“…choose life, so that you will live…”
— Deuteronomy, 30:19
On November 13, Sarah Litman’s father and brother were murdered in a Palestinian attack, part of the current wave of Palestinian terror that started on October 1, and has continued daily. Sarah’s wedding to Ariel Biegel had been scheduled to take place on November 16. In circumstances like this, what do you do? Cancel the wedding? If you are Sarah and Ariel, you postpone it until the end of the period of mourning prescribed by Jewish law, to November 27. You then extend an invitation to the wedding via social media to all the world and you broadcast a live video of the joyous event. Thousands of people from around the world showed up, including Sarah Netanyahu, the Prime Minister’s wife. Many others, like myself, watched it online.
In this way, Sarah and Ariel rejected despair and chose life over death for, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, a wedding is an affirmation of life, a sacred new beginning for the couple and the prelude to the imitation of God by the creation of new life. In Jewish mystical tradition, each soul is originally both male and female. God splits it in half and, after birth, each half is tasked with finding the other—its soul mate. In marriage, the soul becomes whole again, and the couple must then comply with God’s commandment, and life’s biological imperative, to be fruitful and multiply. Choose life and you will live.
It works somewhat differently for devout Muslims, apparently.
In early November another wedding took place, when 22-year old Raed Jaradat was betrothed to 17-year old Dania Ersheed. The youngsters hadn’t met before the wedding, but each had participated in stabbing attacks on Israeli soldiers. And, as is usual in these cases, each had been shot dead by Israeli police.
Dania had been buried first, and Raed the following day. It was at Raed’s funeral that his father requested the hand of Dania in marriage to his son. Dania’s father agreed and a graveyard wedding between the two “martyrs” took place, with lots of singing and dancing and cries of “Allahu akbar.”
The marriage of Raed and Dania is a variation on a common theme to Palestinian Muslims; that is, the perception of the “martyred” son as a groom and the funeral as a wedding. The mother is honored by her son’s suicide and she exults in her status as mother of the groom. In the death of a child, the family finds reason to celebrate.
And why not? The son’s death has certain externalities that accrue to his family’s benefit, for they are often compensated for their loss by the Abbas government or one of its terrorist arms. Additionally, there is a Hadith which grants forgiveness for the sins of seventy of the child’s relatives. As for the son, he’s dead, of course, but 72 beautiful black-eyed virgins await him in paradise.
Choose death, my son. Choose death.
So what happens when Raed finds out that he’s been married posthumously to Dania, who is moreover joining him in paradise as a fellow martyr? The Koran is not clear on this point, though some would-be female suicide bombers have spoken of their expectation of becoming “chief of the 72 virgins, the fairest of the fair.”
Though Muslim scholars have debated whether men remained married to their wives in heaven, the question of a wife posthumously acquired has not arisen previously. Here is the perfect topic for someone’s doctoral dissertation at Al Quds U.
But I digress.
One thing is certain, though. Raed and Dania will never experience the joy of a union blessed by God, or the joy of procreation. Dania will never hold a child in her arms. The couple won’t raise a family, see their children marry, become grandparents. They have chosen death, as have their surviving families, and all those who’ve had a hand in shaping their destinies.
The response to this choice that God put before us—whether to choose life—is a fundamental civilizational difference between Islam and the Judeo-Christian tradition. As Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has often said: “We love death like our enemies love life!” Until we understand this, we will not understand the existential threat that faces us today.
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