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

The Movement to Return Jewish Worship to the Temple Mount Has Gone Mainstream

Sept. 25 2017

During the eruption of violence against Israelis in Jerusalem this summer, and the subsequent struggle over metal detectors, the Islamic authorities briefly boycotted the Temple Mount. As a result, Jewish visitors, normally prohibited from praying there, immediately began to do so. Meir Soloveichik puts the episode in context and describes its meaning:

The Temple Mount is fast becoming a pilgrimage site for religious Jews. In the past, most abstained from visiting out of concern that they might enter a sacred area in a state of ritual impurity, but many now believe that, with a knowledge of the layout, history, and religious laws pertaining to the location, it is permissible to visit certain parts of the Temple Mount plaza. They thus visit the site under religious guidance—immersing first in a ritual bath, or mikveh—and tread only in specific areas. What was once a trickle of pilgrims has become a stream, and this year they numbered in the many thousands. . . .

[Indeed, a] sea change has taken place in the past fifteen years: . . . the segment of Jews visiting the Temple Mount is becoming more and more mainstream, supported by rabbis noted for their liberalism in social or religious affairs. . . .

Visiting Jews were, for a brief and brilliant moment [this summer], able to utter several words of prayer without interference. The Israeli media published photos of a diverse group of Jews standing on the Temple Mount reciting the kaddish, so close to where their ancestors, on Yom Kippur, had once stood listening to the high priest pronounce the Name of God. Soon after this kaddish, the [status quo ante] returned; Jews again were no longer free to pray at the site toward which all Jewish prayer has been directed for thousands of years. But images of that one unimpeded kaddish remain; to study them is to look back on the miraculous and heartbreaking past half-century in Jerusalem, to celebrate what has been achieved, and to mourn what might have been.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Judaism, Palestinian terror, Religion & Holidays, Temple Mount