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This was my contribution to the shul newsletter celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of my younger son who read maftir of Ki Tetze:

How can we relate to those of whatever persuasion who breach the peaceful sanctity of a House of G-d through acts of violence?

Today’s Sedrah concludes with the command: ‘Blot out the memory of Amalek’ (Devarim 25:19). On Purim 1994, a Jewish man, Baruch Goldstein, entered a mosque in Hebron and started shooting people, equating Arabs with Amalek. If we identify enemies of Israel today with Amalek, it is a short step to believing that we are commanded to ‘wipe them out’.

It is therefore important to teach our own children that Amalek is not to be identified with anyone today. We learn in the Talmud (Berachot 28a) that Sennacherib, King of Assyria, ‘mixed up the nations’ long ago. According to this teaching, since Amalekites cannot be identified today it follows that it is impossible nowadays to fulfil ‘Blot out the memory’ by killing Amalekites.

Nevertheless, historically Jews have identified Amalek with various nations such as Rome and Germany. We need a ‘fence around the Torah’ when we feel driven to ‘religious’ violence: the inner ear of conscience. HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein zt’l (d. 2015) wrote (in ‘Halacha VaHalachim’): ‘Of course, a Jew must be ready to answer the call “I am here” if the command “to offer him up as an offering” is thrust upon him [a reference to the Akedah – Binding of Isaac]. However, prior to unsheathing his sword, he is permitted, even obligated, to clarify if indeed this is what has actually been commanded. ...To the extent that there is a need and room for Halachic exegesis – and this must be clarified – a sensitive and insightful conscience is one of the factors that help to shape the decision-making process.’

I had to cut a lot out, as there was a word limit of 300 words.

I would have liked to reference the fine essay
by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgott in Mikra and Meaning,
“Amalek: Ethics,Values, and Halachic development”

Also worth a read for those troubled by the Amalek mitzvah are Gil Student's blog posts:


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February 2017

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