Thursday, July 17, 2008

Praised is the one who will grab and smash… (Psalms 137:8-9)

בת בבל השדודה אשרי שישלם לך את גמולך שגמלת לנו
אשרי שיאחז ונפץ את עולליך אל הסלע

I have reached a nadir moment I would have hoped never to reach. I finally feel I can understand some element of Tehillim 137:8-9, “Looted daughter of Bavel, praised is the one who will pay you your just desserts, as you did to us. Praised is the one who will grab and smash your infants against the stone.

What a horrible wish!

I have taught this line in various adult contexts over the years, and, invariably, it has inspired in me, as well as in my classes, appropriate revulsion. How could anyone ever hope for such a thing, for the death of children, for the violent death of children?! What in the world is this doing in Tanach?

And every time, I have tried to provide context for the class:
I explain that this is supposed to be Dovid haMelech’s nevuah, his prophecy.
He sees his son succeed in constructing a Beis haMikdash, a home for Gd.
He sees succeeding generations bring korbanot and celebrate together and build a thriving society.
Then he witnesses the decline of that society, his realm split in two, worship of Baal and Asherah, intramural violence, false prophets, the deterioriaton and decay of everything he loved.
He sees prophets like Eliyahu and Elisha and Yeshayah and Yirmiyah cry out to no avail.
His hopes swell with the Yoshiyahus and Chizkiyahs, and sink with the Achavs and Menashehs.
And, painfully, he watches helplessly as the Assyrians invade and exile the northern tribes, as the Egyptian Paroh Nechoh invades and brutally kills Yoshiyahu, and then as the Babylonians conduct their multiple invasions and sweep off the remaining population.

To watch your life’s work and the nation you love demolished and reduced to ash, to witness the bloody death of thousands of your descendants, all while you – a warrior and king – are forced to sit on your hands, helpless… yes, I believe that would be sufficient to goad King David to this sanguinary extreme.

And, still, I never really understood it. I can’t say I really understand it now. But I had a taste of it watching the ugly Lebanese celebration of Samir Kuntar, who smashed a four-year old girl’s head in against a rock. Yes, I know the facile “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” sentiment. But to glorify that brutality? To honor one who would do that? No. Absolutely not.

And I found myself, as I watched that scene, repeating Dovid haMelech’s words.

I wish they would not know the return of a murderer who has been coddled and offered a healthy diet, conjugal visits, university courses and a warm bed for all of these years. I wish, instead, that they would know what it means to be one of his victims.

See also:
Treppenwitz here.
Jack's Shack here and here.
Shira bat Sarah here.
Soccer Dad's roundup here.

Add to Technorati Favorites


  1. The three weeks have come early this year. What have we learned, if anything.

    It is a sad day.

  2. Do you want to find out about Israeli artists taking part in the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition?

    How about what Canadians are doing to help the MDA?

    Check out Canada's Israel

    We have writers from across Canada and Israel bringing you positive stories that go beyond the headlines.

  3. B"H

    The Tana"kh is not politically correct; it is absolutely correct.

    The din of an oyev, qal wehomer the seven amim, is on the entire people, not individual leaders. There are no "innocents," save for those who declare publicly the injustices being done to Am Yisrael (Ramba"m Hil. Melachim uMilhamothehem).

    The fact that it's 5768, and not 2768 changes nothing.

  4. Jack,
    On altogether too many days it seems we are too busy beating each other up to learn anything.

    Ben Yehudah,
    To me, it has nothing to do with political correctness - it's about Jewish correctness. We are taught that when the Givonim seek the blood of Shaul's kids to pay back what he did to them, Dovid rules that they cannot marry among the Jewish people anymore, arguing that their cruelty shows they cannot be Jewish.

  5. This is completely not shayach.

    The issue with Givonim and Bnei Shaul here is Yisrael [or aledged Yisrael going after Yisrael, where the misswath lo ta'aseh "lo tiqom" would apply.

    The issue raises in Tehillim is Yisrael again goyim.

    The idea that Yisrael and goyim are always regarded the same is a Western concept, an artifact of galuth. It is not a Torah concept.

  6. On altogether too many days it seems we are too busy beating each other up to learn anything.

    True. Among the major problems we face right now is the inability to fight a real war against a real state.

    Fight another country and you can defeat them so completely that they lay down their arms.

    In the current situation Israel has been unable to force these amorphous groups into feeling the kind of pain that brings about an armistice day.

  7. Ben Yehudah-
    It's not a matter of viewing Yisrael and akum as the same. The case with the Givonim is Dovid declaring that if one could be so cruel, he couldn't possibly be Jewish. Dovid is saying this irrespective of the victim - since, as far as Dovid is considered, they weren't Jewish in the first place.

    I don't think that point of pain exists for them. They enjoy the pain; it validates them. (See my Meaning and Pleasure post from today - for them, pain is pleasure.)

  8. Yes, thank you, I am familiar with this parshah....

    The issue you are focusing on makes my case even stronger, qal we'homer.

  9. I would just point out that the Givonim took revenge against Jews. It was on that basis that David made his ruling. Jews and non-Jews are not the same when it comes to revenge (lo tikom v'lo titor et benei amech).

    Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said, Ha-tov she'ba-goyim, b'sh'at milchama, harog. And yes, that includes infants. It seems horrible, but look at the Palestinian Arabs. By allowing them to raise up a generation that truly believes the propaganda about "Palestinian nationhood", we caused immeasurable grief not only to ourselves but to the entire world.

  10. Agreed Ben-Yehudah and Lisa,

    In fact, this is one of those cases of if you're merciful to the cruel you end up being cruel to the merciful.

    It is Bnei Yisrael who are the merciful but if we show mercy to those who cruelly attack us, they will certainly show none to us as we know only too well.

    The reticence to accept the spiritual chosenness and superiority of Bnei Yisrael is a consequence of assimilation. Ideas may be assimilated even if identity is retained intact. It is something Jews in galut need to guard against.

  11. Ben Yehudah-
    Thanks for the HH link - but I wasn't "taking issue" with the Tehillim lines, I was saying that I can now appreciate them more.

    Ben Yehudah, Lisa, Devash-
    Thanks for your comments, but that's just not what the gemara there (Yevamot 78b-79a) says regarding the Givonim. It talks about general rachamim, without any distinction. Further, the whole discussion there begins with the gemara condemning Shaul for harming them in the first place, even though that harm came in the process of protecting the Jewish monarchy and nation.

    As I have already said: It is clear that we are a nation apart, and should not conflate the identities of yisrael and amim. Nonetheless, as the gemara and Rambam noted based on Tehillim, ורחמיו על כל מעשיו is specifically for all.

  12. Devash said:
    The reticence to accept the spiritual chosenness and superiority of Bnei Yisrael is a consequence of assimilation.

    Ordinarily, I wouldn't bother responding to this kind of statement, but because Devash was agreeing with me, my silence might be misconstrued as me agreeing with the "superiority" comment.

    I'm sure Devash will probably think I'm trying to be "politically correct", but I'm not. Jews are no more superior to non-Jews than Kohanim are superior to the rest of the Jews. That's not why the Rebbetzin's Husband is mistaken. He's mistaken because David Hamelech wrote what he did, and it really isn't our place to put 21st century moral standards above those of our tradition.

    If someone has a hard time reconciling those statements with the fact that we're rachmanim bnei rachmanim, that's understandable. It's a difficult issue. But that just means we have to work on our own understanding; not passul Tehillim.

  13. Hi, Lisa,
    I've re-read my post, and I still don't see how you - and others - see it as passeling Tehillim. Just the opposite: My point was that I've always tried to explain the perek's context and to understand it from the perspective of everything we've been taught about Dovid haMelech, and that I've always had difficulty with it. My perspective has never been to disqualify or remove it, but rather to work at understanding it myself.

  14. RH,

    I prefer to focus on the halacha, as it is what is relevant to how we are to with non Jews.

    The aggadatah you cited is not shayach. We don't pasqin from aggadah, anyway. Oh, sure, there are those who do it, but...

    The halacha seems to be in line with the pasuq. ALL members of an enemy group are hayav, not just there leaders, for example.

    Does it wrench Jewish guts to think of such a thing? Of course, it does. We've been in Galuth for 1700 yrs. at least. Our feelings have no doubt been influenced by Galuth and the surrounding cultures. No wonder the halacha "feels" disturbing to us.

    We must work to remove such qelipoth from ourselves and our brethren.

  15. Ben Yehudah,
    If you prefer Halachah, take a look at the following passages in the Rambam regarding treatment of akum. The first few deal in general situations; the last, from Hilchot Melachim, shows the limits of your philosophy of war:

    רמב"ם הלכות דעות פרק ב
    אסור לאדם להנהיג עצמו בדברי חלקות ופיתוי, ולא יהיה אחד בפה ואחד בלב אלא תוכו כברו והענין שבלב הוא הדבר שבפה, ואסור לגנוב דעת הבריות ואפילו דעת הנכרי, כיצד לא ימכור לנכרי בשר נבילה במקום בשר שחוטה, ולא מנעל של מתה במקום מנעל של שחוטה, ולא יסרהב בחבירו שיאכל אצלו והוא יודע שאינו אוכל, ולא ירבה לו בתקרובת והוא יודע שאינו מקבל, ולא יפתח לו חביות שהוא צריך לפותחן למוכרן כדי לפתותו שבשביל כבודו פתח וכן כל כיוצא בו, ואפילו מלה אחת של פיתוי ושל גניבת דעת אסור, אלא שפת אמת ורוח נכון ולב טהור מכל עמל והוות.

    רמב"ם הלכות סנהדרין פרק כד

    כל אלו הדברים לפי מה שיראה הדיין שזה ראוי לכך ושהשעה צריכה, ובכל יהיו מעשיו לשם שמים ואל יהיה כבוד הבריות קל בעיניו שהרי הוא דוחה את לא תעשה של דבריהם וכל שכן כבוד בני אברהם יצחק ויעקב המחזיקין בתורת האמת שיהיה זהיר שלא יהרס כבודם אלא להוסיף בכבוד המקום בלבד שכל המבזה את התורה גופו מחולל על הבריות והמכבד את התורה גופו מכובד על הבריות, ואין כבוד התורה אלא לעשות על פי חוקיה ומשפטיה.

    רמב"ם הלכות מלכים פרק ו

    הלכה א
    אין עושין מלחמה עם אדם בעולם עד שקוראין לו שלום אחד מלחמת הרשות ואחד מלחמת מצוה, שנאמר כי תקרב אל עיר להלחם עליה וקראת אליה לשלום, אם השלימו וקבלו שבע מצות שנצטוו בני נח עליהן אין הורגין מהן נשמה והרי הן למס, שנאמר יהיו לך למס ועבדוך, קבלו עליהן המס ולא קבלו העבדות או שקבלו העבדות ולא קבלו המס, אין שומעין להם עד שיקבלו שניהם, והעבדות שיקבלו הוא שיהיו נבזים ושפלים למטה ולא ירימו ראש בישראל אלא יהיו כבושים תחת ידם, ולא יתמנו על ישראל לשום דבר שבעולם, והמס שיקבלו שיהיו מוכנים לעבודת המלך בגופם וממונם, כגון בנין החומות, וחוזק המצודות, ובנין ארמון המלך וכיוצא בו, שנאמר וזה דבר המס אשר העלה המלך שלמה לבנות את בית ה' ואת ביתו ואת המלוא ואת חומת ירושלים ואת כל ערי המסכנות אשר היו לשלמה, כל העם הנותר מן האמורי ויעלם שלמה למס עובד עד היום הזה ומבני ישראל לא נתן שלמה עבד כי הם אנשי המלחמה ועבדיו ושריו ושלישיו ושרי רכבו ופרשיו.

    הלכה ב
    ויש למלך להתנות עמהם שיקח חצי ממונם, או הקרקעות ויניח כל המטלטלין, או המטלטלים ויניח הקרקעות, כפי מה שיתנה.

    הלכה ג
    ואסור לשקר בבריתם ולכזב להם אחר שהשלימו וקבלו שבע מצות.

    הלכה ד
    ואם לא השלימו או שהשלימו ולא קבלו שבע מצות, עושין עמהם מלחמה והורגין כל הזכרים הגדולים, ובוזזין כל ממונם וטפם, ואין הורגין אשה ולא קטן שנאמר והנשים והטף זה טף של זכרים, במה דברים אמורים במלחמת הרשות שהוא עם שאר האומות, אבל שבעה עממין ועמלק שלא השלימו אין מניחין מהם נשמה שנאמר כן תעשה לכל וגו' רק מערי העמים לא תחיה כל נשמה, וכן הוא אומר בעמלק תמחה את זכר עמלק, ומנין שאינו מדבר אלא באלו שלא השלימו שנאמר לא היתה עיר אשר השלימה אל בני ישראל בלתי החוי יושבי גבעון את הכל לקחו במלחמה כי מאת ה' היתה לחזק את לבם לקראת המלחמה את ישראל למען החרימם, מכלל ששלחו להם לשלום ולא קבלו.

    הלכה ה
    שלשה כתבים שלח יהושע עד שלא נכנס לארץ, הראשון שלח להם מי שרוצה לברוח יברח, וחזר ושלח מי שרוצה להשלים ישלים, וחזר ושלח מי שרוצה לעשות מלחמה יעשה, אם כן מפני מה הערימו יושבי גבעון, לפי ששלח להם בכלל ולא קבלו, ולא ידעו משפט ישראל ודימו ששוב אין פותחין להם לשלום, ולמה קשה הדבר לנשיאים וראו שראוי להכותם לפי חרב לולי השבועה, מפני שכרתו להם ברית, והרי הוא אומר לא תכרות להם ברית, אלא היה דינם שיהיו למס עבדים, והואיל ובטעות נשבעו להן בדין היה שיהרגו על שהטעום לולי חלול השם.

  16. B"H

    First of all, you are are using a censored version of the MT. It looks like of the Talmud as well, as you use the term aku"m (ovdei kokhavim u'mazaloth). Haza"l never used this term. This is a term invented by the censors.

    It continues to amaze me how Jews can continue to use such versions, when more accurate versions are readily available.

    I will, of course, assume that you are simply using this in the vernacular. It is inaccurate, but I will not take the time to nit pick here. Yet, I believe my point is made regarding the need to relieve ourselves of such influences.

    For future reference I recommend the Machon Mishnah Torah version of the MT with the commentary of Rav Yosef Qafah ztz"l

    That all being said, your references are not shayach. It is possible we are talking about two different things.

    All I'm am saying is that there may very well be an appropriate time and place for the real life manifestation of the pasuq in question, and yes, even in contemporary times.

    I do not believe that appropriate time and place is every waking hour.

    There are no stiroth between this statement and the halachoth you quoted from the Ramba"m.
    הלכות עבודה זרה פרק י

    י,א אין כורתין ברית לעובדי עבודה זרה, כדי שנעשה עימהם שלום ונניח אותם לעובדה--שנאמר "לא תכרות להם ברית" (דברים ז,ב): אלא יחזרו מעבודתה, או ייהרגו. ואסור לרחם עליהם, שנאמר "ולא תחונם" (שם). לפיכך אם ראה גוי עובד עבודה זרה אובד או טובע בנהר, לא יעלנו; ראהו לקוח למות, לא יצילנו. אבל לאבדו בידו, או לדוחפו לבור, וכיוצא בזה--אסור, מפני שאינו עושה עימנו מלחמה.

    While were on the topic of the Ramba"m, pay close attention to the last few words which were made quite purposefully. Wo when we are at war with them....guess what....

    Would you like to continue going back and forth with the Ramba"m?

  17. Hello Ben Yehudah,

    1) Actually, I'm not working with a censored edition. I do not see any variation from the text I printed and the Kapach. Please note any differences you find.

    2) Your etymology of "aku"m" is incorrect; it appears before the Christian censorship ever took hold.
    That said, I am using it as the vernacular for fairly obvious reasons.

    3) As I see it, we are, indeed, talking about different things. Three, in fact:

    a) That there are important differences between Yisrael and Amim. On this I believe we agree. I will break with you as far as superiority; as I understand numerous references in gemara and sifrei hashkafah, superiority is contingent on merit, not birth. (Yes, I am aware that certain mystics, such as Kuzari and Ramchal, will disagree.)

    b) That during a time of war, one is instructed to destroy the entire enemy population.
    As I see it, and the Rambam I cited from Hilchot Melachim backs me up explicitly, that is limited to a very narrow set of specific wars.
    As you see it, it applies to all war, and you bring as basis a tenuous implication from Hilchot Avodah Zarah. [It is tenuous because the Rambam there only describes those who are actively warring against you, and never makes the leap to the entire society.]

    c) That outside of war - specific wars according to me, all war according to you - there is no such imperative. I believe we agree on this.

    4) You asked, "Would you like to continue going back and forth with the Ramba"m?"
    I'd be glad to; why not? Cite whatever you have, please.

  18. (point by point)

    1. Well, the hallachoth are certainly off, but you did say text. I mention this because I have not been using the Machon Mishnah Torah version, rather the girsah of More Shlomo ben Avraham. However they are quite similar. I will check into this further.

    There are a words missing in yours and for example in the first piece you mention there is use of nochri instead of goy.

    Are you referring to the Machon Mishnah Torah girsah when you say Rav Qafah?

    2. I referring to when aku"m as a replacement for nochri or goy or AZ, a clear sign of censorship. As you know christians found this term less problematic. They didn't like them either, and it erase quite a bit of Talmudic finger pointing toward christianity. I cannot refute your statement about the general use of aku"m. I will look into this further.

    3. b. No stirah here. c. Plus, I was only referring to milhemeth misswah. I thought that was obvious, which was obviously a mistake on my part. There is mahloqeth in Israel regarding our current state of afairs. Some believe it is obvious that we are in MM. Others claim that certain technicalities prevent us from acting as if we are in a MM.

  19. Ben Yehudah-
    1) I am working from the Kapach edition published by Mossad haRav Kook in 1968. I am not familiar with the More Shlomo edition you cite, but neither the text nor the halachah # should be off.

    2) I am aware of the use of עכו"מ in that way, having delivered several lectures on the topic. However, it is silly to assume that when someone uses the term עכו"מ he automatically is using it as a galut term. Look in the teshuvot of the Gaonim as uncovered in the Cairo Genizah, which were clearly never subject to Church censorship, and you will find עכו"מ there as well.

    3. I believe the confusion on the milchemet mitzvah point arose from your conflation of wartime activities with general bein yisrael la'amim. Tafasta merubah lo tafasta; you would have been better off sticking to the context of milchamah.

  20. I happen to have a more recent version of the Mosad HaRav Kook ed. laying around. It is most definitely censored.

    The Machon Mishnah Torah ed. with Rav Qafah's commentary is accepted as the least effected by any censorship.

    The Mechon Mamre ed. matches the MMT edition for the most part, as well as the halachot numbering, which as I'm sure you'll agree can affect the context and interpretation, sometimes even drastically.

    Regarding aku"m, I am very interested in your mention of examples by the Geonim in the Cairo genizah, wondering if these are copies years after the original and from where...., and am looking into this.

    Using aku"m in the venacular I believe is imprecise, unless you are only referring to true ovdei kokhavim u'mazalot, and not as a general term inclusive of goy and nochri. When the gemara has been found to do this it is a sign of the tzanzura, as you know.

    I stand by my statement about using such a term [in an imprecise fashion, which you may or may not have been doing] as galuti. Mi shemevin, yevin.

    Please have the last word.

  21. Ben Yehudah-
    1) Last word or not, I would love to see any examples of censorship you have found in the Mossad haRav Kook Kapach edition.
    2) If we were to accept that terms used under threat of censorship should be verboten, we would have to drop various other commonplaces, such as "Shas" (replaced "Talmud"). I see no reason to do that, with a term the use of which predated censorship.