Shalom Shore

Revenge: A Jewish Concept

Lately, the op-eds and Facebook comments of many popular Jewish websites have been overflowing with revenge-disparaging rhetoric.

“Revenge is not a Jewish idea”; “If we respond with vengeance, they have won” are the sentiments of the day in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish boys by Palestinian terrorists; as well as the words of condemnation in response to the revenge killing of an Israeli-Arab boy by Jewish vigilantes.

I am strongly opposed the random killing of an innocent boy, and believe that that act was a despicable one. But such acts should not be condemned with blanket statements like “Revenge is not a Jewish concept”, because this is simply wrong.

Read the words

The Torah (bible) and Jewish liturgy contain multiple references to revenge, both in an idealized “I hope God takes revenge for us” one day, as well as anecdotal instances of Jews taking revenge and being praised for it.

Here are some examples:

The Jewish people are commanded to go to war against an opposing nation; a nation which had caused them only spiritual harm:

Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites; afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.


-Numbers 31:2

God condones Pinchas’ act of vengeance against an Israelite prince, killed while copulating with a Midianite princess:

Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned My wrath away from the children of Israel, in that he was very jealous for My sake among them, so that I consumed not the children of Israel in My jealousy.


-Numbers 25:11

King David, one of the role models of the Jewish people, randomly executes two thirds of the opposing forces he captures:

And he smote Moab, and measured them with the line, making them to lie down on the ground; and he measured two lines to put to death, and one full line to keep alive.


-Samuel II 8:2

We pray every week for revenge against Jewish victims of anti-Semitism throughout the generations:

Let it be known amongst the nations, before our eyes, the revenge of the spilt blood of your servants.


-Shabbat morning prayers

It says what?

Whether or not these quotes insult your delicate liberal sensibilities, the first step is to acknowledge they exist.

You may wish that weren’t the case- that revenge didn’t exist in Judaism.

Maybe because of the delusion that your anti-Semitic neighbors might hate you less. Or maybe because Jews are supposed to be a “moral people” – the definition of which only you and your ivory tower compadres get to decide.

But it is simply not so, as these sources indicate.

If you do not believe in these sources, or dismiss them outright, the question then becomes: who are “the Jewish people” that you so strongly believe shouldn’t carry out revenge? Without their biblical tradition and historical roots, are the Jewish people just a bunch of bagel-eating schmaltz drinkers? Because then there is no reason for you to hold them to a higher standard than any other people in the world.

Put down that knife

These sources do need to be put in perspective though.

A general theme amongst many of these quotes is the attitude not of revenge-for-revenge’s-sake, but rather revenge for the sake of God’s name and honor as it is expressed via the mission of the Jewish people.

The Jews are God’s chosen people, and an attack against them is an attack against God. Revenge, whether from God directly or via the Jewish people, is an act of restoring that honor.

But the fact remains that revenge is a Jewish concept. And blanket statements to the contrary are an indication of ignorance, liberalism, and an aching desire to be loved and accepted by all those judgmental nations around you.

Which you really ought to stop doing, because they will hate you anyway.

Let us stop the obsessive kissing-up and white-washing that we so passionately engage in, and channel our energies instead to the understanding the Jewish concept of revenge in theory and the means via which we should, can, and must put this value into practice.

About the Author
Shalom Tzvi Shore is a hypnotherapist and web designer who keeps finding himself struggling with life's biggest questions. All the views expressed in this blog are his personal ones, and do not reflect the opinions of any organisation he works for. In fact, very few people agree with anything he has to say.
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