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Why the Torah Commands “Blotting Out the Memory of Amalek” but Forbids “Despising the Egyptian”

Sept. 1 2017

This week’s Torah reading of Ki Teytsey concludes with a command never to forget the nefarious deeds of the Amalekites—who attacked the Israelites from behind as they were coming out of Egypt—and to “blot out the memory of Amalek from underneath the heavens.” By contrast, the same Torah reading also commands, “Do not despise an Egyptian, because you were strangers in his land.” Why, asks Jonathan Sacks, are the Amalekites so singled out? After all, the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites for centuries, and attempted genocide by the slaying of the male children. Sacks finds the answer in the Talmud’s teaching that only love that is not dependent on any one specific thing can endure:

The same applies to hate. When hate is rational, based on some fear or disapproval that—justified or not—has some logic to it, then it can be reasoned with and brought to an end. But unconditional, irrational hatred cannot be reasoned with. There is nothing one can do to address it and end it. It persists.

That was the difference between the Amalekites and the Egyptians. The Egyptians’ hatred and fear of the Israelites were not irrational. . . . The Egyptians [as the book of Exodus states] feared the Israelites because they were numerous. They constituted a potential threat to the native population. . . . (Note that there is a difference between “rational” and “justified.” The Egyptians’ fear was in this case certainly unjustified.)

Precisely the opposite was true of the Amalekites. They attacked the Israelites when they were “weary and weak.” They focused their assault on those who were “lagging behind.” Those who are weak and lagging behind pose no danger. This was irrational, groundless hate.

With rational hate it is possible to reason. . . . But with irrational hate it is impossible to reason. It has no cause, no logic. Therefore it may never go away. Irrational hate is as durable and persistent as irrational love. The hatred symbolized by Amalek lasts “for all generations.” All one can do is to remember and not forget, to be constantly vigilant, and to fight it whenever and wherever it appears. . . .

Anti-Semitism . . . is the paradigm case of irrational hatred. In the Middle Ages Jews were accused of poisoning wells, spreading the plague, and in one of the most absurd claims ever—the blood libel—they were suspected of killing Christian children to use their blood to make matzah for Passover. This was self-evidently impossible, but that did not stop people from believing it.

Read more at Jonathan Sacks

More about: Amalek, Anti-Semitism, Deuteronomy, Hebrew Bible, Jonathan Sacks, Religion & Holidays

In Pursuing Peace with Saudi Arabia, Israel Must Demand Reciprocity and Keep the Palestinian Question off the Table

Nov. 22 2017

The recent, unprecedented interview given by the IDF chief of staff to a major Arabic news outlet has fed the growing enthusiasm in Israel about the prospects of a peace treaty and mutual recognition between Jerusalem and Riyadh. Mordechai Kedar urges level heads and caution, and puts forward ten principles that should guide any negotiations. Most importantly, he argues that the two countries normalize relations before coming to any agreements about the Palestinians. To this he adds:

The most basic rule in dealing with the Saudis and their friends is that Israel must not feel that it has to pay anything for peace. . . . If the Saudis want to live in peace with us, we will stretch out our hands to offer them peace in return. But that is all they will get. Israel [has] been a state for 70 years without peace with Saudi Arabia and can continue being a state for another 7,000 years without it. Any desire for a quick peace (as expressed in the disastrous slogan “Peace Now”) will raise the price of that peace. . . .

[As part of any agreement], Israel will recognize the House of Saud’s rule in Mecca and Medina—even though the family does not originate from the Hejaz [where the holy cities are located] but from the Najd highland—in exchange for Saudi recognition of Israel’s right to Jerusalem as its historic and eternal capital city. Israel will recognize Saudi Arabia as an Islamic state in exchange for Saudi recognition of Israel as the Jewish state or a state belonging to the Jewish people. . . .

Israel will not allow incitement against Saudi Arabia in its media. In return, the Saudis will not allow anti-Israel incitement in Saudi media. . . .

It is important to keep the Americans and Europeans away from the negotiating table, since they will not be party to the agreement and will not have to suffer the results of its not being honored—and since their interests are not necessarily those of Israel, especially when it comes to the speed at which the negotiations move forward. The Americans want to cut a deal, even a bad deal, and if they are allowed into the negotiation rooms, they will pressure Israel to give in, mainly on the Palestinian issue.

Read more at Israel National News

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia