[Excerpt about the tradition of Amalek from the Holocaust chapter]:


     In the case of yet another ancient Israelite genocide (this one more successful) against the Amalekites, even one of the foremost modern scholars on the Old Testament, Bernard Anderson, turns apologist -- in apparent deference to the all-pervasiveness of Judeo-Christian thinking in Western culture -- when he argues that the modern viewer should suspend moral judgment about Jewish-inspired genocide in their religio-historical origins:
        "Through the [Israelite] prophet Samuel, [King] Saul was given a divine
         command to utterly destroy [the Amalekites] -- man, woman, child,
         cattle, and goods ... According to modern ethical standards, this act of
         total extermination was a barbarous thing (though it was scarcely less
         refined than modern warfare!) But instead of making a value judgment
         from our standpoint, let us try to understand the act within the religious
         perspective of ancient Israel." [ANDERSON, p. 172]
     As the Torah/Old Testament commands: "Now go and smite Amalek, and exterminate everything that is his. Don't pity him, but kill man, woman, infant and nursling, ox, sheep, camel and ass." [SAMUEL 15:2-3]
         Saul in fact initially spared the King of the Amalekites, Agag, and confiscated some prime livestock. For Saul's reluctance to blindly obey the word of the Israelite God and exterminate every living thing, he was considered to have "sinned" and was severely reprimanded by the prophet Samuel. Eventually Saul attempted to make amends by personally hacking Agag "in pieces." [I SAMUEL 15. 1-33] "So decisively did [Saul] defeat [the Amalekites]," says scholar Bernhard Anderson, "that they vanished from the historical scene shortly afterwards." [ANDERSON, p. 172]
     "Heretics, false prophets, witches, communities harboring apostates, and the six Amorite nations that occupied Canaan at the time of the Israelite conquest," notes Joshua Cohen, "are all sentenced to extermination in the book of Deuteronomy. But the cherem [the sentence of "extermination"] on Amalek, is the most renowned ban in all of Jewish tradition. It is pronounced twice: in Exodus, Chapter 17, and again in Deuteronomy, Chapter 25." [COHEN, J. p. 290]
     Even more troubling, the Old Testament asserts that "the Lord will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages." [EXODUS 17:16] "Amalekites," notes the Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, "were regarded as Israel's inveterate foes, whose annihilation became a sacred obligation ... Only after the final destruction of the Amalekites will God and his throne be complete." [WERBLOWSKY, R., p. 41]  The Old Testament commands Jews to literally "blot out the memory of Amalek," an order that, as part of continuous religious review, ironically ensures that it can never be forgotten. On the contrary, such a religious sanction secures, notes Joshua Cohen, "the enduring presence of bigotry in [Jewish] sacred teachings." [COHEN, p. 299]
     A disturbing modern perspective on the Amalekites is their reinvention in some Orthodox and Zionist Jewish minds as Arabs (and any other non-Jews, or even Jews, that are understood to want to "destroy" Israel. Michael Asheri's Amalek, for instance, is generic Germans.) [ASHERI, M., 1983, p. 340]
     Rabbi Avraham Weiss (who we will meet again later in this chapter assaulting a convent in Poland) explains that:
       "The affirmative Torah commandment is to destroy those who bear the
        seed of Amalek. Since the halakha has ruled that Amalek does not
        exist today, the commandment cannot be carried out. Rav [Rabbi]
        Haim Soloveitchik, however, maintained that there are two forms of
        Amalek. There is the genetic Amalek, and there is the figurative
        Amalek, which constitutes any nation willing to destroy Israel. Basing
        themselves on this position, Kahanists [the followers of Rabbi Meir
        Kahane] argue that Arabs are figurative Amalek. Thus, when Arabs
        were indiscriminately killed, the classic Kahanist response was, "We
        were not involved, but we applaud the action." Thus, after Ami Popper
        murdered seven Arabs, Rabbi Kahane suggested that a street be named
        after him. Thus, the Hevron massacre [Baruch Goldstein's murder of 29
        Arabs at prayer in a mosque] has been defended in some circles not on
        rounds of national warfare, but on the grounds of fighting against
        Amalek. Rav Joseph B. Soloveitch [says that] every individual who
        bears the genes of Amalek must be wiped out. With regard to the
        figurative Amalek, on the other hand, one is mandated to engage in
        warfare against any nation that attempts to destroy the Jewish people."
        [WEISS,  p. 50]
     Who then, one must inevitably be drawn to wonder, might be included as the (figurative) enemies of (figurative) Israel who seeks to (figuratively) destroy it?  "The name Amalek," observes Joshua Cohen, "has taken on a symbolic meaning in Jewish tradition ... To most Jews, Amalek represents the malign genius of anti-Semitism." [COHEN, J., p. 291] Amalek can hence be creatively interpreted to mean virtually anybody. "Anyone who acts to deliberately provoke hatred of God or Torah-fearing Jews," decried an ultra-Orthodox newspaper in Israel, "can be considered 'children of Amalek.'" [JERUSALEM POST, 3-15-92] "Amalek is also an ideology that denies Israel's unique mission in perfecting the world," wrote Shlomo Riskin in 1996, "The spiritual heirs of Amalek include the Nazis, the Soviet Communists and Moslem fundamentalists." [RISKIN, S., 3-1-96]
     The immediate modern Amalek nearest at hand in Israel was addressed by Rabbi Israel Hess in a 1980 issue of the campus magazine at one of Israel's pre-eminent colleges, Bar-Ilan University (religiously Orthodox in orientation). Hess was formerly its campus rabbi. The title of his piece was Genocide: A Commandment of the Torah. "Hess," says professor Ehud Sprinzak, "likened the Arabs to the biblical Amalekites, who were deservedly annihilated. The Amalekites, according to Hess, were born socially and militarily treacherous and cruel. Their relation to Jews was like the relation of darkness to light -- one of total contradiction. The Arabs, who live today in the land of Israel and who are constantly waging a treacherous terrorist war against the Jews, are direct descendants of the Amalekites and the correct solution to the problem is extermination." [SPRINZAK, p. 123]
     Israeli Knesset member Amnon Rubenstein noted this articles, saying, "Rabbi Hess explains the commandment to blot out the memory of Amalek and says that there is no mercy in this commandment: the commandment is to kill and destroy even children and infants. Amalek is whoever declares war against the people of God." [HARKABI, p. 150] "Hess implies that those who have a quarrel with the Jews instantly become Amalek and ought to be destroyed," says Yehoshafat Harkabi, "children and all ... Amalek is not an ancient extinct tribe but a generic enemy that each generation may identify for itself." [HARKABI, p. 150] "It's not just a lunatic fringe," says Rabbi David Hartman, about this kind of thinking in the Jewish community, "It is a diseased element that is capable of infiltrating into the Jewish self-understanding.' [DORFNER, p. 50]
     In 1992 Moshe Kohn was mailed a pamphlet in Israel. It's message was, he says,
     "Now that we Jews are again enjoying national sovereignty in our
     homeland, we at long last again have the opportunity -- and the
     duty -- to fulfill the Biblical commandment to exterminate Amalek.
     Moreover, only after we have done so will God's Kingdom prevail
     over all creation. And who exactly is today's Amalek? According
     to our pamphleteer, it is 'the Palestinians.'" [KOHN, M., 3-27-92]
     Jewish religious injunctions to mass slaughter are even part of traditional yearly Purim commemorations, particularly on Shabbat Zachor ("the Saturday of Remembrance") -- "the Sabbath on which Jews are commanded to obliterate the enemy of Amalek, the arch enemy of the Jewish people." [FEILER, p. 14]   In the wake of the mass murder of Arabs at prayer by Baruch Goldstein, "some Jews," noted the Jewish Bulletin, "say Goldstein was inspired by Purim passages that condone wanton killing." [KATZ, p. 1] Such passages from the biblical Book of Esther celebrate how Jews rose up to kill thousands of Persians who plotted against them, recited twice by observant Jews during Purim. "The tone [of these passages] is not self-defense," complains Rivkah Walton, "but of slaughter, slaughter, slaughter." [KATZ, p. 1]   
     "Objections to the Purim passages don't stop there, however," notes the Jewish Bulletin, "some people oppose the way biblical citations in Exodus (17:8-18) and Deuteronomy (25:17-19) are read on Shabbat Zachor before Purim. These call for the annihilation of the descendants of Amalek, the biblical enemy of the Israelites." [KATZ, p 1] Another Jewish commentator, Ismar Elbogen, noted the traditional emotional climate of such public Purim recitals:
      "Often the reading of the scroll [of Esther], was accompanied by
      customs intended to release the overwhelming feelings of joy,
      and these not infrequently took on wild form ... The noisy
      disturbances have been eliminated in every civilized country."
      [ELBOGEN, p. 110]
     In this Amalek context, what are we to make of the words of Philip Graubart in a 1996 issue of the Jewish Exponent? :
       "Baruch Goldstein examined the story of Esther and the biblical
       passages regarding Amalek and discovered it was permissible to
       murder 40 Muslims at prayer. And we all know in Judaism's vast
       corpus of sacred writings, there are a few other texts and ideas that,
       in the wrong hands, could lead to further atrocities.... Only Jews
       passionately committed to Jewish texts can fall victim to Judaism's
       dark side. Only Jews who absolutely revere the Torah as God's word
       could accept the biblical injunction to slaughter Amalek as a call to arms,
       or take God's genocidal commandments to Joshua to be currently
       relevant ... [but] I'm not afraid of passion, I'm terrified of the absence
       of passion in my own Jewish culture ... On a day to day basis
       I feel a lot more threatened by apathy than by zealotry. And so do most
       rabbis." [GRAUBART, p. 5]

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