On Celebrating When Bad People Get Sick

by Gordon Haber

Everyone around the world come on!

When a certain very famous and very horrible person got sick, a lot of people celebrated, and then a lot of other people said that celebration was inappropriate. 

Some fellow Jews, however, counterclaimed that it is perfectly appropriate to wish suffering upon horrible people. 

I wasn’t sure if that was correct, at least from a Jewish perspective. There are so many misapprehensions about Judaism, even among Jews themselves. 

I mean, we do have a holiday, Purim, when we celebrate the hanging of Haman, the guy who tried to kill all the Jews in Persia. (See Esther. The book, not some lady named Esther.)

There is also the Song of the Sea, שירת הים, which the Jews sang after the Egyptian Army drowned in the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-18), followed by Miriam’s pithier song:

Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously
Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.

Sounds celebratory to me! 

Miriam looking smug

However, from the dim recesses of my memory, I recalled a discussion from Hebrew school of a passage from Talmud, Megillah 10b. Rabbi Yochanan claims that the when the Egyptians drowned, the angels wanted to sing. But God admonished them:

The work of My hands drowning at sea, and you say songs?

Meaning that the Egyptians were God’s creation as well, and it was inappropriate to celebrate their destruction. 

So the angels celebrated and were admonished. The Hebrews celebrated and were not. And the Torah is full of admonishment—cross the line, and God has no problem striking you with sickness or killing you outright. In the Torah, if God doesn’t want you singing, you’d know. You’d be a chalk outline. 

Okay, so it is permissible, for human beings at least, to celebrate the sufferings of horrible people. But the question was if it is appropriate.

Meaning: Is it a good idea? Does it set the right example for our peers? Our children? What impression does it create of us?

I am not asking the latter question out of fear. Some folks are going to hate us no matter what we say or do. But that doesn’t release us from the responsibility of thinking about what we say or do.

Nor am I wagging any fingers. Because I feel great that this horrible person is ill. I want to break out the timbrels and sing like Miriam.

So here is my conclusion. It is likely appropriate to celebrate the defeat of an enemy army. It is likely inappropriate, if not necessarily sinful, to celebrate when a person gets ill.

I, however, am not a big enough person to live up to my own conclusion. Make of that, and of me, what you will.