The Place of Revenge in Jewish Culture

‘To be My vengeance and recompense’ (translated from Hebrew; Deuteronomy 32:35): recruitment poster by Ernest Mechner and Otte Wallish, for the Jewish Brigade in Palestine, 1945.

Shachar Pinsker at Aeon: Since 7 October 2023, nekama (‘vengeance’ or ‘revenge’ in Hebrew) has emerged as one of the key words in Israeli public life. We’ve heard discussion of nekama from the government, the Knesset, the media, the army, social networks, synagogue bulletins, and in popular culture. Perhaps the most immediate and relevant invocation came on the same day of Hamas’s attack, from the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who declared: ‘The IDF will immediately employ all its power to destroy Hamas’s capabilities. We will strike them until they are crippled, and we will avenge with full force this black day they inflicted upon the State of Israel and its citizens.’ In the past few months, there were many poems on revenge written by Israelis, some of them IDF soldiers.

Like many basic concepts, there is really no consensual definition for revenge, or for its relation to near-synonyms such as ‘vengeance’ or even ‘retaliation’ and ‘retribution’. It seems certain, though, that revenge is connected to the realm of emotions and affect, for there can be a desire or a fantasy of vengeance without actualization. But, of course, it also describes actions. The thirst for revenge animates much of the world of tragic literature, and it is a common element in art, theater and cinema. Revenge begins within the family or tribe but it expands beyond, to town or sect or king or nation.

Revenge has a distinctive and dynamic relationship to time: it is caused by an act of wrong that happened in the past as an explanation for the present moment, but it is also directed towards the future…

More here.