Monday, January 26, 2009

Vengeance is Not Jewish

Do people enjoy vengeance? Getting back at those they see as hurting them?

I don't really, but I wonder if that's due to my generally conflict-averse nature. Don't get me wrong -- I understand the motive for retribution, and I feel it as strong as anyone else. It's maddening to sit back and be hurt by someone, and do nothing about it. Obviously, sometimes there are constructive paths to "do something about it", and I prefer to pursue those, but sometimes there aren't. Sometimes it really feels like you either have to sit and take it, or hit back.

But I do know that when I hit back, I don't actually feel much better. I just feel sad in a different way. More conflict. More hurt. More pain.

7 comments:

PG said...

I'm puzzled by your post title. This obviously is coming from a Christianity-centric education, but I thought one way Christians distinguished the "old law" from the world post-Christ was that Old Testament God was a fan of vengeance and retribution: eye for an eye, etc.; whereas New Testament Jesus is all "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles."

Obviously the Old Testament was premised more on setting up a rule of law, so that the eye for an eye was exacted by a person with the authority to punish wrongdoers rather than as personal vengeance, whereas Jesus was speaking of individual morality.

But if this is a reference to the I/P situation, it seems to me that Israel's actions are to some extent compliant with the Old Testament law. So far as I know, the Israeli government does not condone individuals' taking vengeance on Hamas for the rockets and other civilian-targeting violence, but instead considers itself to have the responsibility of exacting whatever retribution is necessary. (And frames it not as retribution, but as deterrence or destruction of Hamas's capacity to engage in violence. Retribution mostly has a bad name among governments and sophisticated people generally.)

David Schraub said...

You need to watch more West Wing, PG.

Matt said...

I'm not sure that most people enjoy vengeance -I think plenty do- but most people do enjoy being angry.

PG said...

David,

I hear that a lot.

Matt,

Really? I associate anger with being upset, with all of the unpleasant physical manifestations thereof. I am much more likely to cry out of angry frustration than out of sorrow, and sometimes it makes my stomach hurt (I totally sympathized with David's upchuck episode). I dislike the adrenaline rush that, in modern society, is basically useless because we don't get into fistfights with those making us angry. (This also is impossible because the people making me angry often are internet people.) I certainly enjoy debate, or mockery, but I don't like being angry. What are the positive feelings that people associate with anger?

Joe said...

Not everyone seems to agree with the assertion in your post title.

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1058758.html

Moreover, I'm not sure how you get from the content of your post to the title assertion, unless you are saying "I personally am against vengeance and I am Jewish, therefore vengeance is not Jewish." Which would be problematic.

In this same vein, I hear similar assertions ("hate is un-Christian" or "Islam is a religion of peace") all the time. Of course, there seem to be many who self-identify as members of these groups who would beg to differ. I think it's difficult to speak of these concepts as alien to a (broadly defined) religion because it sounds a lot like drawing a definitional boundary around this or that thing the speaker dislikes while still trying to hold onto some broad identity. That's why I think labels like "un-American" (even in a non-McCarthyist context) are more or less useless.

Sorry if this is considered a derail. I guess I'm not exactly sure what the original post was in light of.

David Schraub said...

West Wing! I can't believe that anyone reads my blog that doesn't watch The West Wing!

Joe said...

Season?