A 7.3 magnitude tremor, the largest earthquake in Iraq’s history, struck on Sunday just a few miles from the Iraq-Iran border, killing over 335 Iranians in what one prominent rabbi understood as divine judgment.
The earthquake, the largest to hit the Middle East in five years and the largest ever recorded in Iraq, struck at 9:18 PM local time on Sunday, followed soon after by over 100 aftershocks. Seven people were reported dead in Iraq, and over 350 wounded. The most disastrous results were felt in neighboring Iran, where in addition to 335 killed, over 4,500 people were injured.
At least 300 people have been killed in an earthquake that shook the border region between Iraq and Iran.
Rescue teams are still searching for survivors. pic.twitter.com/KPwyjWlNvz
— AJ+ (@ajplus) November 13, 2017
The earthquake that was so devastating in Iran was felt as a gentle tremor in Israel, noticeable but not a cause for alarm.
BREAKING: Powerful earthquake strikes the Iraq-Iran border. It was felt as far as Israel. This is footage from an Israeli household pic.twitter.com/uwdEDkGGat
— Shulem Stern (@ShulemStern) November 12, 2017
Rabbi Yosef Dayan, a former member of the Sanhedrin, emphasized that this recent catastrophe in Iran should be perceived as divine retribution, since one of the Hebrew names for God, ‘Elohim’, represents the aspect of judgement brought about through nature.
“Though it is impossible to understand entirely God’s will or how he acts in the world, we are required to see his hand in everything that happens,” Rabbi Dayan told Breaking Israel News. “We have to recognize that God judges the world. It is our role to differentiate between good and evil, to be happy when good is rewarded and even to be happy when evil is punished.”
The rabbi cited Psalms as a source for this.
The righteous man will rejoice when he sees revenge; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. Men will say, “There is, then, a reward for the righteous; there is, indeed, divine justice on earth.” Psalms 58:11-1
He added that the punishment is harsh. “Any country that threatens others with total destruction, like Iran has done, it is forbidden to show mercy, even to the individuals that are not directly guilty,” the rabbi said. “They will require you to show mercy but they do not ever show mercy.”
Rabbi Dayan stated that this is one of the lessons Israel learned at the parting of the Red Sea.
Sing to Hashem, for He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea. Exodus 15:21
“What did the horses do that they deserved to be drowned?” the rabbi asked rhetorically. “Just so, even the Iranians who did not take part in the evil of their government are being judged along with their rulers. In the end-of-days, there will be a return of nations, and every person will be judged as part of a nation and not just as an individual.”
Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf, a Jewish educator, disagreed, opining that while the death of innocents is indeed “up to God”, Jews should not rejoice at their judgment or withhold mercy.
“I pray three times a day that a catastrophic event hit Iran in order to destroy Iran’s nuclear and conventional weapons,” Rabbi Apisdorf told Breaking Israel News. “That doesn’t mean I want to see people get hurt. But how that happens, I leave it up to God.
“I am very happy when evil people die. When Yasser Arafat died, I was very happy. But when people die who don’t have their fingers on the triggers, people who on most levels seem innocent, I don’t rejoice. I accept it as the method by which God’s will was done.”
The question of whether to show mercy to an enemy is not just theoretical in this case. Israel is well known to be among the first to offer help to other nations in natural disasters all around the world. In 2016, the United Nation’s World Health Organization recognized the Israeli army’s field hospital as “the number one in the world.”
After Iran’s earthquake in 2003, Israel offered assistance, but the hand stretched out in friendship was slapped away.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran accepts all kinds of humanitarian aid from all countries and international organizations with the exception of the Zionist regime,” an Iranian government spokesman said at the time.
In 2012, two more earthquakes hit Iran. Israel did not offer assistance, nor has it offered any in light of Iran’s current crisis, though Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz officially expressed sympathy to the countries.
In any case, this recent catastrophe may be a prelude of things to come. Iran sits on a major fault line between the Arabia and Eurasia plates and deadly quakes are not uncommon. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck the city of Bam in southeast Iran, killing around 31,000 people.