Simcha from Hirhurim has addressed this question recently (here and here). Simcha (not his real name), an Orthodox rabbi by ordination though not by profession, discusses halachic issues, but not for purposes of psak; "Consult your rabbi before following any practices advocated here," he warns.
Simcha brings various sources to argue that one should not rejoice at Arafat's death. To summarize very briefly, he argues:
- That one rejoices in the enemy's downfall only when it follows the salvation of Israel from its enemies; this is not the case today. "Our enemies are still very much alive and powerful."
- That only the pure of heart is prepared to rejoice in the destruction of the wicked; one must be motivated by love of God, not pleasure in another's calamity; this requires a lofty spiritual status which we lack today.
- That while it is good when evildoers die, it would be better had they repented. We should not rejoice in this.
- That the Israelites rejoiced at the Red Sea because they were personally saved from Egypt by a miracle. "Applying this to our current situation, no one is being saved by a miracle when a terrorist like Arafat lives to the ripe old age of 70+ and then dies of natural causes. This is not a miracle and no one is saved by this."
Several prominent Israeli rabbis have already publicly ruled that one should feel joy at Arafat's death, though the question of whether it is proper to celebrate seems less clear.
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim compares Arafat to Haman (hat tip), emphasizing the extent of his enmity and cruelty towards the Jews. He argues that the difference between the angels, who were scolded for praising God at the destruction of the Egyptians, and the Israelites who sang God's praises, is that the angels never suffered at the hands of Egypt. The Israelites, who did, rightfully praised God at Egypt's downfall. "Regarding Arafat, one should say, 'let rejoicing pass through the camp' (Kings I 22:36) and one should say, 'At the destruction of evildoers, rejoicing' (Proverbs 11:10)."
Rabbi Yosef Elnekaveh, rabbi of the Gaza communities, appears to object to publicly celebrating Arafat's death, noting that we must remember with sadness all the evil Arafat perpetrated and the people killed and maimed by his hand. At the same time, we should be joyful that he will do so no longer. He rejects suggestions that Arafat may have repented. He also dismisses questions about who may replace him, noting that he was deserving of death long ago regardless of who his successor may be. Overall, he emphasizes that we must not allow Arafat's evil to be forgotten or blurred. (He further objects to Israel permitting his burial in Eretz Yisrael.)
Rabbi Ratzon Arusi, chief rabbi of Kiryat Ono and a member of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate council, says that regarding enemies of the Jewish people who work to destroy us, we must fight them and mock them, citing the verse, "At the destruction of evildoers, rejoicing." But he warns that this joy must not derive from cruelty or meanspiritedness, but rather must be an expression of gratitude to God.
Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, head of the hesder yeshiva of Petach Tikva, writes, "At the death of a murderer and the destruction of evildoers there is great rejoicing. We are very happy that the world is released from such a murderer. This happiness comes despite the fact that his successor may be worse for us, and this possibility does not cancel the great joy in the death of an evildoer."
Rabbi Sherlo further notes that on hearing the good news of Arafat's death, one should make the blessing of "hatov v'hametiv," "He who is good and does good." He notes that this blessing is made even if there is a chance that something bad may follow the good. "It will be a joyous day when he [Arafat] releases us from his presence."
To return to Simcha's arguments, he appears to me to have deliberately selected sources to support his position (see his prefatory comments to this post). True, Israel has not been saved from its enemies. But we have substantially defeated the intifada, eliminating many of its leaders and clearly breaking its back. Israel has survived Arafat and continues to grow stronger, more vibrant, more successful, despite our many enemies. Arafat died humiliated and isolated, his once-glorious compound reduced to rubble (all the more reason it's a mistake to allow him to be entombed there respectfully), having failed to achieve his political objectives or even to chart out a route towards them.
The Palestinians have no clear successor to Arafat, who singlehandedly symbolized their fight against us and controlled their organizations with an iron fist. They rightfully see his passing as the end of an era for them; we should not underestimate its significance. He was the embodiment of evil, the inventor of modern terrorism, the ally of dictators and thugs the world over, the inspiration for al-Qaeda and many others. The world is a better place without him. We would be remiss not to be thankful that God has finally taken him - even though we would have preferred him to die long ago.
I'd like to conclude by again quoting Simcha:
All the Jews I know seem to be relishing the prospect of Arafat's death. I dread it. The obituaries for this Nobel Peace Prize winner are likely to be so frustratingly full of lies and misinformation.
This alone, in my mind, is a strong argument in favor of celebrating at his death. He will be laid to rest in a formal state funeral, with world leaders paying their respects and the media praising his statesmanship and his "courage in seeking peace". It is imperative that we not play this game. We must not allow him any more respect than we would a dead dog. That means, in part, that we must somberly recall his victims and the depth of his evil. It means, as well, that we must publicly demonstrate how glad we are that he is gone. We must show the world our joy at his passing, our gratitude that he will do no more evil, our satisfaction at outlasting our enemy.
May his memory be cursed.