Join our email list

Do Not Invoke Amalek Lightly

Generalization of one horrible incident to inspire total hatred of entire Arab population in Israel is in opposition to deepest principle of Judaism.
Zef Art via Adobe Stock
Zef Art via Adobe Stock
Shalom Hartman Institute Founder Rabbi Prof. David Hartman z”l was a leading thinker among philosophers of contemporary Judaism and an internationally renowned Jewish author. As part of his unique vision to deal with the challenges of Judaism in the modern world, Rabbi Prof. David Hartman founded the Shalom Hartman Institute in 1976 in honor of his father. He was a man who is with us no more A thinker, teacher, and lover of mankind Our

The horrible and tragic incident of the murder of Jerusalem yeshiva students while they were studying Torah in the Mercaz Harav rabbinical school evoked the deepest rages that exist within the Jewish people toward their enemy.

The term being used by some to describe the act of this murderer is Amalek,the metaphor and symbol of the most bitter enemy of Israel, who has to be utterly destroyed. Amalek is symbolized by Haman, and is mentioned in a special Torah reading in the week before Purim:

Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt. When they encountered you on the way, and you were tired and exhausted, they cut off those lagging to your rear, and they did not fear God. Therefore, when God gives you peace from all the enemies around you in the land that God your Lord is giving you to occupy as a heritage, you must obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. You must not forget. – Devarim 25:17

This Shabbat before Purim, Shabbat Zachor (Shabbat of Remembrance), brings into the Haftorah reading in every synagogue the request of God to Saul that he was to extinguish women and children – an entire community:

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you kin over His people Israel. Therefore, listen to the Lord’s command!
“Thus said the Lord of Hosts: I am exacting the penalty for what Amalek did to Israel, for the assault he made upon them on the road, on their way up from Egypt. Now go, attack Amalek, and proscribe all that belongs to him. Spare no one, but kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and asses!” – 1 Samuel 15

The memory of Amalek and the use of the term of Amalek to describe what this murderer did in Jerusalem last week are totally mistaken. The term Amalek creates generalizations and ontological evil in people not capable of being changed, and the only response to this form of evil is total eradication.

Generalization not Jewish principle

That’s why there are members in the Knesset who say we have to expel all Arabs from Israel, and who make the generalization that every Arab is a potential Amalek who must be destroyed or exiled out of the land, who has no place within the land of Israel, and who cannot dwell safely with the people of Israel.

This type of response – this generalization of one horrible incident to inspire total hatred of the entire Arab population in Israel – is profoundly in opposition to the deepest principle of Judaism, which has always kept alive the principle that God waits for a person to return, to repent, and to discover new ways to live his life until the day of his death.

Former Minister of Education Zevulun Hammer once approached me and said the IDF Chief of Staff had told him he must prepare Israeli children for the idea of a permanent war with Arabs and Palestinians. He used as his paradigm the Book of Judges , which spoke of new wars and horrors surfacing every 20 years, and how we could not educate our children to believe in the possibility of peace, mutual reconciliation and a live and let live philosophy.

I am not discussing the realities of the possibility of this situation being fulfilled within the land of Israel. I am not a dreamer, nor do I romanticize my enemy. I am fully awake to the fact that there is a yearning among many to destroy my people and to destroy this land. However, knowing all this, I must not forget that every human being is created in the image of God and has potential for moral renewal and for seeking ways of peace and ways of pleasantness to live in this world.

Quit Amalek paradigm

Therefore, it is important that we extricate ourselves from the paradigm of Amalek and look at such acts as done by an individual or a specific fanatical group; we must not indict a total people for what single individuals do.

This is what Haman the Amalekite did. When Mordechai did not bow down to him, his rage did not extend just to Mordechai, but to the whole Jewish people. Jews have always suffered from generalization of certain acts that individual Jews do, and to be labeled as misers, as cheats, as “jewing,” as not in any way to be relied upon and trusted.

We who have suffered from the disease of generalization must not fall into the same pitfall, the same demonic urge to seek revenge on a whole people, because of the actions of singular individuals.

I was happy to see the call for revenge was not spoken at the funerals of eight beautiful young people. There was mourning, sadness, the horror that the month of Adar, which is supposed to bring in joy, began with burying eight precious young students killed while studying Torah. With all the rage that we felt and the anger and the bitterness, our people show strength by never giving up hope for the collective and by not generalizing from the bestial actions of single individuals.

You care about Israel, peoplehood, and vibrant, ethical Jewish communities. We do too.

Join our email list for more Hartman ideas

Join our email list


The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics