David Gelernter is a favorite writer of mine. He is Jewish, has a wide grasp of the Bible’s teaching, appreciates the Christian tradition with respect, and the last I knew still lived in Jerusalem. In the current issue of The Weekly Standard (January 15, 2007) I believe that he got it about right when he said that Saddam Hussein’s death was "a triumph for one of the noblest of all causes: the sanctity of justice no matter how powerful the criminal, no matter how poor or powerless the victim."
Gelernter correctly appeals to Proverbs 24:17 which says "Do not gloat when your enemies fall." He rightly reminds us that the classical rabbinical tradition cites this very verse whem it urges us to never celebrate the death of an enemy no matter how evil he might have been. As much as I longed to see Saddam brought to justice his death was not a cause for gloating but for mourning, in the right sense. This is most especially true with regard to all the people he brutally killed who will not be brought back to life by this act of justice.
Gelernter rightly suggests that there are several important reasons why this death was correct, even though the act itself was botched in terms of public decency. First, such an execution makes it impossible for such a strongman to ever rally his followers to return him to power. Second, by doing justice we pin a criminal’s crimes on his back and thus give evil a local habitation and a real name. We make it "concrete . . . plain that it will be defeated in the end." Finally, the death of such a despot makes a clear proclamation to the world that "the strong may not terrorize the weak, not now and not ever." In many instances in history this was not done and the results were not good in the long run.
Gelernter rightly concludes that the Bible reminds us that we should never rejoice over our fallen enemies. But, he adds, it also has a second message that applies in this case: "Follow justice and justice alone" (Deuteronomy 16:20). Well said. The death penalty may be questioned in some instances but this is one case where I feel it served exactly the purposes God intended as revealed in Holy Scripture.