Man wearing a kippah (Emil Salman)
A man wearing a kippah (illustrative) Photo by Emil Salman
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A popular leaflet circulated in religious Zionist synagogues recently included an article that discussed death camps for "Amalekites."

"It would be interesting to know whether they will leave concentrating the Amalekites into death camps to others or perhaps decide that wiping out Amalek is no longer relevant," the "Ma'ayanei Hayeshua" leaflet said in an editorial. The "they" in question referred to moderate religious Zionist rabbis.

The Amalekites were a biblical nation whom the Bible commands the Jews to utterly destroy. There are no known descendants of the biblical Amalekites today, but the term is sometimes used to describe anyone deemed an irreconcilable enemy of the Jews.

The editorial, published four weeks ago, raised a furor in the religious Zionist community. It was intended as part of the community's ongoing debate over a letter signed by dozens of religious Zionist rabbis urging Jews not to rent or sell apartments to non-Jews.

Tzohar, an organization of moderate religious Zionist rabbis, publicly denounced the rabbis' letter, which was spearheaded by Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed. Ever since, "Ma'ayanei Hayeshua" has been leading a campaign against the letter's rabbinical opponents, and particularly those, like rabbis Yuval Cherlow and David Stav, who have given media interviews on the subject.

As part of this campaign, "Ma'ayanei Hayeshua" issued an unsigned editorial titled "Have men of faith gone astray?" about four weeks ago. The editorial attacked rabbis who, it said, are no more than "functionaries who don't want to make waves." These "career rabbis," it charged, do not want to take part in the "culture wars," insisting instead that controversial religious rulings reflect "only one side" of the religious debate and that "many other rabbis don't think like that."

The editorial then continued: "It would be interesting to see whether they [these rabbis] will leave concentrating the Amalekites into death camps to others or perhaps decide that wiping out Amalek is no longer relevant. Time will tell."

The leaflet's editors declined to say who they meant by "the Amalekites." But Eliyahu, while stressing that he was not the editorial's author, said he interpreted it as a query about what would happen should the issue of destroying Amalek ever arise in the future, rather than as a call to destroy any particular group of people today.

In an apology published the following week, the leaflet said it was sorry if any rabbis were hurt by the editorial and that it had not been intended as an attack on any rabbi in particular. It did not, however, refer to the "death camps" quote specifically.

Tens of thousands of copies of "Ma'ayanei Hayeshua" are distributed to religious Zionist synagogues for free every Friday, and it is considered very popular. The leaflet is published by an organization of the same name that tries to persuade secular Jews to become religiously observant. The organization, which is supported by both private donations and public funding, is also a leading voice of the conservative wing of religious Zionism, known as Hardal (a Hebrew acronym for ultra-Orthodox religious Zionist ).

The organization was founded and led by former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu until his death last year. Today, it is run by a triumvirate comprised of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of Beit El and Rabbi Yaakov Ariel of Ramat Gan.

The latter, ironically, also serves as president of Tzohar and has even issued a religious ruling against the rabbis' letter. But unlike those attacked in the leaflet, he has not expressed his views in the media.