Asking the clergy: Scripture and revenge

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'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth . . . " (Exodus 21:24) At first glance, that easily quotable scripture seems to be about revenge. But, is it really? We asked the clergy, "How does Scripture view revenge?"

Cantor Eric Schulmiller, Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore, Plandome:

The Jewish religion has very strong feelings when it comes to issues of justice. Revenge, which is acting out against a personal grudge, is looked down upon. Leviticus 19 specifically prohibits vengeance or bearing a grudge. You should act out of compassion and love toward your neighbor.

The Talmud actually takes it a step further. In a section called Yoma, it explains that taking revenge can be as simple as when you ask someone to lend you one of their tools and they say no. The next day, the person asks to borrow one of your tools and you say no and tell them that you're not lending yours today because he didn't lend his yesterday. Even if you lend the tool, but tell the person you'll lend him yours even though he didn't lend you one yesterday, that is wrong. We're expected to open our hearts and remove spitefulness from them.

Yes, there are certain stories in scripture of people who take revenge. There are instances where God seems to act in a vengeful manner. Even so, it is biblically commanded that we do not take revenge or bear a grudge against our fellow human beings.

This doesn't mean we ignore the concept of justice, but justice must be absent spitefulness and revenge. Any time there is a commandment against something, it is because it is something we as humans would want to do.

Imam Ibrahim Negm, visiting scholar at the Islamic Center of Long Island, Westbury; senior adviser to the Grand Mufti of Egypt and official spokesman of Al-Azhar University, Cairo:

The Quranic view of revenge is that it is a futile emotion at best, and destructive at worst. As a result, the attitude of a believer must be to overcome desires for revenge through properly orienting oneself toward the purpose of one's life: to live in a state of obedience to God, and to constantly strive to better oneself and progress spiritually. This is why the Quran reminds believers on how to deal with feelings of revenge: "The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better. Then he, between whom and you there was enmity will become as though he was a close friend" (Quran 41:34). As this verse shows, this is a necessary component for creating and maintaining a healthy society, in which people actively try to create harmony between themselves and their neighbors.

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This is why, although Islam is known for its keen sense of justice, the Quran is clear that even when one may be legally entitled to retaliation or compensation, the better course of action -- for the sake of one's soul and societal harmony -- is always forgiveness: The Muslim's watchword must be that of forgiveness even when he is entitled to justice: "The recompense for an injury is an equal injury. But if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from God. For God loves not those who do injustice" (Quran 42:40).

The Rev. William Brisotti, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Wyandanch:

If you look to the Old Testament, there is Scripture (Romans 12:19) that says, "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." But, in the New Testament it shows that he also is all-merciful. As Jesus says to St. Peter when Peter wants to pick up a sword to defend him (Matthew 26:52), "Then said Jesus unto him, 'Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.' " When asked how many times one must forgive, "Jesus saith unto him, 'I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven' " (Matthew 18:22), or an infinite number of times. Vengeance should not be part of the life of followers of the Judeo-Christian Bible.

We are a world where the nation with the most guns has the most say. But, physical strength is not the measure of human strength. Those are the things we learn from the teaching of Jesus. Battle stories are in the Old Testament, but none in the New Testament. If we read the Scriptures from the point of view of St. Francis of Assisi, he was someone who rejected violence, wealth and power. If you read the Bible from the point of view of pacifism, you will find nothing in the teachings of Jesus about fighting back. We should fight evil with good.

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