Sunday, September 11, 2011

Killing in the Name Of God

Civilians. Men, women and children. Killed in cold blood by a small group of people who believe that they are fulfilling God’s will by doing it.

The attacks of 9/11, ten years ago today, fill us with moral revulsion. The problem is that the above paragraph is an equally accurate description of the Jewish People killing the tribe of Amalek, or the seven nations that occupied the Land of Israel. What is the difference between us? What is the difference between the Al-Qaeda terrorists, who kill Israelis and Westerners out of the conviction that it is Allah’s will, and the Children of Israel, who proclaim fealty to the Torah which commands us to kill various nations?

This question arose in my mind after 9/11. One person that I discussed in with insisted that the answer is simply that we are right and they are wrong. He considered this to be a vitally important aspect of emunah. I did not and do not find this answer satisfactory. To be sure, we believe that the Islamic terrorists are incorrect in thinking that they are doing God’s will. But we don’t just believe that they are following a mistaken interpretation of God’s will; we see them as fundamentally evil. Likewise, we don’t merely believe that it is correct to obey the Torah; we believe that “its ways as being ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.” If pleasantness and peace is defined as doing God’s will, then the verse becomes meaningless.

It seems to me that there are several components to the answer. Since I detest discussions which get unfocussed, with people arguing at cross-purposes, I will break down this discussion into separate components, restricting each blog post to one component. (Note to those who are commenting: Stick to the specific aspect of this topic that we will be discussing!)

I think that at least part of the answer to this rests upon differentiating between goals and processes. Every person subscribes to a system of values, in which judgments are necessarily made as to who should live and who should die. But then there is the question of one’s attitude to carrying out a death sentence. With Islamic terrorism, we see that they take pleasure and perceive glory not merely in infidels dying, but even in the actual act of killing them. War is jihad, a “holy” war.

In Judaism we see a very different approach. Now, some would claim that one is always supposed to enjoy doing a mitzvah. I believe that this is misleading. A mitzvah involves two components; obeying God’s words, and committing an act. One can feel satisfaction at fulfilling God’s command at the same time as feeling revulsion at committing an act.

Before giving examples, let us look at a parallel concept in the world at large. We certainly find that one can commit an act which one feels to be ultimately good, and to take pleasure in that knowledge, even while the performance of the act is itself brutal and repulsive. The simple example is a surgeon or a dentist. The dentist is happy to be healing someone, even though drilling out his tooth is a brutal, painful act. Judaism likewise acknowledges that certain acts are themselves brutal and unpleasant, even though they are performed for ultimately noble purposes. There is no celebration of bloodshed.

For example, King David was not allowed to build the Temple because of the blood on his hands—notwithstanding the fact that he was absolutely justified and even praised for all the blood that he spilled. And, in a very different sphere, according to many halachic authorities, one does not recite the blessing of Shehechiyanu at the circumcision of one’s son, for the reason is that one cannot pronounce such a declaration of joy at an act that is a source of pain to one’s child.

One case that would appear to contradict our thesis is that of Abraham’s planned slaughter of Isaac. The Midrash tells us how Abraham complied with this command with alacrity, joyous at the opportunity to fulfill the will of his Creator. Yet further analysis and contemplation proves otherwise. The Midrash also tells us that Isaac was blinded by the tears that Abraham spilled. Abraham had mixed emotions; joy at fulfilling the Will of his Creator, grief at spilling the blood of his son.

Everyone has different beliefs as to who is worthy of punishment or execution. But one crucial difference between us is how we feel about carrying out these tasks.

(Please remember that, as noted above, I was only discussing here ONE ASPECT of the difference between Judaism and Al-Quaeda. In the next post, I plan to explore another aspect to this discussion: Comparing and contrasting Judaism's approach to weapons with that of other cultures. I will discuss still other aspects in future posts.)

61 comments:

  1. Here's something further to consider:
    They have kana'im and we have kanai'm. Their kana'im fly planes into bulidings and strap explosive around the waists of suicide bombers. Our kana'im scream "prutza" and throw dirty diapers.
    What is it about Judaism that prevents our fanatics from crossing the line into murder even though they seem just as crazy as their fanatics?

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  2. Frankly this question never bothered me in the least. There are two important differences between the mitzvah of eradicating the nation of Amalek and the Jihadist desire to kill non-believers. In the case of Amalek they are targeted because of real evil that they committed, evil that is very much connected to their national essence, whereas jihadists attack people and nations with no just cause (even if they believe they have just cause - the first gulf war, etc). Secondly and more importantly, we are commanded to eradicate the memory of amalek, to destroy them as a nation, not as individual people. Should they abandon the national identity of Amalek we do not kill them. The Rambam in hilchoth melachim ch. 6 explains that we offer the opportunity for peace to EVERYONE, ie even Amalek and the Cnaanim. If Amalek as a collective accepts the 7 laws and capitulation to become gerei toshav. As individuals Amalekites can become gerei toshav on their own, or according to many opinions can convert and become Jews. Either way, it is clear that the mitzva of wiping out the memory of amalek need not entail wiping them out in a physical sense.

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  3. While what you say about intent for mitzvot is true, this does not really have much bearing on the question of 9/11 vs Amalek. If the terrorists left behind videos in which they sobbed and lamented the fact that they have to kill, it would not really take away the evil in what they do.

    Rav Kook has an argument you may find interesting: see אגרות הראי"ה חלק א' אגרת פט עמוד ק. See my post regarding the issue of war in general, and Amalek as well: http://mevaseretzion.blogspot.com/2009/08/concept-of-war.html.

    I find that one fundamental distinction is often missed by Jews when discussing Amalek vs 9/11. The difference is that in the the murders of 9/11, the victims' only crime was that they were born. There is no evil that the victims committed towards the perpertrators to justify in any way the evil done.

    On the other hand, in the situation of Amalek, there is a historical reason that that nation was marked for destruction. They committed evil against the Jews, and so there is room for some type of revenge.

    Another distinction that we must keep in mind is how our oral traditions and rabbinical process differs from the Muslim ones. Our rabbis essentially legistlated the laws of Amalek out of existence. For all intents and purposes now, the law of Amalek is for theoretical discusion -- similar to Ben Sorer Umoreh or Ir Nidachat are. Indeed, Rav Kook points out (in the source I quoted above) that in antiquity, Israel had to act in war as described in the laws of Amalek in order to simply survive as a nation. However, as the surrounding world's ways of war evolved, Jewish law changes the way that present-day Jews interact with the mitzvah of Amalek.

    On the other hand, no such evolution is evidenced in Islamic teachings. If anything, the primal thirst for blood and destruction is encouraged and amplified, instead of tempered. This touches on a greater theme of the Halachik Process in Judaism and how it is developed in distinction to Islam and other religions. I suggest R Eliezer Berkovits' Not In Heaven for more on this theme.

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  4. 1) People seem to be offering the distinction that they are evil doers. There are other examples one can find where we are permitted to kill non evil people such as heretics.

    2) By offering distinctions such as they celebrate their killings we are forgetting the main point which is: we both rationalize killing. Sure we can find many distinctions, but the question still remains powerful and unanswered
    3) How can you know that their behaviour (celebrating killings) is not due to cultural differences? (As an aside when they scream and celebrate they are often praising G-D.)

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  5. "On the other hand, no such evolution is evidenced in Islamic teachings. If anything, the primal thirst for blood and destruction is encouraged and amplified, instead of tempered. "

    This is completely untrue.

    There is lots of evidence, but people choose to ignore it.

    One can only assume that you never studied Islamic concepts.

    The truth of the matter, is that people who care about labeling fanatics and what not, should put in the time and effort to know what the the religious texts say.

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  6. So you are saying that the difference between Judaism's command to utterly wipe out Amalek and the radical Muslims' "command" to do so to Jews (Lfi Shitusum) is the "desire" with which we go by it??
    You don't know that the Mussar seforim are full of how we are to go about doing the will of Hashem regardless of how it "feels" to us - as commandments of "the King" - we are but soldiers to do His will without question. In what way is this any different than what "they" believe?
    May it actually be possible that genocide in ancient times was not considered the heinous crime it is today?? Nah, of course not, the morals of the Torah are perfect in every way...aren't they?

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  7. I don't think you ever find it to be the case that ancient Jews felt "bad" about going to war. I also don't see this sentiment conveyed anywhere in Tanach, which talks for example of God getting drunk on the blood of our enemies (or something to that effect).

    That midrash about David is quoted all the time but I think it represents an exception. Generally speaking, the war stories in Tanach are just as exciting as the war stories one reads about in regular history.

    (Also remember: we sang Az Yashir when we saw all those dead Egyptians at our feet. The angels were censured for singing, not us.)

    On a practical note: people who like killing make for better soldiers and are less likely to die. Going into battle with the thought in the back of your mind that you really would prefer not to be doing this is very dangerous.

    Finally: You wrote, "we see them as fundamentally evil." I don't. I completely agree with your fiend on this. I believe civilians are legitimate targets in war time and for al Qaeda, this is war.

    You also wrote, "we believe that 'its ways as being ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.'" Presuambly that passuk is not a blanket statement and almost certainly does not refer to wartime.

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  8. R’ Slifkin, you seem to be splitting hairs to find a way in which “we” are different from “them.” We have no idea what the private feelings of either Islamic terrorists or ancient Jewish soldiers were. There probably are terrorists who see it as unfortunate that they must kill people to further the holy cause, and, (people being people) there almost certainly were Jewish soldiers who took joy in killing the enemy.

    Drawing theoretical distinctions between people who kill only because God told them to and people who enjoy killing is rather Talmudic, but doesn’t really tell us anything about the real world.

    People can do momentous things, both good and evil, when motivated by religious zeal. We should take the terrorist attacks as a warning of what fundamentalism can lead to when it gets out of hand, and leave it at that.

    MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...
    > What is it about Judaism that prevents our fanatics from crossing the line into murder even though they seem just as crazy as their fanatics?

    You mean like that kid in New Square a couple of months ago?

    dawidh said...
    > In the case of Amalek they are targeted because of real evil that they committed, evil that is very much connected to their national essence, whereas jihadists attack people and nations with no just cause (even if they believe they have just cause

    So, our reasons are good reasons, even if they are the very definition of racism, while jihadists reasons are not good reasons, even if they truly believe that they are.

    > Should they abandon the national identity of Amalek we do not kill them.

    And should you convert to Islam, Islamic terrorists will not kill you.

    mevaseretzion said...
    > On the other hand, in the situation of Amalek, there is a historical reason that that nation was marked for destruction. They committed evil against the Jews, and so there is room for some type of revenge.

    Is it just to execute someone because his father committed murder? Is it easier to justify killing someone for his forefather’s crimes, or for standing in the way of bringing the world under God’s rule?

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  9. Mevasertzion: On the other hand, in the situation of Amalek, there is a historical reason that that nation was marked for destruction. They committed evil against the Jews, and so there is room for some type of revenge.

    Okay, but what about the 7 nations? (I know that they were given a chance to leave Knaan etc. But still, they did not commit any evil against the Jews, yet they were marked for total destruction, אנשים נשים וטף.

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  10. To those who posted anonymously - if you're wondering why your comments weren't posted, read what it says immediately above the comment submission form!

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  11. Dawidh writes: "In the case of Amalek they [viz., the victims] are targeted because of real evil that they committed, evil that is very much connected to their national essence, whereas jihadists attack people and nations with no just cause (even if they believe they have just cause - the first gulf war, etc)."

    And Mevaseretzion writes: "The difference is that in the the murders of 9/11, the victims' only crime was that they were born. There is no evil that the victims committed towards the perpertrators to justify in any way the evil done. On the other hand, in the situation of Amalek, there is a historical reason that that nation was marked for destruction. They committed evil against the Jews, and so there is room for some type of revenge."

    So, according to these guys, when the Israelites wipe out the Amalekites, it's okay because all the Amalekites have committed evils against the Israelites. How, you may wonder, can all the Amalekites, down to the women and children, be guilty? Simple! It's because the guilt is part of the Amalekite national essence! By contrast, when Al-Qaeda agents kill Americans, they are killing the innocent, because America has never, or at least those particular Americans have never, committed any evils against Muslims!

    I would file this under "Special Pleading."

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  12. So the difference is that the Jews would feel really bad if they indiscriminately killed the men, women, and children considered their enemies?

    I can see the script in this retelling:

    A Jewish soldier stands before an Amalekite mother clutching her four-year-old son, as screams, blood and smoke mix in the background. "Trust me," he says as he looks her in the eye with a stern jaw, "this will hurt me more than it hurts you." And his sword comes down.

    Somewhere, Mel Gibson is salivating and people of good taste are growing nauseous.

    The lesson of 9/11 is not a rationalization of why we would be justified and they would not. It is that ideologically-driven indiscriminate killing of civilians is wrong, no matter who does it or who you believe commanded it.

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  13. The difference between 9/11 and Amalek is about 3,000 years. and those 3,000 years make all the difference!

    Personally, I have always seen the command to kill every last person, as an issue of practicality. Total annihilation or don't even bother.

    You may notice that we were never commanded to annihlate the philishtim completely, or the Asyrians, or any other nation that was along our border but not a hinderance to our living in Israel.

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  14. I really wish that people would actually read what I write in the post.

    This is ONE COMPONENT of the difference between us and them. NOT THE ENTIRETY OF THE DIFFERENCE - just ONE ASPECT of it.

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  15. I take back what I said.. there are many other important difference between 9/11 and Amalek.

    1. 9/11 didn't really do anything productive. America didn't lose land, and wasn't hindered in fighting overseas.

    2. Amalek seems to have been kill or be killed situation.

    3. There was no attempt at a real goal on 9/11 just random violence. And there was nothing gained by the attackers. They did not take over New York, DC, or Boston and settle there. (or even attempt to)

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  16. "I really wish that people would actually read what I write in the post."

    I don't think its true at all though. Most Muslims and those who think America and Israel are evil, see the attacking of innocents as the only valid method of hurting America. They would prefer if they didn't have to and could just change the world as they wish it to be with the wave of their wand.

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  17. @G*3

    "So, our reasons are good reasons, even if they are the very definition of racism, while jihadists reasons are not good reasons, even if they truly believe that they are."

    You either didn't read my post or do not know what racism is and the difference between nationalism and racism.

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  18. @MKR

    "So, according to these guys, when the Israelites wipe out the Amalekites, it's okay because all the Amalekites have committed evils against the Israelites. How, you may wonder, can all the Amalekites, down to the women and children, be guilty? Simple! It's because the guilt is part of the Amalekite national essence! By contrast, when Al-Qaeda agents kill Americans, they are killing the innocent, because America has never, or at least those particular Americans have never, committed any evils against Muslims!"

    1) I'm not interested in discussing what is intrinsically right or "okay", since that would require agreement over what determines morality and what is moral. The point is to highlight significant differences that put these two issues in different leagues.

    2) Again, as I pointed out in my post, Al Qaeda may cite some event as a legitimate causus belli against America as a whole but their believing it to be a legitimate greviance does not make it so.

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  19. Of-course their are rational reasons who G-D commands the killing of Amalik and other hostile nations, but maybe I'll skipp this for now.
    the fundamental question is- Is the Torah correct or the koran (Lehavdil). Is the G-D of Israel, who created all and gave the Torah to the nation correct or some other book claiming to be divine but given to an individual.
    They can say what they like. But the difference (at the root) is that the Torah is EMET, and was given by G-D.
    We trust G-D to be All Knowing, and this does entail that G-D is doing what is best for us (especially as a nation).
    The other fundamental question is, is their a difference between Israel and the nations in the eyes of G-D. Looking at the Torah, YES. The primary concern is the nation of Israel and its survival and well being. Its fully rational to say that when G-D tells us to whip out amalik, the 7 nations and to really hit Israel's enemies tough, G-D is looking out for the best interests of the Jewish nation. Without these "difficult" (for some) commandments, Israel as a nation would have suffered much, much more (as we see in the galut).
    Whip out Amalik today (which includes nations that attack Israel), then see them grow up and then murder your children.

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  20. Anyone who would like to hear a shiur on this should direct themselves to the following by R' Drach: Jihad... Kosher-Style: How Ethical are Jewish Ethics?

    I found it to be a fascinating shiur on the similarities and differences between what we do and what they do.

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  21. Yehudah: (Also remember: we sang Az Yashir when we saw all those dead Egyptians at our feet. The angels were censured for singing, not us.)

    Didn't they come after us with the intent to kill us all? How is Az Yashir a contradiction with R. Slifkin's point? (also remember: the American people sang the national anthem on the day we captured and killed Osmam bin Laden.)

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  22. Amateur said:
    The difference between 9/11 and Amalek is about 3,000 years. and those 3,000 years make all the difference!

    This is correct but doesnt go far enough. The fact that the moral "issues" which may disturb your moral sensibilities took place thousands of years ago when God literally spoke to Moses is not a "difference" between us and them or ONE ASPECT of the difference. It renders the entire question absurd.

    No one is waging war against the Amalekites or taking captives of war as slaves. Hair splitting and Brisker analysis about each divine command containing two aspects does little to substantially distinguish between us and them. It only serves to shift the discourse against us.

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  23. Amalekites are those in any generation who seek the destruction of the Jews. They deserve to be destroyed. America was not seeking the destruction of Islam or Arabs before 9\11.

    Thus, there is no moral equivalence whatsoever.

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  24. Also another fundamental question people must ask is- why the comparison of 9/11 to Jews having to whipe out Amalik?
    Better comparison and question is why isn't anyone questioning America's war in Afghanistan right after 9/11? (where women, children, and other's were killed by the hundreds or thousands).
    America was attacked. That is the answer. It was attacked and goyim understand the concept of us, or them. They understand that they must complete their mission (whether its to destroy and weaken Al Queda, or take out the top man Osama bin Laden YSV).
    They understand the righteousness of their cause and do it.
    Also same with WW2. Nuclear bombs were detonated, German civilian cities were deliberately targeted. THAT IS WAR. War sucks, but sometimes it MUST be fought.
    The problem with Jews is that we have a nation that lived in galut waaay to long. We still suffer from a victim mentality.
    Its like G-D (or the Prophet Samuel) told Saul, don't be more righteous the G-D, do what's needed to be done. For the greater good of your nation.

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  25. dawidh said...
    > You either didn't read my post or do not know what racism is and the difference between nationalism and racism.

    Merriam-Webster defines “racism” as:
    a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities
    Which mirrors what you wrote, “evil that is very much connected to their national essence.”

    Unless you’re saying that by “national essence” you mean something other than their physical makeup, in which case I think you’re in the wrong forum.

    Incidentally, “nationalism” is defined as,:
    : loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations

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  26. @G*3

    "Merriam-Webster defines “racism” as:
    a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities
    Which mirrors what you wrote, “evil that is very much connected to their national essence.”"

    Again, race and nationality are two separate things.

    "Unless you’re saying that by “national essence” you mean something other than their physical makeup, in which case I think you’re in the wrong forum."

    National essence has absolutely nothing to do with race; it has to do with culture and values. And I don't see what that has to do with what forum to post on.

    "Incidentally, “nationalism” is defined as,:
    : loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations"

    Culture yes, race no. Nationality is not synonymous with race. I find it hard for this point to be missed particularly within the present context, since Judaism recognizes the ability of individuals to leave their own nationality and become part of the Jewish nation, or in the case of Amalek - as I mentioned originally - to abandon their own nationality by becoming gerei toshav.

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  27. If we were like the terrorists we would have plenty of stories of our cruelty to tell surely in the Bible. Instead even Amalek always gets away. King David is still busy fighting with them. The only cases I know of recorded in the Bible of a blasphemer executed is in the Torah and when Queen Jezebel a Gentile feels the need to fabricate a story so as to take a vineyard from an Israelite unlike what would have been in her land. Even idolatrous Kings of Israel were considered better to surrender to because they were considered merciful. It seems the differences are in the details and attitudes. We seem to be more talk. Even our worst is their better, however uncomforting that is.

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  28. dawidh

    I think your point on race and nationality is well made, but how does this explain the rationale behind the slaughter of Amelekite infants? We were all horrified and disgusted by the murder of the Fogel family, and found it hard to contemplate how evil a person would need to be to slash the throat of an infant, and yet the Torah seemingly commands the very same action. How do we understand that? I don't think 'culture' or 'nationality' ever can serve to explain or rationalise the killing of infants who have no culture and who are certainly completely innocent.

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  29. Dawidh:

    "National essence has absolutely nothing to do with race; it has to do with culture and values."

    Do you believe that a two-month old Amalekite infant has been enculturated with bad Amalekite values to the point that it is worthy of death?

    If not, what exactly is the "national essence" that condemns that infant to death?

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  30. Harazieli wrote:
    >>Amalekites are those in any generation who seek the destruction of the Jews.

    What is the source for this assertion? It is a nice Soloveitchikian drash but it is not Pshat or halacha.

    If you disagree, please let me know your source, as well as an example of whom you think, in today's world, has a "din Amalek" such that we are required to kill them, their infant children, and animals.

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  31. Who is Amalek? Here's a shiur which explains:

    http://machonshilo.org/en/eng/list-audio-shiurim/35-hagim/455-purim-who-is-amaleq

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  32. Joseph and Sam, since your posts are asking essentially the same question, I'll answer them both here.

    I don't want to get drawn into a debate over the morality of any given action since morality itself is an issue unto itself. I do want to make the point that the reasoning of the mitzva in this case is that the culture of amaleq is beyond reform, and if it needs to be destroyed by warfare, its destruction must be complete, lest the surviving children grow up and seek the revenge that is almost inevitable. That certainly is the lesson the rabbis drew from purim, that the mercy shown by shaul let the remnant of amalek to eventually try to take revenge.


    Joseph, you wrote that it is "hard to contemplate how evil a person would need to be to slash the throat of an infant". What is evil? I think a big part of the problem is that people understand there to be a universally accepted norm for morality since there are some general concepts of morality that tend to be common among civilizations. In Islam, or at least certain streams of Islamic thought, people believe that what we call murder is absolutely justified and moral. There are doubtless things in the tanach and Jewish antiquity that are anathema to the westernized post-modern universalism hodge-podge most people today take for as intrinsic morality. Is it moral to massacre children of your arch-enemy if that nation refuses to make peace or acquiesce? Is it moral to let them go knowing that in all likelihood they grow up to learn about their heritage and seek revenge for their parents? I'm not trying to give answers, merely to frame the question accurately. If one had a time machine, would it be moral to go back in time and murder Adolf Hitler as an infant even though he had done no wrong? Seemingly the message of mitzvat amaleq is: this particular nation has it in for you, uproot them totally, either by their surrender or their extinction, but if you leave a remnant out of mercy you will regret it.

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  33. (A minor quibble, belief in the death penalty is far from ubiquitous.)

    I'm no expert but your distinction seems very superficial. The word jihad does not mean holy war something more akin to struggle. Even if it did, there's little difference between holy war and milchemes mitzva for anyone not writing an apologetic.

    You take similar phenomenons and stress only the good (?) part when associated with your in-group and only the bad part when associated with the others. Islamists take pleasure in killing westerners but kahanists/religios zionists don't when killing palestinians/prime ministers they don't like? Prove it with some degree of thoroughness, not mere assertion.

    You think they don't have a million and one vertlech just like you? Here, try this: Hamas runs soup kitchens. Kahanists don't. Proof positive that the islamists are really just concerned with bettering the world while kahanists are simply nationalist religious fanatics. Stupid argument? Of course; just like all similar arguments.

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  34. Dawidh, I think our problem is the use of the phrase, “national essence,” which I took to mean, “something essential to the nation,” i.e., part of the people’s intrinsic makeup, but by which you seem to mean merely their culture.

    In that case, your original sentence should read, “In the case of Amalek they are targeted because of real evil that they committed, evil that is very much connected to their culture.”

    If that is the case, then I agree that your comment is not racist.

    Still, there are of problems with this. The first, as Sam pointed out, is that we are commanded to kill even babies who have not yet become acculturated. This implies that the problem is intrinsic to Amalekites, not merely in their culture. Your answer that they will grow up to avenge their parents seems unlikely. If it is just a problem of revenge, then the same logic holds any time Israel went to war. Yet we are not always commanded to wipe out our enemies. It seems that Amalek is a special case. According to you, this would be because of their uniquely evil culture. Yet if all of the adults have been wiped out, who will acculturate the ethnically Amalekite babies in the evil Amalekite culture? Again, this points to something intrinsic to Amalekite makeup.

    Secondly, you contrast wiping out Amalek because of their evil culture to Jihadists’ wish to wipe out America. Yet according to radical Muslims, it is American culture (and Western culture in general) which is evil, much more so than Americans as individuals. It is Western culture they want to wipe out and replace with Islamic culture. You hold it is evil when Jihadists wish to replace (what they see as) evil American culture with virtuous Islam, yet it is fine when we wish to replace evil Amalekite culture with virtuous Jewish culture, i.e., “Amalek as a collective accept[ing] the 7 laws and capitulat[ing] to become gerei toshav.” This seems to be what R’ Slifkin described in his post, “One person that I discussed it with insisted that the answer is simply that we are right and they are wrong.”

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  35. The first thought that comes to mind is the Book of Joshua which is bloody ethnic cleansing in God's name on the various peoples who inhabited land long before the Israelite did.

    To keep perspective almost every nation on earth acquired their land by force including the US.

    There's some difference but not all that much between what certain religious Islamic zealots do now and what Israelite zealots did once upon a time.

    It's clear the Jews have evolved and become tolerant, civilized and modernized two thousand plus years ago accepting others living with them in peace.

    Islam doesn't seem to have reached that point yet and maybe never will? From a self preservation POV Israel has the right to defend itself from all current threats without question.

    My point is to realize we Jews were primitive at some point in time and acted in similar ways for similar reasons.

    I'm glad to say we evolved.

    Rabbi Simon

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  36. You make a very interesting point.

    However, if you take it to the logical conclusion what you effectively said was, "It could be that they are right and doing what they believe to be their god's will, but do they have to have so much fun and enjoyment doing it?"

    Basically, since we too subscribe to killing people if we have god as a justification, their problem must be the process of following their god's will.

    I would question how one can ever read anyone's mind and know the process that goes on inside.

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  37. I don’t suppose anybody would consider the notion that the chapter in Devarim on destroying Amalek was inserted later (and is humanly sourced)? I know this goes against Rambam’s 8th principle.
    But, it makes the whole discussion on God’s commanding this “immorality” moot.

    My speculation answers several questions that I always had.

    1. why is Amalek singled out from all the enemies of Israel? I know the reason usually given is that Amalek is declared evil incarnate, but this simply does not correspond to the text in Exodus 17
    2. also, Exodus 17 seems contradictory to Deut. 25:17 in that Exodus says that God will destroy Amalek and Deut gives it as a mitzvah for Israel to do.
    3. The text in I Samuel in the chapter where Samuel tells Saul to kill out all Amalek appears to indicate that Samuel had never heard of the mitzvah.

    Quote:
    15:2… So said God, Master of Legions, I remembered what Amalek did to Israel, he emplaced against him on the way as he went up from Egypt.
    15:3 …Now go and strike Amalek …..

    Logically, the text should read something like “ Remind King Saul of my mitzvah to destroy Amalek.”

    Reading of this text seems to indicate that the writer did NOT know about the commandment in Devarim, or maybe that the commandment in Devarim had not as yet been promulgated.

    So, I speculate that it was inserted into Deut. later in order to whitewash the events in I Sam 15.

    BTW in Sam., God tells Samuel to kill all the animals of AMalek as well … why, whatever did they do??

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  38. I once heard a shiur on this issue from Rabbi Gershon Ribner, R"Y of Nesivos HaTorah in Staten Island. He basically came to Rabbi Slifkin's conclusion, saying that Shaul was willing to wipe out Amalek but that he felt he had to first show it was morally wrong. Among other sources, I remember he interpreted the gemara about "iskey nachal" along these lines.

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    Replies
    1. Gershon Ribner, a third rate Talmudist, (just read his publications!) is totally amoral. Everyone lives to be a pawn in his ego trips. Please warn impressionable loved ones from being taken in by him.
      While this comment is not anonymous, (this is my real name), I sincerely believe that he is a bor b'rshus harabim. I am willing to deal with the backlash from him.

      Delete
  39. Rav Naftali Bar-Ilan of Rehovot (I have the priviledge of knowin him personally) has written a monumental, four volume work on how at Torah state would function according to halacha and he devotes considerable space to the laws of armies and warfare. He points that the Torah emphasizes peace and brotherhood among men. Yes, we have to have and army and yes we unfortunately have to fight wars, but it is not an ideal. The Torah allows slavery and polygamy and calls on us to wipe out the "apostate city" (ir hanidachat) but they are not viewed as ideal either and regarding the ir hanidachat we are warned to be very careful in investigating what happened there. I think we should look at the commandmant to wipe out Amalek the same way. Regarding the 7 nations in Canaan it is clear they were not "wiped out". Yehoshua and his generaion were criticized for leaving the "eretz hanisheret", part of Eretz Israel unconquered but it doesn't talk about leaving Canaanites alive. It is also clear that even after Shaul "wiped out" Amalek except for Agag, David still encountered Amalekites at Ziklag. So we see that the Benei Israel did not carry out Nazi-like extermination of conquered peoples.
    Although the TANACH views military victory and conquest of land as positive things, what Europeans or Muslims view as "military virtures" are NOT emphasized. The Aramean king Ahav defeated said they should throw themselves at his mercy because "the Kings of Israel are merciful" (Ahav is punishes for not killing him!).
    We are told little about the armies of the two Kingdoms (Israel and Judah), a few generals ("gibborim") are mentioned but not overly lauded. The Benei Israel did not build monuments to victories like the Arc d'Triomphe.
    Unlike in 19th and 20th century Europe, the army is never considered "the embodiement of the national spirit and interest". It was thinking like that that the anti-Dreyfusards used to justify the imprisonment of an innocent man (Alfred Dreyfus) because as "patriots" they held "it doesn't matter if Dreyfus is innocent or not, if the French army says he is guilty they must have a good reason and you are being anti-patriotic if you question that".
    Unfortunately, but rather understandbly in light of the Holocaust, there has ben a certain idealization of the IDF in Israel in some religious circles leading to worship of Generals and blind trust in them when they certainly don't deserve it (Sharon and Gush Katif, for example. when some Religious Zionists said it was forbidden to oppose him since he was such a "war hero" or that he certainly "had to know what he was doing"). Some religious educators have compared the the IDF uniform to the clothes of the Kohen Gadol. I find this to be missing the mark...while we do need an army you can't compare the Kohen Gadol who represents life to a soldier's uniform which represents an unfortunately need to fight and kill, something we try to avoid if at all possible. It is time for the Religious Zionist community to take a more mature view of these things.

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  40. Is it just to execute someone because his father committed murder? Is it easier to justify killing someone for his forefather’s crimes, or for standing in the way of bringing the world under God’s rule?

    Please note, I am not saying what you read into my words. I am simply saying that a fundamental difference between the two situations is that one has no "causus belli" and the other does. I am not relating to the "morality" of killing Amalek, just to the fact that one reaction has a cause, and the other doesn't.

    Okay, but what about the 7 nations?

    There is difference of opinion about how, who and when to kill them.

    Be the details what they may, these laws are also legislated into theory and not practice. Again, see my post on war in general and Rav Kook's take on it: link.

    May it actually be possible that genocide in ancient times was not considered the heinous crime it is today??

    Again, see my post above. Rav Kook makes a similar point (without your sarcasm), but relates it to how a moral Jew must relate to a world with evolving standards and ethics.

    And to Ameteur:
    One can only assume that you never studied Islamic concepts.

    The truth of the matter, is that people who care about labeling fanatics and what not, should put in the time and effort to know what the the religious texts say.


    I am willing to be set straight on orthodox Islamic thought.

    This will not take away from the fundamental point I was making, that Judaism today rejects calls for unprovoked war, all the more so calls for genocide, while segments of Islam (especially the religious leaders of Al Qaeda and the 9/11 perpertrators) embrace these calls.

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  41. @G*3

    "we are commanded to kill even babies who have not yet become acculturated. This implies that the problem is intrinsic to Amalekites, not merely in their culture. Your answer that they will grow up to avenge their parents seems unlikely. If it is just a problem of revenge, then the same logic holds any time Israel went to war. Yet we are not always commanded to wipe out our enemies. It seems that Amalek is a special case. According to you, this would be because of their uniquely evil culture. Yet if all of the adults have been wiped out, who will acculturate the ethnically Amalekite babies in the evil Amalekite culture? Again, this points to something intrinsic to Amalekite makeup."

    There are four types of war as laid out in the halacha; fighting Amalek, conquering EY/defeating the 7 nations, defending from enemy aggression, and an optional to expand Israel's territory. In the first two, the torah proscribes total wars of either capitulation or annihilation. Clearly this is because in total war leaving a remnant is extremely dangerous. But in the third and fourth types of war, the stakes are lower, the defeated unlikely to risk defeat again and typically are not interested per se in destroying Israel.
    Countries seek to aggrandize their territory at the expense of their neighbors; if Israel does this it is referred to as a war of descretion; if Israel is the target, it is saving Israel from its enemy. In neither case does the Torah call for total destruction of the enemy.


    "Secondly, you contrast wiping out Amalek because of their evil culture to Jihadists’ wish to wipe out America. Yet according to radical Muslims, it is American culture (and Western culture in general) which is evil, much more so than Americans as individuals. It is Western culture they want to wipe out and replace with Islamic culture. You hold it is evil when Jihadists wish to replace (what they see as) evil American culture with virtuous Islam, yet it is fine when we wish to replace evil Amalekite culture with virtuous Jewish culture, i.e., “Amalek as a collective accept[ing] the 7 laws and capitulat[ing] to become gerei toshav.”This seems to be what R’ Slifkin described in his post, “One person that I discussed it with insisted that the answer is simply that we are right and they are wrong.”"

    1) I pointed out earlier that Amaleq did not merely have an evil culture, but that that culture led them to assault Israel and threaten annihilation; think of Germany's behavior towards Jews to get a sense of scale to their actions. This is not merely a case of a hostile nation with an immoral culture, it is a nation that sought to wipe Israel out first.

    2) There are opinions that the mitzva of erasing Amaleq is not specific to any one nation, but refers to any "oyev muvhak"; any arch-enemy nation, a nation that pursues the annilihation of Israel. According to these opinions the mitzva tells us that we must wipe out those who seek our destruction, and not to err on the side of mercy, because once you begin such a war, there can never be peace. Whereas in other wars you seek to limit casualties (leaving a way of escape from a city under seige), here you fighting a people that wishes your destruction and cannot be spared. The survivors, even children, of such a war are not at all comparable to the survivors of normative wars, where nations struggle with each other for territorial aggrandizement.

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  42. James,

    Please listen to the shiur posted by Student 2. Rabbi David Bar-Hayim (I asssume in that shiur) makes a powerful case that what you would consider to be mere
    "Soloveitchikian drash" is actually the straightforward understanding. The Torah was given for the real world. Amalek is real and isn't just our "yetzer hara" either.

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  43. "My speculation answers several questions that I always had."

    Do the same analysis of 'help your brother when his donkey is overburdened' and I think you will find reason to suggest that this mitzvah was also only inserted into the Torah as a whitewash for the actions of Shmuel.

    It's bad logic.


    To those asking why if only the culture had to be destroyed, then why were the animals and children:
    To understand things from one angle only is a bad way to understand things. The Jews are ordered to destroy idols and uproot Ashraha trees. What did those pieces of artwork and those trees every do wrong? They are innocent, what is the point? At the same time, when beseiging a city, the trees must be spared... Are these trees so righteous?

    More often than not, the command to kill or destroy something is more about the person doing the killing and destroying than it is about the people or animals or things that they are being ordered to kill and destroy. Meaning what? Meaning, you should have no sympathy for the byproducts of this culture, no matter how good they seem to you. They came from an evil culture and society, and you shall have nothing to do with them. You can gain no benefit at all. This is not a situation where we are commanded to take the best and to enrich ourselves with it. We are commanded to have nothing to do with it, and wipe away the memory. Ofcourse an impossible task as evidenced by the history and the outcomes.

    I also think that people forget that Avraham said 'No' to Gd as well. And according to Rashi, so did the fruit trees.

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  44. Ameteur –

    The correct way when responding to a comment is to offer answers to the questions posed, not to dismiss the comment. It would be more polite not to say anything.

    As for your response about the animals, if your logic has any basis, why were the Canaanite/Amorite animals and booty not ordered to be destroyed as well (see Deut 2:35 & 3:7)

    As for Amalek, it is obvious to me that Samuel ordered Saul to do something that he (in the name of God) authorized. And nowhere does Samuel say that Moses commanded this or that God had written it in His Torah.

    So dismiss it as you wish, but to me it’s plain and clear that this text (of destroying Amalek in Deut.) was either unknown to Samuel or non-extant in Samuel’s time.

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  45. I am surprised that nobody heard a maaseh that HAGRA had found an amalekite, had made a shecheyanu and had killed him. I've heard it in a few droshos.

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  46. Quare: is killing babies or exterminating an entire population malum in se, or malum prohibitum? If the latter, then do we have to believe that things are not "wrong" because they are inherently morally repugnant to us as human beings, but rather because God declared them "wrong" and that, were He to declare them "right," their moral status would change?

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  47. From a Torah point of view.
    All the examples given in the Torah, that commands us to kill, was given through Divine Prophesy.
    No one took it upon themselves to kill anyone.

    Abraham’s planned slaughter of Isaac, was only a test. No one was meant to be killed there, whether Abraham knew it or not.

    On a rational point of view.
    As in the example of "the dentist [who] is happy to be healing someone, even though drilling out his tooth is a brutal, painful act."

    Yes brutal, but the dentist is only removing the decay from the tooth, in order that the tooth can survive. Whereas the Al-Qaeda terrorists [if compared to the dentist] are destroying the good and healthy part of the tooth, as a result it will cease to exist.

    Who will survive if the Al-Qaeda terrorists have their way?

    Answer; No one. Understand this well.

    The end result determines the true morality.
    o

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  48. Rabbi -

    Maybe you should compare the views of Judaism and Islam (apples and apples), rather than Judaism and al-Qaeda (apples and oranges). Perhaps a comparison between KaCH and al-Qaeda would be appropriate, or maybe between Palmach/Irgun and a-Q?!

    And even if you did compare J and I, I'm sure that you would still essentialize "Islam" even though that is not your intention nor are you the type of person/scholar who would intentionally essentialize. Unfortunately, these things happen.

    Best,
    Michael A. Singer

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  49. " why were the Canaanite/Amorite animals and booty not ordered to be destroyed as well (see Deut 2:35 & 3:7)"

    Because we are specifically told that we will be getting all the benefit of the land. We are only to destroy their idols. Gd will give us cities and wealth. There is no reason for us to destroy them or the things which we are being given.


    Lumping everything together and ignoring the details is going to result in a flawed analysis of the situation.

    " not to dismiss the comment. "
    I was advising that you be consistent in your approach. I wasn't dismissing anything. Picking and choosing which ideas (the ones you dislike) must be 'later additions' is a bad form of logic.

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  50. Every people kills in the name of what it worships. It might be a god. It might be The Race. It might be an economic system. It might be a human leader. It might even be a sports team.

    The Christians have "Caedite eos! Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius" - Kill them all. The Lord will know His own from the Inquisition against the Cathars, the Crusades, the Middle Passage, the conquest of South America and a thousand more.

    Pol Pot killed millions. So did Stalin.

    The United States didn't write the book on genocide, but it contributed a few of the more colorful chapters in the name of Jesus, Money and Manifest Destiny. The lowest credible estimates say America is responsible for more than a million deaths in the six wars it is currently waging.

    North Korea is hell with the fire put out in the name of Dear Leader and his family. It doesn't even pretend to be communist anymore.

    Islam has had its wars of conquest and ruthlessly wiped out all competing faiths. It has terrorists who don't care whether they kill Christians, Jews, unbelievers or Muslims of the wrong flavor.

    We had the historical Sicarii and present day Nazi-worthy trash like The King's Torah. And no matter how you dress it up and excuse it by "God told us to" the Torah is very clear on how Canaan was to be conquered. Leave not one stone on another and wipe out Amalek down to the babies. Kill the men and women. Kill the children. Save the pretty girls to rape. Yeah, Moses ben Maimon backfills and waves his hands and says "Just rape her once 'cause you know a man has NEEDS."

    Wear Manchester colors in the Arsenal stands and your life is worth nothing.

    This sort of evil is not the property of any single group of people. And no group is exempt from it. It is one of the darker aspects of the universal human condition.

    And before anyone says "Well, yes, it's different when we do it" I'll just say "Tell it to the father crying over his child's body. Tell it to the baby clutching it's mother's dead breast." It doesn't matter who "we" is. Those who take the little ones and dash their heads against the stones are not blessed no matter what the Psalmist says. They are evil.

    I'm going to jump headlong into heresy here. When we use God to justify our worst impulses, and mass murder always qualifies as worst, we are creating God in our image. It might not be a graven image. We might not technically pour out wine to it and kiss the statue in the described manner. It's still idolatry. It's still abomination.

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  51. All this talk about killing babies. First understand that its not limited to Amalek. Moshe told the Jews to kill out the Midianite children too, in Bamidbar 31:17. וְעַתָּה, הִרְגוּ כָל-זָכָר בַּטָּף; וְכָל-אִשָּׁה, יֹדַעַת אִישׁ לְמִשְׁכַּב זָכָר--הֲרֹגוּ The boys (unlike the girls) would grow up to seek revenge, and thus had to be killed. So its not true to say that only Amalekite children had to be killed simply because they were amalekim.

    So why do you kill the children? Because little Indians grow up to become big Indians.

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  52. And that, DF, is why I find any god who demands this sort of thing unworthy of my worship and any religion which demands it to be a menace to humanity.

    Jews wiping out Amalek is morally equivalent to Nazis wiping out Jews. It's the same sickening thing. The only difference is Jewish racists will say the first is justified. Nazis will say the second is.

    As far as that goes Genghis Khan was morally superior to Joshua and Hitler. He wanted land and money. As long as the sheep provided wool regularly he didn't care to whom they addressed their prayers or to what tribe they belonged. To the Horde atrocity was a psychological weapon used sparingly pour encourager les autres. It wasn't Standard Operating Procedure for all conquered peoples.

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  53. elemir said...

    "Reading of this text seems to indicate that the writer did NOT know about the commandment in Devarim, or maybe that the commandment in Devarim had not as yet been promulgated.

    So, I speculate that it was inserted into Deut. later in order to whitewash the events in I Sam 15.

    BTW in Sam., God tells Samuel to kill all the animals of AMalek as well … why, whatever did they do??"

    Your speculation firstly leaves no reason for attacking Amalek. All attacks justified or not stem from something and how can we be expected to discount a record which provides an answer, for a speculation that raises more questions. Secondly your speculation doesn't correspond with the fact that Amalek was at war with Israel more than once so there would be no need to make up an attack. There were many to choose from.

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  54. Todd- "And that, DF, is why I find any god who demands this sort of thing unworthy of my worship and any religion which demands it to be a menace to humanity."

    G-D made man in HIS image, NOT the other way around. We do not make or choose 1 god over another, especially THE G-D.
    you say unworthy of your worship, but who are are? Seriously. Your not even a dot in this vast universe, yett you pass judgment agains't G-D, the Creator and Knower of all and everything?
    And then you have the bolls to compare Jews to Nazis. You are missing the picture. Completely. Either your blind or you choose to be blinded. Nazis attacked Jews without any justifications. Jews on the other hand with amalik were attacked first, with absolutely no provocation, and with no interest on the part of amalik. They attacked just for the sake of attacking and killing Jews (Just like the Nazis did). We are commanded to completely destroy this ideology and group(s) of people who carry such a nazi ideology.

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  55. >>> We are only to destroy their idols. Gd will give us cities and wealth.

    that's why Josh destroys Jericho, Ai, etc. leaving a pile of stones.
    and the wealth is taken by the temple.

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  56. Todd- "And no matter how you dress it up and excuse it by "God told us to" the Torah is very clear on how Canaan was to be conquered. Leave not one stone on another and wipe out Amalek down to the babies. Kill the men and women. Kill the children. Save the pretty girls to rape."
    "I'm going to jump headlong into heresy here. When we use God to justify our worst impulses, and mass murder always qualifies as worst, we are creating God in our image. "

    You should read what you just wrote. You contradict yourself. First you say the Torah commands us to whip out Israel's enemies (which it does), then you say we are "using" G-D to justify some impulses (supposedly) and that "we are creating G-D in our image", Uhhh NO. Its the opposite exactly. First if you admit that G-D tells to to properly wage war agains't Israel's enemies (by whipping them out in proper conditions and circumstances) and then claim that by us waging war (or wanting to/justifying it) we are not following G-D and making "G-d in our image" isn't it exactly YOU who is doing that? Isn't it you denying what you admitting was G-D's Will and command(s) in the first place?

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  57. HaRazieli -

    I generally dont like comments directing me to a shiur. Either cite the key sources and substantive arguments, or point me to the particular point in the shiur making that point. Recommending a shiur is not an appropriate response to a comment.

    Nonetheless, I listened to the shiur. Bar-Hayim cites the Beis Halevi and R' Chaim (he isnt sure which one first made the argument). This fits perfectly with his ultra-nationalist ideology. I am not convinced.

    More importantly, I am not certain he is convinced that Iran is Amalek. Even if we limit the Din Amalek to Ahmedinijad himself, do you really think Bar-Hayyim would advocate killing his infant children?

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  58. RNS said: Now, some would claim that one is always supposed to enjoy doing a mitzvah. I believe that this is misleading. A mitzvah involves two components; obeying God’s words, and committing an act. One can feel satisfaction at fulfilling God’s command at the same time as feeling revulsion at committing an act.

    Chaynobody disagreed and said: You don't know that the Mussar seforim are full of how we are to go about doing the will of Hashem regardless of how it "feels" to us - as commandments of "the King" - we are but soldiers to do His will without question.

    Rambam in שמונה פרקים פרק ו says that chukim as opposed to 'mitzvot' should be done with an attitude of, i'd rather not do this.

    This would indicate that if wiping [not whiping!] out Amalek is moral then do it for its moral reason. If it isn't moral then do it reluctantly [but go through the motions with the same gusto as a moral mitzvah].


    כתר ראש אורחות חיים אות קמח says that the Gra would sometimes inform a person who had hurt him to come to him [and apologoze?] and the Gra felt bad doing so but had to because of כבוד התורה.
    o

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  59. Why can't we just admit that we modern Jews abhor and denounce genocide and we simply do not understand the Torah's commandments regarding genocide again ancient Amelek, ancient Canaanites and the conquering of the ancient land of Israel by our ancient ancestors. As modern Jews we cannot relate to the ancient world of 3,500 years ago and so we admit that we simply don't know what that was about. Further, our current laws no longer include commandments to commit genocide or unprovoked acts of violence or war. Nor do our current laws have any commandments to kill for any reason other than in an act of self-defense or to save the life of another (an unborn child will be killed in order to save the life of it's mother).

    We simply do not understand G-d's intention for, nor the world as it was in the times of our ancient forefathers. We now interpret those Torah passages to mean that we should not tolerate unprovoked violence in our midst, and do our utmost to eradicate all that would lead to unprovoked violence.

    The commandment to obliterate Amalek which we gather to listen to as it is read yearly from the Torah is something we interpret spiritually in order to relate it to our everyday lives (we interpret Amelek as representing “doubt” and thus are commanded to remove doubt from our spiritual lives). We gather yearly to listen to it being read from the Torah on the Shabbos before Purim in honor of our tradition (a tradition which no doubt came from 2 millenia of being a persecuted people, the whipping boy of almost every country in which we resided).

    Even while as modern Jews with non-violent and anti-violent cultural values we no longer personally relate to the literal meaning of the passages in our Torah which command our ancient forefathers to commit literal genocide and violence, we will not remove those passages as we believe that as a part of our Torah they are holy, and from God, even if we do not believe them to be informing our current behavior with regard to violence of any sort.

    Too apologetic? Too heretic?

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  60. On a slightly more light-hearted note, I'm afraid you can't make the generalization that dentists do not take pleasure in the brutality of their professions, as explained in this informative clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOtMizMQ6oM

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