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December 04, 2008

Responding to Mumbai?

This video from Aish HaTorah made it into my in box today. It's called "Responding to Mumbai."

I actually find it quite alarming. If you don't feel like viewing it, let me give you the gist: We need to respond to evil by doing good.

"When catastrophe happens," it begins, and after some images, it continues, "the Jewish response to evil is to put good into the world." It cites the Talmud for this proposition and suggests several ways to do good. Later, it says, "If 10 people can perpetrate so much evil, imagine what 100,000 can accomplish for the good." At the end, it lists many ways in which we can do good, and I endorse pretty much every one.

So why am I alarmed? Two reasons. First, the terrorism in Mumbai was evil, not a "catastrophe." A flood is a catastrophe. An earthquake is a catastrophe. A plane crash is a catastrophe. Terrorism is an evil. The video does say evil, but it starts by speaking of catastrophe, which suggests a force beyond our control.

Second, when terrorists commit evil acts as they did in Mumbai, it is actually wrong for us to think that doing good is the antidote. There's a time and place for good, but the first thing we need to do is to take strong action to fight the terrorists and their allies. And as long as we're thinking about Jewish law, perhaps we ought to keep in mind the directive that if someone comes to kill you, you must rise up and kill him first.

I see this video as reflecting a medieval diaspora mentality, in which we lack control over our destiny, flee in the face of cruelty, and survive solely through faith in God. At a minimum, the idea of doing good in response to evil has a religious, even messianic, component. (In America, we would say, "Kumbaya.") But let's be practical first. If Israel had followed this dictum of doing good in response to evil, without also taking steps to protect itself, there would be no Israel any more. Self-protection comes first, before anything else, including acts of kindness.

So let's all support tough measures against the terrorists and their allies. Fight evil today. Tomorrow we can talk about doing good.

UPDATE: The commenter who thinks I'm "a jerk" arrived here through a Google search for the phrase "the Jewish response to evil is to put good into the world." Google apparently doubted that this was the correct search. You can't make this stuff up.

UPDATE (12/7): Included in Haveil Havalim #194 at Shiloh Musings, where there are links to others who have written about Mumbai (and other topics).