue, to gloat or not to gloat, it’s certainly an between you and your God. But not, apparently in Israel.

Israel’s Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovich was very upset when he heard about the yeshivagloat, and directed the police to open an investigation into the expressions of happiness over the death of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

I’m not making this up, it was in all the papers. Aharonovich declared to the free press: “This is a despicable behavior and I have no intention of letting this issue slide. I asked police to open an investigation and take care of this matter quickly and professionally. I view very seriously such criminal behavior. It is unacceptable and inconceivable that such expressions of joy be published and cause a division and polarization in the nation.”

Just to clarify again, Aharonovich is not the minister of internal security in North Korea, but in a country that prides itself on being a democracy.

Reactions to the chilling statement came quickly, thank God. Attorney Avner Pinchuk, speaking for Israel’s ACLU, clarified that there is no criminal law prohibiting public expression of joy at a person’s death. He added: “freedom of speech includes outrageous and distasteful statements, and it isn’t the role of Israel’s police to function as the thought police.”

“It is a very serious problem that the minister in charge of enforcing the law is acting with such little awareness of the limits of the law,” Pinchuk added.

I see no distinction between Aharonovich and his boss, Lieberman. They both adhere to the same aggressive and brutal political philosophy as did the late Ariel Sharon, and are easily as capable as he of uprooting and transferring civilians should it serve their personal interests. They scare me because they truly and honestly don’t see what’s wrong with siccing the cops on a bunch of yeshiva boys because of something they wrote on a leaflet—or with openly threatening an entire civilian population with expulsion, as Lieberman has been doing to Israeli Arabs living alongside the “green line,” who are tax payers he is supposed to serve, not intimidate.

If I’m opposed so vehemently to deporting Jews from their homes, how can I advocate disenfranchising Arabs? Is our blood redder? Ergo – Liberian advocates pushing Arabs around because he sees nothing wrong in eventually doing the same to Jews.

Personally, I was very glad when Sharon was declared dead because I regarded his eight years of comatose existence, entirely depended on machines to keep him alive and absent all higher functioning a serious violation of the law against bizion ha’met- desecration of the dead. Now that he is going to be buried, at last, I feel relief that such a public violation of his right to dignity has been stopped.

But there was yet another issue of the very principles of an observant Jew’s behavior at a time like this: in another article, I suggested that it was very significant that Sharon’s death had taken place so close to the anticipated declaration by Israel and the Palestinians about a new peace agreement facilitated through the expulsion of thousands of Jews. Anyone in Israel’s government looking to ruin more Jewish lives for a delusional deal with thugs, better take a look at what happened to Sharon.

I meant to say that God had punished Sharon for his crimes against Jews, and that I believe God would punish anyone else looking to repeat these crimes.

Unlike those guys from yesihva Torat Hachayim, I wasn’t happy that Sharon was punished. I admired the man most of my life. But how can a faithful Jew not recognize that Sharon was punished, collapsing as he had done so shortly after the deportations?

I live in a spiritual and intellectual universe in which Divine Supervision and an ongoing dialogue between the individual and God are a given. I completely believe that I deserve the painful things that happen to me, and that it’s my job to figure out what I’ve done wrong and how to fix it. It’s not a hard and fast world of black and white; my moral world is chock full of nuance. But some acts of brutality and violence bear a lot less ambiguity than you might think.

To be clear: I’m not suggesting that I’m a prophet who can declare that I have it on good authority that Sharon was punished by God for Gush Katif. But I’m completely entitled to my opinion—which I know I share with many thousands of my fellow observant Jews—that there is Judgment in the world, and there is a Judge.

If you ask me, the very essence of galut is to censor our expression of faith in God’s rule because of what others might think. Those “others” intimidated an entire religious Jewish community after Rabin’s murder, making all of us responsible for the act of a madman because we hated the Rabin government’s repression and brutality and said so. They can’t intimidate us unless we hold on to our “pintele galus,” the little bit of diaspora in our psyches.

And I tell you that of the two, Interior Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich vs. God, I choose to fear God more.

May Ariel Sharon’s memory be blessed.

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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8 Responses to “Can You Yell ‘God’ in a Crowded Cemetery?”

  1. Ben Yosef Shomer says:

    maybe every Israeli has to be force to attend the funeral and cry .As I heard, they peel a lot of onions today

  2. Gil Gilman says:

    Agreed, but if death is a punishment for Sharon's wickedness, then all those less wicked will be punished in the same way, unless you've found a way around it…

  3. Douglas Kent says:

    EXCELLENT!!!!!!

  4. Was death a punishment for Sharon?

    Since we were told that his brain registered activity, perhaps the greater punishment was 8 years of being locked in his mind, and having no way to communicate with the rest of the world. even to grunt.

    Seems to me that Death would be a relief from the solitary confinement of a coma where he could hear what was going on around him, but was unable to communicate.

  5. I have the feeling that Sharon regretted his decision about the Gaza strip that he was just showing the world that he wanted peace with the palestianians but when they were so ungrateful and burned down the synagogues he knew he made a mistake and fell ill. May He rest in peace.

  6. Melvin Waslo says:

    We should look at the fact that as leaders there are times that when an opportunity to make decisions for the good of the majority involves the sacrifice of the few, although in the case of Ariel Sharon he thought he will achieved that goal of peace for the whole of Israel but failed to realized that he bargains with people who does not even keep a promise like the Palestinians. All great leaders of Israel had their big and bad achievements, let me site, Joshua failed to consult God concerning the Gibeonites, what about Gedion, Samson, David and Solomon? But they are heroes in Israel, so is Ariel Sharon! I salute him, shalom!

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