An Amalek in Our Times?

Nadav Shragai
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Nadav Shragai

Purim 5768, just two weeks after the terrorist attack at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, transforms the annual, almost traditional, discussion over the image of Amalek and his offspring, Haman, into one that is more alert and pointed than ever.

The embodiment of the eternal evil, the one that attacked the weakness of the children of Israel as they left Egypt and which, according to a Torah commandment, must ostensibly be obliterated from the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 25:17-19), is each year associated by many in the religious public with Israel's enemies in contemporary times. The attack at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva intensified this association. Numerous sermons, articles and classes are being devoted this year to the relevance or lack thereof of the obliteration of the memory of Amalek in practical terms in our day and age.

The first to draw publicly the analogy between modern times and bygone days was Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, at the funeral of the murder victims. Then there was the resounding article published by the head of the Tzomet Institute, Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, who clarified, "Amalek as a concept and as the object of our battle and our hostility exists in each and every generation," and that "this does not refer to the ethnic Amalek, but to all those in whom there burns a deep and abiding hatred of Israel on a national or religious basis." The Holy One, Blessed Be He Himself, noted the rabbi, "with his own hands" confirmed the eternity of Amalek's hatred and the commandment to wage war against Amalek: "'Because the Lord has sworn by His throne.'" The hand of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, was raised in an oath on his throne that he will battle and be hostile to Amalek all over the world. We cannot, according to the rabbi, "flee from this Divine commandment even if we hide under the wings of 'the family of nations' and even if the commandment is difficult for us to bear and we have been discouraged."

Rabbi Rosen said: "Those who slaughter students poring over their Torah, those who rain Qassams down indiscriminately on men, women, old and young, babes and sucklings - those who hail the destruction of Israel and dance on the blood, are Amalek in our generation," and therefore "only with hostility, and by conquering our humane emotions that are contrary to that, will we be victorious."

The rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, also "has no moral problem with quashing the wicked - destroying Amalek from beginning to end," and Rabbi Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba also makes it clear that "whoever wants to overpower and destroy the Jewish people, the law of Amalek applies to him, with all that that entails."

'Abhor any bloodshed'

However, not everyone has an easy time with the practical application of the halakhic rules that apply when Amalek in our day and age is seemingly identified. One of them is the head of the hesder yeshiva in Holon, Rabbi Elazar Aharonson. Aharonson is perhaps not deterred by labeling as "Amalek" the terror that afflicts us in Sderot and in Mercaz Harav, but at the same time, he thanks God for the fact that today it is no longer possible to identify Amalek and says of himself that he is very uncomfortable with the prophet Samuel's command to King Saul: "Now go and smite Amalek and utterly destroy all that they have and spare them not; and but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" (I Samuel 15:3).

"Are we even capable of that?" asks Rabbi Aharonson. "Are we capable of going and slaughtering and killing infants and children, men and women and old people? It's hard for me to imagine ourselves in such a situation and it is absolutely clear to me that this must be how we all should feel, it is a normal and natural feeling to abhor any bloodshed and to view extremely negatively any mass murder." In practice, Aharonson explains, we don't look for Amalekites in order to kill them, because the Oral Torah exempts from doing so, just as we don't marry our daughters off when they are young, because the Oral Torah forbids us to do so, even though the Written Torah permits it.

Over the weekend, Rabbi Daniel Shilo, a former head of the Yesha Council of settlements rabbis, clearly said some things in this same spirit: "As far as halakha is concerned, Amalek does not exist. No member of the ancient peoples can be identified today. There is no Amalek that exists today whose memory must be erased, and even in the ancient period, the obligation to erase Amalek does not apply to an Amalek that came to terms with Israel and accepted on itself the laws of the sons of Noah."

Shilo stresses that even in the original Purim "the reins were not released. The Jews fought only their tormentors, their enemies and those who hate them, the 'armies and country that oppress them,' and not innocent people and not as an individual act, but 'they gathered' a community that takes responsibility and has no isolated individuals who break through fences."

Shilo, like many of his colleagues who dealt with this subject after the attack at Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, also wants revenge. Not the revenge of an individual, but rather "the revenge of a people, nation and army." Not revenge against random unfortunates and passersby, but official revenge against those who spur the killings, those who dispatch the murderers and those who encourage them, a "revenge of the mighty and not of the weak-minded."

The main thing, as far as Shilo is concerned, is the memory, and the understanding that even in our generation there may be a battle against an enemy with no conditions.



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