Monday, March 24, 2014

Ha-Osek be-Mitzvah Patur min ha-Mitzvah: The Case of Prayer and Torah Study

Daniel Sperber has just published a new book, On the Relationship of Mitzvot Between Man and His Neighbor and Man and His Maker. The Seforim Blog is happy to present chapter 4 from the book. 

Ha-Osek be-Mitzvah Patur min ha-Mitzvah: The Case of Prayer and Torah Study 
Daniel Sperber

We find in Sefer ha-Rokeah, section 369 ad fin., that a person who is sitting in the synagogue, wrapped in his talit and with his tefillin on his head and is reciting liturgical songs, must, nonetheless, rise up before his teacher, since he can carry out both actions and he will receive fine rewards in both worlds. Now there are early authorities who hold that the principle that one who is engaged in one mitzvah is exempt from another is also the case when both could be carried out. (See Shulhan Aruch Orah Hayyim 38:8, and in the Beur Halachah, ibid., and also R. Yaakov Hayyim Sofer, Brit Yaakov [Jerusalem: 1985], section 2, 36; R. Ovadiah Yosef, Hazon Ovadiah: Sukkot [Jerusalem: 2005, 167].) The author of the Rokeah, R. Elazar of Germaiza, was a disciple of R. Yehudah (b. R. Shmuel) he-Hasid, the author of Sefer Hasidim. And it is the view of R. Yehudah he-Hasid that even if one can carry out both mitzvot, one is exempt from doing so, if one is engaged in a prior mitzvah; and this, indeed, is the view of R. Elazar Rokeah himself (Rokeah, Hilchot Sukkah, section 299; see Sofer). Why then should one who is engaged in praising the Lord in the synagogue, have to rise up before his teacher? Surely he is already engaged in a mitzvah, and therefore exempt from others! The answer, I suggest, is because ritual synagogue worship is directed towards God, but respect for one’s teacher is a mitzvah between man and his fellow, and he is therefore not exempt from it. So too the Hida, R. Hayyim Yosef David Azulai, rules, that even in the hour of prayer one rises before a Torah scholar, (Birkei Yosef Orah Hayyim, section 244:1; and see Sofer, note 8 on page 37; and see most recently the discussion of R. Yitzchak Eliyahu Stessman, Kimah ve-Hidur [Jerusalem: 2011, 88–91], with additional references).

Indeed, the severity of not rising before one’s teacher is expressed by R. Eleazar in very extreme terms in BT Kiddushin 33b:
Any scholar who does not rise before his teacher is called a wicked person (רשע), and will not live long and will forget his learning.
(See also R. Yaakov Hezkiyahu Fisch, in his Ve-Haarachta Yamim, ed. Y.M. Sofer, [Jerusalem: 2010, 71–72].)

To this we may add what we are told of the Arizal, by his disciple R. Hayyim Vital, that he was very particular in paying his workers exactly on time and without delay. And if he did not have the money with which to pay these wages, he would delay his afternoon prayer (minhah) until close to sunset in order to search out a loan with which to make the payment. Only afterwards would he hurriedly daven minhah. He would explain himself by saying: “How can I pray to the Lord, may He be blessed . . . , when such an important mitzvah is incumbent upon me, and I have not carried it out?” (See R. Hayyim Vital, Shemonah Shearim: Shaar ha-Mitzvot [Jerusalem: 1872], Parshat Tetzeh; Avraham Tobolsky, Hizaharu be-Memon Haverchem, vol. 2, [Bnei Brak: 1981, 211–212].)

In a somewhat different vein, but with much the same principle as its basis, we read in Niflaot Beit Levi, by A. Kleiman (Pietrokov: 1911, 32, [Yiddish]), cited in Louis I. Newman and Samuel Spitz, The Hasidic Anthology: Tales and Teachings of the Hasidim (New York: 1944, 178:2, 480) as follows:
A teamster (=wagon driver) sought the Berditchover’s (Reb Levi Yitchak of Berditchov’s) advice as to whether he should give up his occupation because it interfered with regular attendance at the synagogue.
“Do you carry poor travellers free of charge?” asked the Rabbi. “Yes,” answered the teamster. “Then you serve the Lord in your occupation just as faithfully as you would be frequenting the synagogue.”
(However, see A.Y. Pfoifer, Ishei Yisrael [Jerusalem: 1998, 104, section 11, and notes ad loc].)

And indeed, the Rambam in Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:4, followed by the Shulhan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 246:8, rules:
If there came before him [the choice of performing] a mitzvah and (i.e., or continuing) learning Torah, if that mitzvah could be carried out by another, he should not interrupt his learning; but if not, he should carry out that mitzvah and then return to his study. And when it comes to giving charity, one should always give charity first.[1]
This indeed is the conclusion to be drawn from the sugya in Yerushalmi Pesahim 3:7 (and parallel to JT Hagigah 1:7). There we read that R. Abahu, who lived in Caesarea, sent his son R. Haninah to study in Tiberias, in the Yeshiva of R. Yohanan.
They came and informed him that [his son] was engaged in charitable activities (i.e., in the burial of dead). He sent him a message, saying to him: “Are there no graves in Caesarea that I sent you to Tiberias?” (i.e., for such activities you could have stayed at home).
The Talmud continues that it was already decided at Beit Nitzeh in Lod that “study is greater for it leads to deeds,” (see below). However, the rabbis of Caesarea qualified this by saying:
This is the case when there is someone else to carry out the deeds. But if there is not anyone else to carry them out, the deed comes before [the study], (i.e., has precedence).
We then are told a tale:
R. Hiyya, R. Yosi [and] R. Ami were late coming to R. Eleazar [for their lesson with him]. He asked them, “Where were you?” They replied, “We were involved in charitable activity” (meaning in the burial of someone). “Was there no one else [who could do this?]” he asked of them. They replied, “He was a neighbor [according to the Pnei Moshe, or a proselyte – according to the Korban ha-Edah,” i.e., and there was no one else to deal with his burial.]
Incidentally, we may add here that the interpretation of the Pnei Moshe is supported by a passage in Sefer Haredim, (by R. Eleazar Azikri, [Safed: 1533–1600]), Mitzvot Aseh . . . ha-Teluyot be-Lev 22, which states that:
A person is obligated to act charitably towards his neighbors and his relations more than to other people, as is clearly stated in the Bavli and the Yerushalmi.
(See S. Lieberman, HaYerushalmi Kiphshuto [Jerusalem: 1934, 426] and his other comments.)
And the parallel text in JT Hagigah 1:7., begins with an additional passage, namely:
R. Yehudah, when he would see a dead person (i.e., a burial) or a bride (i.e., a marriage procession), [and people] praising them (i.e., honoring them in the processions), he would turn to his students (נותן עיניו בתלמידים), and say: “The [dealing with] the dead precedes the study of Torah (תלמוד).”
And a somewhat similar notion, but expressed in a Hassidic vein, may be found in a story related in Yehezkel Shraga Fraenkel’s Rabbenu ha-Kaddosh mi-Shinyeve (Ramat Gan: 1992, 256–257). He relates that once the Rabbi of Warsaw came to visit the Divrei Hayyim, R. Hayyim of Sanz. The Sanzer Rebbe asked him, “Do you learn?” “Yes,” the Warsaw Rabbi replied. The Rebbe repeated, “Do you always learn?” The reply was, “When someone who is embittered and needs help comes to me, I close my gemara and deal with him, to help and encourage him.” “This is what I wanted to hear,” said the Sanzer, “whether you have the good sense to close your gemara when someone needs your help,[2] both in word and in deed, and in any case to encourage him and bolster his spirit.”[3]

Here we must make something of a digression, which is not really a digression, as this touches upon a very important point. For the Mishnah in Peah 1:1 states that: “the study of Torah is equal to all of them,” i.e., even to those mitzvot listed in the Mishnah which are social ones, such as honoring one’s parents, doing charitable deeds, bringing peace between rival individuals, etc. The question we ask ourselves is: is the study of Torah (תלמוד תורה) a ritual or a social mitzvah? Into which category does it fall? For if the former, according to our suggestion how can it be superior to those other social mitzvot?

To clarify this issue we must go back to a very ancient discussion that took place in the attic at Beit Nitzeh in Lod, between R. Tarfon and the Elders. For this question was put before them: which is greater, or more important תלמוד או מעשה, learning or deeds? R. Tarfon answered: Deeds are greater. While R. Akiva said study is greater. And they all replied: Study is greater for it leads to deeds (BT Kiddushin 40b).[4] That is to say the importance of study is in that it constitutes the key to the proper execution of the mitzvot. This is also the meaning of R. Shimon the son of Rabban Gamliel’s statement in Avot 1:17: Not the expounding of the law (midrash) is the chief thing, but the doing [of it] (maaseh). And this is amplified by Rabbenu Bachya in his commentary ad loc.: that the aim of man’s labor in Torah is not that he should just learn a lot, but that [his learning] should lead to deeds, as we have learned from the verse [in Deuteronomy 5:1], ‘and ye may learn them [i.e., the statutes and judgments], and keep and do them.’ And this is further amplified in Shulhan Aruch ha-Rav, by R. Shneur Zalman Mi-Ladi, in his Hilchot Talmud Torah 4:2, by telling us that “it is impossible to fulfill all the mitzvot in all their details without intensive study and knowledge of them. And for this reason it is equal to all of them,” i.e., not intrinsically, but as a means to their proper application.[5]

This issue has been analyzed recently by R. Yitzchak Shapiro, in his article in Hakirah 9, (2010), 221–243, entitled “To know the Forbidden and the Permitted: An Analysis of Rambam’s View of the Purpose and Goals of Talmud Study.” He shows that the Rambam’s view, as expressed in his letter to his disciple R. Yosef,[6] is that “learning Torah is a utilitarian endeavor, with extracting halachic conclusions its functional objective” (227).[7] He goes on to show that “the simplicity and obviousness [of this position] might go unnoticed if not for its staggering ramification and total incompatibility with contemporary realities in derech halimud ” (227–228). For as he earlier showed (223–224): “the Aharonim do identify an aspect of Torah study, unrelated to fulfillment of the other mitzvot, based on the verse והגית בו יומם ולילה – ‘but thou shalt meditate therein day and night’ (Joshua 1:8, cf. BT Menachot 99b). This mitzvah of ‘limud ha-Torah’ is distinct from the mitzvah of ‘yediat ha-Torah,’ and can be fulfilled regardless of the subject matter that is learned, whereas the mitzvah of yediat ha-Torah requires a curriculum that is limited to ‘halachah’ (or at least the sharpening of one’s mental acuity, which is necessary for accurate application of halachah). However, one may fulfill both facets of the mitzvah simultaneously only by learning halachic subject matter.”[8]

This is the view of the Meiri, as formulated in his commentary to BT Berachot 7b:
The knowledge of how the Torah actually expresses itself indeed requires serving or observing Torah scholars. While intellectual learning is the cause of wisdom, observing the Sages is the cause of knowing how the Torah manifests itself. This is both true for monetary matters as well as that which is prohibited and permitted.
Hence, we may well understand the statement of Rav in BT Megillah 3b, that Talmud Torah is greater than the sacrifice of the daily offerings (­temidin).

Here we may also call attention to R. Meir Triebitz’s insightful analysis (in his introduction to R. Daniel Eidensohn’s Daas Torah: A Jewish Sourcebook [Jerusalem: 2005, 31–35]). He begins by noting that God commands us twice to study Torah: once in Deuteronomy 11:19, and again in Deuteronomy 4:9–11. He analyzes the differences between these two formulations in all their details – e.g., one in the plural and the other in the singular; one talks of teaching, the other telling; one focuses on parents to children, while the other lists three generations. He concludes that “the two verses which obligate us to learn the Torah actually refer to two types of study. One refers to the study of the legal part of Torah, and the other to the study of Torah’s theology. Each form of study is deemed a separate scholarly enterprise.” He characterizes these two forms of study as “legal” (i.e., halachic) study, and “faith” study, which he states “deals primarily with Aggadic parts of the Torah.” But for our purposes it is important to emphasize that both verses, that is to say both classes of study, require the student also to be a teacher, and to pass on his learning to future generations. Hence, Torah study has a social aspect too.

This is a very broad subject that requires a study in its own right, and we cannot enlarge on it here. But what emerges very clearly is that the mitzvah of Torah study is in a very special category, for without it one would not know how to carry out ritual or social mitzvot correctly. Nonetheless, the Or Zarua and the Rav Baal ha-Tanya agree that one interrupts learning Torah to fulfill other mitzvot, if both cannot be carried out at the same time, and one is not exempt because one is already involved in a prior mitzvah.[9]

This is clear from the baraita in BT Ketubot 17a (BT Megillah 3b, 29a) that we interrupt our study of Torah (מבטלין תלמוד תורה) not merely for a met mitzvah and to accompany the dead (הוצאת המת), but also for wedding ceremonies (הכנסת כלה) – all supreme social mitzvot.[10] And in this way, we may better understand the passage in Avot de-R. Natan, chapter 41, (ed. Schechter, Vienna: 1887, 133):
It once happened that R. Tarfon was sitting and teaching his disciples, and a bride went past him. He ordered that she be brought into his house, and told his mother and his wife that they should bathe her, anoint her, and decorate her with jewelry, and dance before her until she goes to her husband’s house.
Apparently, he interrupted his teaching in order to carry out the mitzvah of hachnasat kallah.[11]
And indeed we read in the letters of the Hafetz Hayyim (Michtevei ha-Hafetz Hayyim he-Hadash, vol. 2, Bnei Brak: 1986) II, 86:
You occasionally see a Jew who [in a praiseworthy way] learns Torah [as much as possible] and values his time [not wasting a minute]. But if he does not set aside part of the day to do deeds of kindness, what a lack of intelligence!
And interestingly enough, this also becomes evidence from the commentary of R. David ha-Nagid, the Rambam’s grandson, to Avot 1:15. There Shammai is cited as saying: “Make thy [study of the] Torah a fixed habit (קבע); . . . . And receive all men as its cheerful countenance.” And this is explained by the Nagid to mean that even when you are engaged in your fixed period of Torah study, you should not desist from receiving people cheerfully, thinking that in doing so you are “wasting” Torah-study time.[12] So apparently he regarded proper interpersonal relationship of such importance as even to override one’s involvement in Torah learning. And this presumably goes under the category of kevod ha-beriyot, respect for the individual. (Cf. below, sections 15 and 19.)

We are reminded of the statement of Reb Yisrael of Rizhyn (died 1850), who expounded the verse in Psalms 115:16, “the heavens are the heavens of the Lord; but the earth hath He given to the children of men.”
There are two kinds of tzaddikim. Those of the one sort learn and pray the livelong day and hold themselves far from lowly matters in order to attain holiness. While the others do not think of themselves, but only of delivering the holy sparks which are buried in all things back to God, and they make all lowly things their concern. The former, who are always preparing for Heaven, the verse calls “the heavens,” and they have set themselves apart for the Lord. But the others are the earth given to the children of men.
(Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim: The Later Masters,
New York: 1948, 53–54)
Here, he is contrasting the Lithuanian mitnagdim’s way, (in a double-edged complementary fashion), with that of the Hasidim, while we well know with which way he personally sided.

At the same time we should recollect how Yehudah ha-Levi in his ­Kuzari, begins his definition of the religious man according to Jewish tradition with the negative statement that “in Jewish opinion, the religious man is not to be defined as one who cuts himself off from the world” (Book III, sect. I, ed. Hirschfeld, Leipzig: 1882, 140–141). Perhaps he was combating predominant contemporary Sufi views on extreme asceticism. (See Franz Rosenthal, “A Judaeo-Arabic Work under Sufic Influence,” HUCA XV 1940, 440, and cf. page 465 for an extreme view of this form of asceticism, and note 104.)




[1] See Le-Hair Hilchot Tzedakah be-Or Yekarot (Jerusalem: 2010, 6–7). And see below sect. 16 on the overriding importance of charity, and Appendix. 
[2] See, for example, the practice of the Brisker Rav, Reb Hayyim Soloveitchik, as described in Aharon Sorasky, Marbitzei Torah u-Musar bi-Yeshivot Nusah Lita mi-Tekufat Volozin ve-ad Yameinu, vol. 1 (Jerusalem: 1976, 110).
[3] Cf. BT Shabbat 127a: Said R. Yohanan: Great is the hosting of guests as are those rising up early to the House of Study [of Torah], as we have learned: to make room for guests [to avoid] hindrance in the House of Study. But Rav Dimi of Nehardea said: It is greater than rising up early to the House of Study. For we learned: “for guests,” and only afterwards “to avoid hindrance in the House of Study.” And see below sects. 11 and 12 on hosting guests. 
[4] On this text see Benedict Thomas Viviano, Study as Worship: Aboth and the New Testament (Leiden: 1978, 105–109). Directly related to this is the text in JT Pesahim 3:7, and JT Hagigah 1:7, cited above, from which the Rabbis learned that if others can carry out these charitable activities, a person should not interrupt his Torah studies. And this seems to be the dominant view among the poskim. See further BT Moed Katan 9a; Shulhan Aruch Yoreh Deah 246:18; Meiri to BT Shabbat 9a and Moed Katan ibid.; Rabbenu Yeruham 22a in the name of the Ravad, etc.
See R. Asi ha-Levi Even Yuli, Shulhan Aruch ha-Middot, vol. 2, Halachah u-Musar (Jerusalem: 2009, 243–244).
[5] See R. Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi’s magnificent commentary to Hilchot Talmud Torah Mi-Shulhan Aruch Admor ha-Zaken, vol. 5 [= ha-Rav] (Kefar Habad: 2000, 86).
[6] Ed. Y. Shilat, Iggrot ha-Rambam, vol. 1 (Jerusalem: 1987, 254–259); and see editor’s note on 257–258 to line 4).
 [7] At the simplest level, there is, in the Rambam’s view, an obligation upon one who has learned Torah, also to teach it to others. See Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:2, and so too in the listing of the positive commandments at the beginning of his Mishneh Torah, no. 11. (This list is also that of the Rambam, as attested by the author of the Magid Mishneh in his introduction to Hilchot Eruvin, and the Kesef Mishneh in Hilchot Hannukah 3:6; Responsa Noda bi-Yehudah Kama, Orah Hayyim, sect. 29; Petah ha-Dvir, vol. 2, sect. 194, subsect. A. See R. Yaakov Hayyim Sofer, Drupteki de-Oraita, vol. 1 [Jerusalem: 1987, 45]. And see further his remarks, 68–69, on the need to teach others.) Of related interest is the article of Sarah Pessin, “Maimonides and the Sacred Art of Teaching,” apud Adaptations and Innovations: Studies in the Interaction between Jewish and Islamic Thought and Literature from the Early Middle Ages to the Late Twentieth Century, Dedicated to Professor Joel Kraemer, ed. Y. Tzvi Langermann (Paris & Louvin: 2007, 285–298). See also, most recently, the remarks of R. Aharon Lichtenstein, in H. Sabato and A. Lichtenstein, Mevakshei Panecha (Tel Aviv: 2011, 212–215).
[8] See the material R. Yitzchak Shapiro brings from the letters of R. Yisrael Salanter (no. 27), in this regard. See also Kuntres Aharon shel Shulhan Aruch ha-Rav, Talmud Torah 3:1, ed. Y.A. Lev (Ashdod: 1989, 39 et seq.).
And see R. Aharon Lichtenstein’s very comprehensive study entitled “Does Involvement in Torah Study Exempt One from Mitzvot?”, which appeared in Alei Etzion 16 (5769 [2009]), 71–107, which examines this issue in depth, dealing with questions of delaying procreation, Megillah reading, prayer, all mitzvot, etc., and seeks to explain Rambam’s position that “ha-osek be-mitzvah patur min ha-mitzvah” theoretically applies to Torah study too, when “it is studied with the purpose of performing” (91); and cf. ibid., 105, for his suggestive interpretation of the view of the Maharach Or Zarua. His study of this very complex issue is extremely rich and requires intense study.
See also Moshe Zvi Polin, Sefer ha-Mitzpeh al ha-Rambam, vol. 1, (on Hilchot Talmud Torah) (Jerusalem: 2005, 11–26), that studying (lilmod ) and teaching (lelamed ) are two interconnected mitzvot. See Ramban Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:1; Hilchot Hagigah 3:1: that anyone who is obligated to study is obligated to teach, and cf. ibid., 1:4. I think this is the meaning of the statement in Seder Eliyahu Rabba, ed. Friedman, p. 63 =Tanna Debe Eliyahu, transl. W.G. Braude & I.J. Kapstein (JPS, 1981, 183) that “one who toils in Torah is like a lamp which provides light for the eyes of many.” And in this connection, it is also worth reading Benjamin Blech’s article “Personal Growth or Communal Responsibility: A Question of Priorities,” The Torah U-Madda Journal 2 (1990), 134–142. However, to give a slightly different point of view, see Hatam Sofer to Nedarim 81a; R. Hayyim Volozin’s Nefesh ha-Hayyim, Shaar Dalet, sect. 3; Ruah Hayyim to Avot 6:1, and the introduction to Eglei Tal.
A very extreme expression of this view is to be found in R. David Baharan’s “Hanhagot u-Piskei Halachah,” in Otzrot Yerushalayim, vol. 13 (Jerusalem: [2010?]), 40, where he insists one must learn halachah every day, and it is not sufficient to learn merely Gemara. He goes on to say that one must learn Shulhan Aruch Orah Hayyim or Hayyei Adam, and he who does not do so will surely have no part in the World to Come. (See also ibid., 41–42.)
See further R.S.Z. Auerbach, Halichot Shlomo . . . al Moadei ha-Shanah, ed. Y. Terner and A. Auerbach (Jerusalem: 2007), 537–539, who also is of the opinion that there are two aspects to Torah study: the one being to study in order to learn how to act properly, and the other as an independent positive commandment which is not just in order to know how to act, but the actual practice of learning as an end in its own right. He expands on this position bringing biblical and rabbinic sources to bear out this point of view. However, here too he agrees that ultimately this is in order “to purify his body through the light of Torah, in order to cleave to God . . . who orders the world (àùø äìéëåú òåìí ìå), and without which the world cannot subsist (åáìà ÷éåîí àéï î÷åí ÷éåí ìòåìí)” so that in the final reckoning this non-action-orientated study is nonetheless direct to úé÷åï òåìí, the betterment of our world, (see ibid., 536).
[9] See Kuntres Aharon ibid., in the editor’s Midrashei ha-Kuntres, 36; and also Kuntres Aharon, Talmud Torah 4:3, that one interrupts learning for persuading others to give charity, where others are less persuasive, or helping in burying the dead, etc. See R. Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi, ibid., 87 et seq.
See further R. Ovadiah Yosef, Hazon Ovadiah: Sukkot (Jerusalem: 2005, 168), on the special status of Talmud Torah, because it is mandated at all times (îöåä úîéãéú), and, hence, cannot exempt from other mitzvot, as this would free us from all other mitzvot (citing the Birkei Yosef of the Hida 38:7).
This subject has most recently been examined in considerable detail, with a wealth of sources, by R. Asi ha-Levi Even Yuli, in his Shulhan Aruch ha-Middot, vol. 2, Halachah ve-Musar (Jerusalem: 2009, 243–247). He shows that there are two opposing views. For the Yosef Omez, by R. Yosef Juspa Kahn Neurelingen (c. 1639), (Frankfurt am Main: 1908, [reprint, Jerusalem: 1965] 316), writes that the Rabbis said: Anyone who is involved in Torah learning and not in gemilut hasadim, acts of charity, is as one who has no God. And therefore he wrote that a Torah scholar should make sure that every day he should carry out one act of charity. And the Seder ha-Yom (by R. Moshe ibn Machir [Venice: 1599], and numerous editions) wrote that one must not interrupt the learning of Torah for any mitzvah which can be carried out by another, with the exception of acts of charity. And therefore the enthusiastic should take this to heart and pursue acts of charity as one pursues life itself. (And see the continuation of this passage.) Even Yuli further refers us to Responsa Aderet Tiferet (by R. Avraham Dori, vol. 4, sect. 44), who following on the words of the Seder ha-Yom seeks to find additional support for this view in the Rambam, citing the gemarot in BT Megillah 3b, 29a; BT Ketubot 17a as further proof, in that one interrupts Torah learning to accompany the dead to his final resting place. (See below on this subject.) He then refers us to the Sdei Hemed to which we referred earlier on. However, this runs counter to the prevailing majority view found in a multitude of rabbinic sources, to which he referred on 243–244, and therefore very convincingly he rejects and refutes this argument on 246–247. See there in detail. However, the above just underscores what we have tried to point out, namely the complex ambiguity of the status of Torah study.
[10] See Rema, Even ha-Ezer 65:1; Ba”h ibid., that even the leading Torah authority, Gedol ha-Dor, does so. And even public learning is so interrupted, (Pnei Yehoshua to BT Ketubot ibid., on the basis of Tosafot Megillah ibid.). However, see D. Friedman, Piskei Halachot, vol. 3 (Warsaw: 1901, 35), argues that nowadays, that we are not intimately acquainted with the laws and our studies are directed to their correct understanding, therefore, we do not interrupt Torah learning for wedding ceremonies. See, in detail, on all the rules related to this subject, B. Adler, Ha-Nisuim ke-Hilchatam, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (Jerusalem: 1985, 394–395).
Clearly hachnasat kallah is related to the mitzvah of procreation, which is one of the paramount duties of a man, in Jewish halachic thought. See my Netivot Pesikah (Jerusalem: 2008, 162–163, n. 251). (And cf. below, sect. 30.)
Here we may add that a communal positive mitzvah always takes precedence and outweighs a private individual’s positive mitzvah. A teacher sitting shiva is forbidden to learn and teach Torah. However, he is permitted to do so if the community needs him (Shulhan Aruch Yoreh Deah 384:1). See Tzvi Marx, Halakha and Handicap (Jerusalem: 1992–1993, 228).
[11] See Schechter’s note in his edition of Avot de-R. Natan, n. 24, and p. 131, n. 10.
[12]Midrash R. David ha-Nagid to Avot, ed. BenTziyyon Kipnis (Jerusalem: 1944). The Arabic original appeared in Na Amon 1901. However, there are some doubts as to the attribution of authorship. See Milhamot Ha-Shem by R. Avraham ben ha-Rambam, ed. M. Margaliot (Jerusalem: 1953, 38, n. 8); A. Katz, JQR 48 (1957), 140–160; Midrash R. David ha-Nagid to Genesis, ed. A. Katz (Jerusalem: 1964, 16–18). On R. David ha-Nagid himself, see A. Strauss (Ashtor), Toldot ha-Yehudim be-Mitzrayim ve-Suriah tahat Shilton ha-Mamelukim, vol. 1 (Jerusalem: 1944, 117–128).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution

Yehudah Mirsky, Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014)
This volume offers a brief, accessible presentation of the life, teachings, and legacy of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, a colossal figure little known in the English-speaking world. It also tries to fill the crying scholarly need for a one-volume study in English to go alongside the vast and growing body of literature on him in Hebrew. It is addressed to readers new to the man, the period, and his teachings, as well as to those already familiar with them. This attempt to create a fellowship of readers from disparate communities is more than fitting for a book about a man who tried to do the same on a vastly more consequential scale. The Seforim Blog is happy to present the following excerpt. It is taken from chapter three, which surveys Rav Kook’s spiritual diaries, and in particular the volumes known as Shemonah Kevatzim, from which his son, Rav Zvi Yehudah Kook, his disciple Rav David Cohen Ha-Nazir, and others, culled and edited his canonical theological works.
The third notebook in this series begins with an arresting analysis of contemporary Jewish life. Three forces, he writes, wrestle within all people: “The holy, the nation, humanity.” Modernity has whirled these three central dimensions of Jewish identity away from one another, each becoming the property of a party--nationalism, liberalism, and Orthodoxy, respectively--and they stubbornly refuse to be rejoined, because each fixates on the negative dimensions of the others. Yet all three dimensions are necessary, and each should appreciate seemingly bad sides of the others, as well as their good sides. Ideally, liberals will grasp that the narrowness of nationalism comes from real love of one’s community, and the zealousness of the Orthodox is rooted in a flaming desire for God. Liberals and the Orthodox will see that nationalists’ placing solidarity above broader aspirations for universal ethics or transcendence arises from powerful, loving attachments to people and fellow feeling. Nationalists and the Orthodox in turn will see that liberals’ preference for humanity over nationalism or religion is rooted in an ultimately divine perspective. The sacred, then, is the energy that synthesizes all three elements--religious commitment, national identity, and ethical universalism--and a relationship to the All that lies beyond, before, and within them.

            For Rav Kook, Orthodoxy has the inside track to holiness, yet liberalism and nationalism are its ontological equals on that journey. And he urged people to live a complex gesture, to be actively tolerant while taking a genuine stand on behalf of the ideals in which they truly believe, fighting for them in the here and now. His political credo was something along these lines: I should always recognize not only that All the while, they should recognize not only that my opponent is human, but also that he has a piece of the truth that is unavailable to me. Secure in the rightness of my calling and in the inevitable partiality of my vision, I proceed with faith in the struggle itself and its ultimate, harmonious resolution. These ideas were not the fruit of theory, but were the harvest of his very real struggles with others and with himself.

            Different lifeworlds course through Rav Kook’s journals: fidelity, rebellion, scholasticism, folk piety, romantic nationalism, ethical universalism, mystical experience, halakhic discipline, surging antinomianism, the exertions of intellect, and the passionate religion of the heart. These he saw as his own defining contradictions and those of his people, of all people and times, manifestations of the immanent divine light hidden in all the varied, jagged dimensions of existence, struggling to join with the light of transcendence and be revealed:
All the thoughts and ideas, the great desires, the awesome trials, that every tzaddik endures in his private self, the nation as a whole endures as well, and more broadly man in general, and more broadly the world, and all the worlds.. . to the extent that he stands fast…becomes equal to the spirit of all worlds, and from his interiority takes in all, and the light comes to him from his darknesses so that he can truly survey the world from one end to the other, each one at his level, then he will see the greatness of God in strength and joy, and the path of the tzaddikim is like radiant light, ever brightening to the day [Proverbs 4:18].

The all-encompassing vision with which he tried to find the light in everything and, in so doing, to square a seemingly endless number of circles regularly left him on a knife-edge between despair and exhilaration, quickened by introspection into his own inadequacies. His critique and rewriting of traditional religious categories, especially repentance, extended to this inner work as well.

One who grieves constantly for his sins and the sins of the world must constantly forgive and absolve himself and the whole world; and in so doing draw forgiveness and a light of loving-kindness onto all of being, and bring joy to God and to His creatures. He must first forgive himself, and afterward cast a broad forgiveness over all, the nearest to him first, on the branches of the roots of the soul, and on his family, his loved ones, his generation, and his world, and all worlds . . . And thus is revealed all the good that is hidden away in everything, and he attains the blessing of Abraham, since there is no generation in which his likeness does not emerge.

            His grief for his sins, as part of a world of sins, offers a paradoxical point of entry into the only thing that can offer relief--forgiveness. Not an abstract forgiveness, but acceptance of oneself, one’s family and friends, world, time, and all times. He is, in this passage, undergoing a theurgic process, of human influence on the divine, and by mimesis in reverse, a human simulacrum of God’s forgiveness, a great exhalation of forgiveness down below that brings about forgiveness from above--because it is itself the revelation of God’s forgiveness, the grace of seeing God’s light in all things. Sinfulness, then, is that which blocks the soul’s natural ascent. Sin is an opacity thrust into a shaft of light.

Monday, March 17, 2014

פורים בגבעת שאול - דיוקה של שמועה

פורים בגבעת שאול - דיוקה של שמועה
מאת הרב שלמה הופמן
עורך השנתון 'ירושתנו'
silhof@neto.bezeqint.net
ירושלים היא כיום העיר היחידה הידועה בבירור כמוקפת חומה מימות יהושע בן נון שקריאת המגילה נעשית בה ביום ט"ו לחודש אדר.
עם היציאה מן החומות ובניית השכונות החדשות סביב העיר הישנה, התעוררה השאלה עד להיכן מתפשטת ירושלים - אם להחשיבה כחלק בלתי נפרד ממנה אם מדין "סמוך ונראה".
דיון זה עדיין לא נפשט בשכונותיה הרחוקות יותר של ירושלים - כשבחוד חנית הויכוח עומדת לה שכונת רמות הנעשית בכל שנה ושנה אגודות אגודות. קונטרסים וספרים ללא מספר נדפסו בענין. באחד הספרים שחובר על ידי תושב רמות[1], מציין המחבר בשער הספר את מקום מושבו: "רמות על יד ירושלים" - ומינה אתה כבר למד את דעתו והכרעתו בענין.
אמנם בשכונותיה הקרובות לירושלים העתיקה והנמשכות מהן, הוכרע המנהג וההלכה לעשות את יום הפורים בחמשה עשר בו.
למול הכרעה זו, ניצב, כדעת יחידאה[2], רבי יחיאל מיכל טוקצינסקי בעל 'לוח לארץ ישראל' הוותיק, אשר קבע בספרו[3] וכך הונצח בלוחו עד עצם היום הזה:
ובנוגע לירושלים החדשה - דע ש"הסמוך ונראה לכרך" באורו הסמוך ונראה לעיר העתיקה. וכל שכונה הרחוקה יותר ממיל מחומת ירושלים מימי יהושע... אין דינן כהכרך...
אף הוא מוסיף ומציין את הגבולות המדוייקים בשטח:
ולדעתנו מן בית זקנים הספרדי והלאה למערב העיר (כיום רחוב "גשר החיים" ע"ש הגרימ"ט זצ"ל)... - צריכים לנהוג כבעיירות הספקות...
וכמנהל מוסדות עץ חיים ונכסיה - ובכללם שכונת 'עץ חיים' העומדת מחוץ לגבולות ירושלים שקבע - עשה מעשה למעשה, ובלוחו - הממשיך לצאת לאור על ידי בנו וכיום ע"י נכדו, מופיעה מידי שנה בשנה ההודעה הקבועה דלהלן:
לידיעת האורחים בירושלים
בשכונת עץ חיים (מול התחנה המרכזית בכניסה לירושלם) קורין המגילה בברכה בליל ויום י"ד. תפילת ערבית שעה... תפילת שחרית שעה...
כפי שניתן להבין מכותרת ההודעה, אין מנין זה משמש אלא את "האורחים בירושלים", וכבר העירו והעידו כי: "גם שם כמדומה שאין אחד מבני המקום גופא מעיז לברך, אלא אחד הבא מעיר פרוזה וחוזר לשם בלילה וחוזר ובא למחרת בבוקר"[4].
רש"י זוין בדברי בקרותו על הלוח תמה וכותב: "יש להתפלא על המחבר: כל שנה ושנה הוא חוזר ומפרסם דעתו זו בלוחותיו, בשעה שהוא רואה ויודע שלמעשה נוהגים אחרת. כל ירושלים החדשה קוראת בט"ו"[5].

באוירת הימים, יובא תיאורו של מחבר נוסף התמה על דעת הרב טוקצינסקי, ומחדד את תמיהתו באמצעות משל:
...במחילת כבוד תורתו אינני מבין את דבריו בענין סוף מהלך מיל מחומת ירושלים, דלפי דבריו נגמר המיל באמצעו של רח' גשר החיים וכי רח' זה חוצה בין סמוך לירושלים לבין רחוק מירושלים, זאת אומרת שהבתים העומדים במזרחו של רח' זה הם סמוכים לירושלים והבתים העומדים במערבו של רח' זה הם רחוקים מירושלים.
ובכן ברח' זה ביום י"ד אדר קרה מעשה כעלעלם, יהודי היושב במס' 9 ברח' זה קרה שבליל י"ד אדר לקח את המגילה ללכת לבית הכנסת "זכרון בתיה" במס' 12 במערבו של רח' זה בכן הוא צריך לשמוע את המגילה בליל י"ד, אמנם בבואו לבית הכנסת הנ"ל לעגו ממנו כל המתפללים באמרם אליו הלא פורים היוא בליל מחרת ולא בלילה הזה, כמובן שזה היהודי הטמין את המגילה התפלל ערבית כרגיל מבלי הזכרת "על הנסים", זה היהודי חזר לביתו לאכול ארוחת ערב כרגיל, באמצע ברכת המזון שמעה אשתו שאינו מזכיר על הנסים צעקה עליו על שאינו מזכיר על הנסים הלא פורים היום הזכיר על הנסים והחליט שהיום פורים, בבקר הלך לבית הכנסת הנ"ל ומגילה בידו בכדי לשמוע את קריאת המגילה, והנה המקרה של אתמול בלילה חזר גם היום והפעם נזפו בו קשות היתכן שיהודי יתבסם לפני תפלת שחרית, וזה היהודי הטמין את המגילה התפלל שחרית בלי הזכרת על הנסים וחזר לביתו לאכול ארוחת בקר כרגיל, אחרי הארוחה אמר לשאתו שהוא הולך לעבודתו, אשתו שמעה זאת צעקה והזעיקה את השכנים בקול גדול ראו בעלי נהיה עבריין אינו שומר את מצוותיו של יום הפורים, בכן זה האומלל נפשו בשאלתו שיורו לו מה לעשות שיינצל מהלעג של חבריו ומצעקותיה של אשתו, זה סיפור חלמאי שקרה ביום י"ד אדר ברח' גשר החיים בירושלים[6].

על ההכרעה בשכונת גבעת שאול, מספר הרב שלמה זלמן זוננפלד בספרו על תולדות זקנו רבי יוסף חיים זוננפלד, תחת הכותרת "דייקן בלשון רבו":
כאשר נתעורר ענין קריאת המגילה בשכונות החדשות אשר בפרברי ירושלים, והרב מיכל טוקצינסקי הנהיג קריאת המגילה בי"ד ובט"ו בשכונת "עץ חיים", וטען שכן יש לנהוג גם בבית היתומים דיסקין, בי"ד בברכה ובט"ו בלא ברכה.
טען כנגדו הגרא"י קוק ואמר: הלא רוצים אנחנו להרחיב את גבולותיה של ירושלים בבחינת "פרזות תשב ירושלים", ואתה בא לצמצמה.
פנו למורנו ושאלו לדעתו, והוא השיב:
"יודע אני כי מורי ורבי הרב מבריסק רכש את המגרש שעליו עומד בית היתומים, והוא כתב אז ופירסם שהוא רכש מגרש בירושלים עבור בית היתומים, ואם אתם קורין את המגילה בבית היתומים בי"ד, נמצאתם אומרים ששם לא ירושלים, והרי רבינו דייקן בדבריו היה, ומזה אנו מסקינן להלכה, לקרוא רק בט"ו ולא בי"ד"[7].
משמועה זו למדים אנו, כי לכשנדייק בלשון המהרי"ל דיסקין, נמצא כי הורה בבירור כי שכונת גבעת שאול - בכלל ירושלים היא.
שמועה זו התפרסמה ואף נתקבלה להלכה, הרב אבגדֹר נבנצאל רבה של ירושלים העתיקה השיב כסמך לשאלה שנשאל:
...שאר ירושלים ...מה שקורין בה מגילה בט"ו, הוא מפני שהכל נמשך אחר העיר העתיקה, כי בתים שמחברים. כשבנו את "בית היתומים דיסקין" ואז עוד לא היו בתים שיחברו לשאר העיר, נשאל מרן רבי יוסף חיים זוננפלד זצ"ל על זמן קריאת המגילה שם, והשיב שהיות וכשהמהרי"ל דיסקין אסף כסף לבנות בית יתומים, הוא אמר שהוא אוסף כסף בשביל בית יתומים "בירושלים" אז זה ירושלים...[8]

אלא שדא עקא!
הרב נפתלי צבי פרוש-גליקמן, מספר בזכרונותיו על תולדות בית היתומים דיסקין:
בית היתומים דיסקין נוסד בשנת תר"מ על ידי מרן הגאון קוה"ק רבי יהושע ליב דיסקין זצוק"ל גאב"ד בריסק... ראשיתו של המוסד באחת החצרות של הרובע היהודי בעיר העתיקה, רק בשנת תרנ"ד, רכש עבורו הגאון מבריסק זצוק"ל בית מיוחד...
לאחר פטירתו של מרן הגאון זצוק"ל עלה לירושלים, בנו יחידו הגאון רבי יצחק ירוחם דיסקין זצ"ל שפרש חסותו על מוסד מיוחד במינו זה...
בשנת תרפ"ד זכיתי להתמנות להיות גבאי וחבר ההנהלה של בית היתומים...
כאשר עלתה על הפרק שאלת רכישת אדמה לבנין בית היתומים, הוזמנתי על ידי הגר"י דיסקין לבדוק את ההצעות השונות ולחוות את דעתי... לאחר מכן הוצעו שני מגרשים אחרים, האחד המקום שעליו בנוי היום לתפארת הבנין הגדול של בית יתומים דיסקין... המנהלים העדיפו את המקום הראשון...[9]  

היכן היה ה"בית המיוחד" ש"רכש עבורו הגאון מבריסק זצוק"ל" - לא נתפרש כאן, אך כמובן לא היה זה בשכונת גבעת שאול - שנוסדה רק בשנת תר"ע[10].
ומעניין לציין אל דברי ההיסטוריון וחוקר בתי ירושלים ושכונותיה, שבתי זכריה, אודות בית הספר תחכמוני:
מוסד מפורסם זה התקיים בשכונה [-מקור ברוך] עשרות שנים. בית הספר הגיע אל השכונה בשנת תרפ"ט (1929)... מלכתחילה נבנו בנייניו של בית הספר עבור בית היתומים דיסקין, אך משום מה לא עבר בית היתומים למקום, ובזמן מלחמת העולם הראשונה שימש הבניין כקרסטין לצבא התורכי. לאחר מכן שימש המקום לתעשיות שונות... היום שוכן בו תלמוד תורה המסורה...[11]
את מקורותיו - אין ש' זכריה מציין, אך מבין השיטין ניתן לשער כי בניית בנין זה בעבור בית היתומים - אמנם היתה לפני מלחמת העולם הראשונה, אבל לאחר פטירת הרי"ל דיסקין (שנפטר בשנת תרנ"ח).
על אחת כמה וכמה שרכישת המגרש בגבעת שאול - נעשתה שנים רבות לאחר מכן - וכאמור בעדותו וזכרונותיו של רנ"צ פרוש-גליקמן - לאחר שנת תרפ"ד.

המעשה ביסודו - היֹה היה, אלא שכדרכן של שמועות, השתנה בהורקה מכלי אל כלי.
ואם אמנם רבי יוסף חיים זוננפלד, "דייקן בלשון רבו" היה, אך מעבירי השמועה לא דייקו בלשון סיפורם.
כך מספר הרב אברהם משה קצנלנבוגן בשם זקנו בעל המעשה:
במרומי השכונה "גבעת שאול" בדרך העולה לירושלים, נבנה מוסד בית היתומים דיסקין, שהגה ויסד הגאון מבריסק רבינו יהושע לייב זצ"ל, ואת הבנין הקים בנו הגאון רבי יצחק ירוחם זצ"ל.
המוסד השתקם שם בר"ח ניסן תרפ"ז, ובאותה תקופה, היתה גבעת שאול, שכונה שוממה, זרועה בתים בודדים, ומובן שעד החומות של העיר העתיקה, לא היה רצף של ישוב.
לשנה הבאה (תרפ"ח) כשבירכו חודש אדר, התעוררה השאלה, כיצד ינהגו בקריאת המגילה, המתגוררים בבית היתומים.
הפוסקים היו חלוקים בדעותיהם, חלקם סבר שיש לקרוא את המגילה ביום י"ד מאחר והעיר העתיקה אינה נראית, והמקום לא סמוך, אחרים אמרו שמחמת הספק צריכים לקרוא גם בי"ד וגם בט"ו.
בין החולקים ניצב זקיני מורי ורבי הגאון רבי רפאל זצ"ל שסבר כי חייבים לקרוא אך ורק ביום ט"ו, כפי שקוראים בירושלים עיה"ק.
פסק ההלכה על מוסד דיסקין הדריך את מנוחתם של כמה מחכמי ירושלים, ולכשנתוועדו בצוותא הוחלט לשאול את פי הגאון רבי יוסף חיים זוננפלד זצ"ל.
וכך סיפר זקיני מו"ר הגאון זצ"ל: כששטחתי את הענין לפני רבי יוסף חיים זצ"ל סיפר לי, כי ידוע לו שהגאון רבי יהושע לייב זצ"ל, יסד את המוסד שלו בירושלים דוקא, ולא במקום אחר, ואם נקבע שאת המגילה קוראים בי"ד ולא כמו בירושלים, בט"ו, נאלץ להקים בית חדש למוסד דיסקין במקום שקוראים בו בט"ו. ומאז קוראים שם בט"ו[12].

לכשנדייק בלשון עדות בעל המעשה זה נמצאנו למדים, כי לא הוראה של מהרי"ל דיסקין היתה כאן, אלא הוראה של רבי יוסף חיים זוננפלד - שהוסיף בשנינות: על פי הוראתו של מהרי"ל דיסקין, מוסד בית היתומים צריך לשכון בירושלים דווקא, ואם אנחנו נסיק שגבעת שאול אינה ירושלים, עלינו להעביר את המוסד למקום אחר - מקום בו אנו סבורים שהוא ירושלים.

ראוי לציין כי דעתו של מהרי"ל דיסקין עצמו בענין זה נדפסה בספרו: "ולענין סמוך לא משכחת לה כלל, דכל שאין שיעור מיל פנוי בינתים חשיבא סמוך"[13].




[1] ספר שערי זבולון, חובר ע"י ר"ז שוב, בשנת תשמ"ט.
[2] רש"ד דבליצקי, ירושלים הרים סביב לה, בני ברק תשמ"ט, עמ' 9 כותב: "למעשה מצאנו לו אך חבר אחד והוא הגאון ר' משה נחמיה כהניו מחאסלאוויץ זצ"ל בתורה מציון משנת תרמ"ז, ולא נהוג עלמא כוותיהו".
[3] עיר הקדש והמקדש, ח"ג ירושלים תשכ"ט, פרק כז.
[4] רש"ד דבליצקי, שם. וראה דברי רי"מ טוקצינסקי בספרו הנ"ל שם עמ' תכז.
[5] רש"י זוין, סופרים וספרים, ח"א תל אביב תשי"ט, עמ' 359.
[6] רא"ב קעפעטש, חומות ירושלים, ירושלים תשמ"ט, עמ' י-יא. (על משל זה, העיר רבי שלמה זלמן אויערבאך: "עלות השחר קובע ולא כל רגע" - שם בספר עמ' ל).
[7] רש"ז זוננפלד, האיש על החומה, ח"א ירושלים תשל"ה, עמ' 214-215.
[8] ר"א נבנצאל, סבו ציון, ירושלים, עמ' פא.
[9] רנ"צ פרוש-גליקמן, (רמ"ע דרוק עורך), שלשה דורות בירושלים, ירושלים תשל"ח, עמ' 172-173.
[10] י' שפירא, ירושלים מחוץ לחומה, ירושלים תש"ח, עמ' 139.
[11] ש. זכריה, ירושלים של מטה, ירושלים תשס"ג, עמ' 311.
[12] רמיי"ל דיסקין, אהלים - מגילה (עורך: רא"מ קצנלנבוגן), ירושלים תשנ"ג, עמ' תמט.
[13] שו"ת מהרי"ל דיסקין, קונטרס אחרון סי' ג אות קג. (וראה עוד בדברי תלמידו רצ"מ שפירא, ציץ הקדש, ח"א סי' נב).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Ethics of the Case of Amalek: An Alternative Reading of the Biblical Data and the Jewish Tradition

 The Ethics of the Case of Amalek: An Alternative Reading of the Biblical Data and the Jewish Tradition
by Reuven Kimelman

This study of Amalek deals with seven questions.
1. Is the battle against Amalek primarily ethnic or ethical?
2. What is the difference in reading the biblical data starting with Exodus and Deuteronomy or starting with I Samuel 15?
3. What is the evidence that the Bible already seeks ethical justification for punishing Amalek?
4. How does post-biblical literature in general and rabbinic literature in particular further the transformation of Amalek into an ethical category?
5. How is the “Sennacherib principle” applied to Amalek?
6. How is Amalek de-demonized?
7. How can Haman be an Amalekite when according to 1 Chronicles 4:43 the remnant of Amalek had been wiped out?     
                       
                                                1. Introduction
This study deals with the wars against Amalek. The popular conception is that the Bible demands their extermination thereby providing a precedent for genocide.[1] This reading of Amalek filters the Torah material through the prism of Saul’s battle against Amalek in the Book of Samuel. The total biblical data is much more ambiguous making the most destructive comments the exception not the rule as will be evident from a systematic analysis of all the Amalek material in the Bible.  
                                   
                                                2. AMALEK
The first biblical reference to Amalek appears in Exodus 17:
7The place was named Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and because they tried the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord present among us or not?” 8Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9Moses said to Joshua, “Pick some men for us, and go out and do battle with Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill, with the rod of God in my hand.” Joshua did as Moses told him and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11Then, whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; but whenever he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12But Moses’ hands grew heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur, one on each side, supported his hands; thus his hands were faithful until the sun set. 13And Joshua overwhelmed the people of Amalek with the sword. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Inscribe this in a document as a reminder, and recite in the ears of Joshua:[2] ‘I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.’ ” 15And Moses built an altar and named it Adonai-nissi. He said, “It means, ‘Hand upon the thro[ne] of the Lo[rd]!’ The Lord will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages.”

This text raises many questions: (1) why could Moses not keep his hands up fully aware that as long as they were raised Israel prevailed, (2) why are the hands of Moses called “faithful,” (3) why was it inscribed in a document and told specifically to Joshua that God -- not he -- is to blot out Amalek, (4) why is it God -- not Israel -- who will be at war with Amalek, and if God is waging the war (5) why does God not finish them off  as was done with the Egyptians at the Sea rather than extending it throughout the ages. Finally, (6) why do the terms for God and throne appear in the Hebrew orthographically truncated? The inability to account for these matters in literal terms has generated the view that the battle between Amalek and God serves as a metaphor for the conflict between human evil and divine authority where human evil truncates, as if were, the divine presence and authority.[3] The metaphorical reading would account for locating the war with Amalek in Exodus after a crisis of faith -- “Is the Lord present among us or not?” (17:7)[4]  and why the hands of Moses are described as faithful, namely, faith generating. It also accounts for its location in Deuteronomy after a warning against dishonest business practices that ends with “For everyone who does those things, everyone who deals dishonestly, is abhorrent to the Lord your God” (25:16).[5]

The appearance of Amalek is thus correlated with the absence of faith and morality. Its presence signifies their absence. The position is epitomized in the rabbinic statement: “As long as the seed of Amalek is in the world neither God’s name nor His throne is whole. Were the seed of Amalek to perish from the world the Name would be whole and the throne would be whole.”[6] In fact, an alternative version explicitly states “the wicked” instead of Amalek.[7] Thus the war against Amalek is not against a specific ethnicity, but the human ethical condition. Such a battle ultimately can only be waged by God not Joshua. Therefore Joshua is pointedly told that what he started with the historical Amalek is not his job to finish since that can only be done by God. In sum, the more Amalek comes to embody moral evil, the more it moves from ethnicity to ethics.

It is generally assumed that the metamorphosis of Amalek from the ethnic to the ethical is a product of post-biblical exegesis, absent in the Bible itself. Alternatively, the aforementioned terminological peculiarities reflect a process of metaphorization already evident in the Bible. The possibility that the Exodus text was already understood metaphorically in the Bible may be gathered from the other references to the actual nation of Amalek which lack awareness of the Exodus text. Thus in the next reference to Amalek, in Numbers 13:29 and 14:25, they are designated by their location only. Numbers 14:43-45 warns Israel:

42Do not go up, lest you be routed by your enemies, for the Lord is not in your midst. 43 For the Amalekites and the Canaanites will be there to face you, and you will fall by the sword, inasmuch as you have turned from following the Lord· and the Lord will not be with you.” 44Yet defiantly they marched toward the crest of the hill country, though neither the Ark of the Covenant nor Moses stirred from the camp. 45And the Amalekites and the Canaanites who dwelt in that hill country came down and pummeled them to/at Hormah.

There is no allusion to the Exodus episode unless it is in the metaphorical explanation that Israel meets defeat because they turn away from God. In any case, there is no command to do away with Amalek nor any special comment about them. In Numbers 24:20, it is predicted that Amalek will be gone or perish forever without any mention that Israel will destroy them.[8] It correlates well with the last biblical mention of Amalek in 1 Chronicles 4:43 where it is recorded that the last remnant of Amalek was done away with as part of its conflict with the tribe of Simeon, but not because of any mandated war against them.

The next reference to Amalek is in Deuteronomy 25. It adds three elements. It seeks to provide a basis for retributive justice by charging Amalek with an unprovoked ambush of the defenseless, seeking to “cut down all the stragglers in your rear.” It is precisely their immorality that triggered the demand for retribution.[9] It also delays the battle until all the borders have been secured thereby removing it from any defense or security agenda. This process is extended by later authorities who further postponed the struggle with Amalek till the kingship was instituted and the Temple built,[10] while others delayed it to the messianic age.[11] And lastly, it shifts the responsibility for such retribution from God to Israel. It goes like this:

17Bear in mind what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt—18how, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and undeterred by fear of God, cut down all the stragglers in your rear. 19Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!

This description, especially the expression “undeterred by fear of God,” provoked various classical commentators to level against Amalek a slew of charges such as insolence, immorality in warfare, undermining divine authority,[12] and provoking other nations to attack Israel.[13] Thus it was claimed that they were “justly suffering the punishment which they wrongly strove to deal to others.”[14] Others, however, claimed that the expression “not fearing God” applied to Israel just as do the preceding expressions “famished and weary.”[15] Faulting Israel for “not fearing God” correlates with faulting Israel for the lack of faith, in Exodus 17:7, which precipitated the onslaught of Amalek in 17:8.[16]

 Amalek next appears in The Book of Judges.[17] He is described as a launcher of raids into the Israelite heartland without any special comment. In fact, he is sometimes associated there with Midian, who becomes the object of Israel’s wrath (ibid., 6:15), not Amalek. The absence of any special enmity for Amalek is telling.

The next reference to Amalek in 1 Samuel 15 is fateful. It places the responsibility to blot out the memory of Amalek on the king and identifies “the memory” with all the people and livestock. This position was harmonized with Deuteronomy’s position that it is the people’s responsibility by maintaining that the demand devolves upon the people only when led by a king in an act of war.[18]  It states: 

1Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over His people Israel. Therefore, heed the voice of the Lord’s words. 2‘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.’ 3“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.”

There are two ways of parsing this section. Either both verse two and three are God’s, or only verse two while three is Samuel’s inference. According to the second parsing, we have here Samuel’s interpretation and application. He places the responsibility to blot out the memory of Amalek on the king, he interprets “blotting out” as physical extermination, and identifies “the memory” with all the people and livestock. Samuel thereby extends the innovation of Deuteronomy seven of including Canaanites in the proscription of Israelite idolators to the Amalekites.[19] This move was perceived as so harsh that the talmudic rabbi, R. Mani, had King Saul himself protest the order objecting that even if the adult males were guilty the children and livestock were not.[20] Since there is no similar objection with regard to the Amalek material in the Torah, the Torah material was not understood as including children and livestock. Saul’s objection in the Talmud must hence be against Samuel’s interpretation that the proscription of Amalek includes the destruction of those who did not partake in Amalek’s dastardly deeds. After all, Exodus faults Amalek for mounting the attack at all, whereas Deuteronomy focuses on their crude cowardice of attacking the stragglers. Both accusations are limited to those who fought.

 Just as Samuel expanded the biblical data, Maimonides later on circumscribed Samuel’s position and harmonized it with Deuteronomy by limiting the attack on Amalek to the people when led by a king in an act of war.[21] He thus ruled that the appointment of a king precedes the war against Amalek. Since he also ruled there that the destruction of Amalek precedes the building of the Temple,[22] he ends up severely restricting its application to the period between the appointment of the king and the building of the Temple. In biblical chronology, that limits it to the reign of Saul and David. Even that, is not as limiting as the Bible itself since there is no mention of Amalek with regard to David’s failed attempt, or Solomon’s successful attempt, to build the Temple nor do either seek to do away with Amalek. Presumably, Amalek was already irrelevant or that Samuel’s understanding of Amalek was never accepted. This, as shall see, makes most sense of the biblical data.

Besides limiting the morally outrageous ruling on Amalek to a specific time, it was limited by a process of moral justification. This process begins already in Deuteronomy by spelling out their felonious behaviour and continues in the Book of  Samuel. Samuel thus justifies his slaying of the king of Amalek, Agag, not by referring to crimes of long ago but to recent ones, saying: “As your sword has bereaved women, so shall your mother be bereaved among women” (I Samuel 15:33).[23] By understanding the king as representative of the people, a four hundred year vendetta becomes a quid pro quod judicial execution. Only those who have wielded the sword will die by the sword. [24] Lurking behind this understanding is obviously the verse “A man shall be put to death [only] for his own sin” (Deuteronomy 24:16). A verse which was already used in the Bible (2 Kings 14:6 = 2 Chronicles 25:4) to prevent cross-generational vendettas. A similar understanding of the battle against Amalek as justified retribution appears in the reference to Amalek immediately preceding our story in 1 Samuel 14:48: “He (King Saul) was triumphant, defeating the Amalekites and saving Israel from those who have plundered it.” If the Hebrew of “and” is taken, as it sometimes is, as “namely,”[25] then Saul’s defeat of the Amalek is in response to Amalek’s plundering of Israel.

This reading that Amalek should only get as they gave is justified by David’s tit-for-tat response to Amalek’s plundering. 1 Samuel 30 states what Amalek did to Israel:

1By the time David and his men arrived in Ziklag, on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid into the Negev and against Ziklag; they had stormed Ziklag and burned it down. 2They had taken the women in it captive, low-born and high-born alike; they did not kill any, but carried them off and went their way.

Again Amalek attacked the weak left behind. What did David do? Not knowing what to do he inquired of the Lord:
7David said to the priest Abiathar son of Ahimelech, “Bring the ephod up to me.” 8When Abiathar brought up the ephod to David, inquired of the Lord, “Shall I pursue those raiders? Will I overtake them?” And He answered him, “Pursue, for you shall overtake and you shall rescue.”

Evidently, there was no recourse to any standing order to kill Amalek. Indeed, nothing is made of the fact that they are Amalekites. They are simply called raiders. David’s counterattack sought only to recoup his own. Amalekites who fled are left alone and the livestock is taken as spoil:

17David attacked them from before dawn until the evening of the next day; none of them escaped, except four hundred young men who mounted camels and got away. 18David rescued everything the Amalekites had taken; David also rescued his two wives. 19Nothing of theirs was missing—young or old, sons or daughters, spoil or anything else that had been carried off —David recovered everything. 20David took all the flocks and herds, which [the troops] drove ahead of the other livestock; and they declared, “This is David’s spoil.”


Note that there is no condemnation of David, à la Saul, for not slaying Amalek or for taking the spoil. Similarly, 1 Chronicles 18:11 records that David dedicated to God the spoils of Amalek[26] just as he did to those of Edom, Moab, Ammon, and the Philistines. Again Amalek is treated as other enemies without a distinctive comment or special treatment just as is the case in Psalm 83:7-9 which lists Amalek among the many enemies of Israel. One tradition, cited by Rashi and Radak to 2 Chronicles 20:1, has the Amalekites trying to pass as Ammonites to wage war against Israel in the time of Jehoshaphat, whereas another, based on Numbers 21:1, has them trying to pass as Canaanites to exploit Israel’s vulnerability upon the death of Aaron.[27] 
The final case which shows that the treatment of Amalek was not different from other enemies is David’s encounter with the Amalekite who slew King Saul in 2 Samuel 1:

4“What happened?” asked David. “Tell me!” And he told him how the troops had fled the battlefield, and that, moreover, many of the troops had fallen and died; also that Saul and his son Jonathan were dead. 5“How do you know,” David asked the young man who brought him the news, “that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?” 6The young man who brought him the news answered, “I happened to be at Mount Gilboa, and I saw Saul leaning on his spear, and the chariots and horsemen closing in on him. 7He looked around and saw me, and he called to me. When I responded, ‘At your service,’ 8he asked me, ‘Who are you?’ And I told him that I was an Amalekite. 9Then he said to me, ‘Stand over me, and finish me off for I am in agony and am barely alive.’ 10So I stood over him and finished him off, for I knew that he would never rise from where he was lying. Then I took the crown from his head and the armlet from his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.” ... 13David said to the young man who had brought him the news, “Where are you from?” He replied, “I am the son of a resident alien, an Amalekite.” 14“How did you dare,” David said to him, “to lift your hand and kill the Lord’s anointed?” 15Thereupon David called one of the attendants and said to him, “Come over and strike him!” He struck him down and he died. 16And David said to him, “Your blood be on your own head! Your own mouth testified against you when you said, ‘I put the Lord’s anointed to death.’ ”

The Amalekite who informed David that he had slain Saul at his request expected a reward not retribution. The fact that he tells David that he informed Saul that he is an Amalekite indicates his obliviousness of any Israelite crusade to do away with Amalek. Indeed, as we have seen, David treated Amalek no different than any other enemy.

Samuel’s demand for the wholesale killing of Amalek thus stands as the exception not the norm. It does not even coincide with the other biblical data. After all, if Saul had slain all the Amalekites why did they remain so numerous in David’s time? In Numbers, Judges, and elsewhere in 1 Samuel (14:48, 27:8) Amalek gets the same quid pro quod treatment as other ancient enemies. This is even their lot at the hands of Saul in 1 Samuel 14:48.

The normalization of Amalek reaches its peak in the en passant record of their destruction in 1 Chronicles 4:41-43: 

41 Those recorded by name came in the days of King Hezekiah of Judah and attacked their encampments and the Meunim who were found there, and wiped them out to this day, and settled in their place because there was pasture there for their flocks. 42 And some of them, five hundred of the Simeonites, went to mount Seir with Pelatiah, Neariah, Rephaiah, and Uzziel, sons of Ishi, at their head. 43 Having destroyed the last surviving Amalekites, they live there to this day.

The destruction of the remnant of Amalek is told as part of a local conflict with the tribe of Simeon during the reign Hezekiah in the late eighth century BCE. Neither king, prophet, or God is involved. No biblical precedent is noted. It simply is not a big deal. Any subsequent reference or allusion to Amalek is perforce metaphorical .              The major biblical example of the metaphoraization of Amalek is Haman, the would-be exterminator of the Jews in the Book of Esther. The association of Amalek with Haman through the term ‘Agagite’ is a consequential development in the move from the ethnic to the ethical. Since, as 1 Chronicles 4:43 notes, the last Amalekites were done away centuries earlier, the association of Amalek with Haman is part of the move of identifying Amalek with their historical wannabees.  Apparently, aware of the historical problem, the Greek versions of Esther 3:1 call Haman, or his father Hammedatha, a Bougaean or Macedonian not the Agagite. The Talmud itself understood Hammedatha, in Esther 3:1, 10, as an expression of moral opprobrium.[28]

The Haman case is complex and requires extended analysis. It is common to see the conflict between Mordecai and Haman as an episode in the ongoing bout between Israel and Amalek by linking Mordecai with King Saul and Haman with Amalek. Both links are problematic. The identification of Mordecai with Saul is based on identifying Saul with “the son of Jair, the son of Shimi, the son of Kish, a man of Benjamin” (Esther 2:5). The assumption is that Kish is the Benjaminite Kish, the father of Saul (1 Samuel 9:1),[29] yet no mention is made of the most illustrious and pertinent ancestor -- King Saul. Moreover, Jair is not a Benjamite name, but rather a son of Manasseh according to Numbers 32:41, or a priest of David according to 2 Samuel 20:26. Finally, Shimi is identified only as a member of the clan of Saul (2 Samuel 16:5), not as a descendant of Saul. Frustrated by these discrepancies, the Talmud takes Jair, Shimi, and Kish to be metaphorical epithets of Mordecai himself.[30]

With regard to designating Haman the Agagite (Esther 3:1, 10; 5:8; 8:1, 3, 5; 9:10, 24), note that Haman is not designated an Amalekite as other Amalekites are but only as an Agagite.[31] Moreover, the antagonism of Haman for Mordecai is attributed to Mordecai’s provocative behavior (Esther 3:2-5), a stance he maintains even after the decree (Esther 5:9), and not to Haman’s genealogy. There is no evidence that Haman on his own had it in for the Jews.  Similarly, the Greek Addition A to Esther (v. 17) attributes Haman’s ire against Mordecai and his people to Mordecai having exposed the plot against the king of the two eunuchs who, according to Josippon 4, were relatives of Haman. He only becomes subsequently the nefarious model of classical Judeophobia; ticked off by one Jew he seeks to eliminate all Jews.

Note that Haman is not executed because of his genealogy, but because of his murderous machinations. He is specifically hanged on the gallows he prepared for Mordecai as an expression of poetic justice and not for any long standing vendetta. As Samuel justifies Agag’s execution by his iniquitous acts so does the Book of Esther justify Haman’s by his. Neither is punished for the sins of their fathers. Similarly, the Book of Esther no more concludes with a mandate to remember Amalek than does the story of Saul and Agag. In both cases by doing away with the enemy, in Haman’s case also his sons, there remains no remnant in the story itself and the case is closed. Even Haman’s sons are slain not because of their father but because, as 9:5-10 notes, they numbered among the foes of the Jews. Had this been part of a historical vendetta, a tit-for-tat allusion to the impalement of Saul’s sons by the vindictive Gibeonites in 2 Samuel 21:9 would have been in order. Clearly, the moral structure of the book is predicated on a measure for measure system not on any historical retribution or squaring of accounts.

Instructively, if not ironically, Haman’s plan “to destroy, massacre, and exterminate all the Jews, young and old, children and women” (Esther 3:13) smacks of Samuel’s order to Saul: “kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings” (1 Samuel 15:3). In pointing out the moral absurdity of Haman’s designs there is an oblique critique of Samuel’s. Josephus indeed states that Haman’s hatred of the Jews derives from this incident,[32] as if to say that the Jews are now getting as they gave. A vendetta agains Amalek has become a vendetta against the Jews. The Midrash, however, sees this as a preemptive comeuppance arguing that “God gave Amalek a taste of his own future work.”[33] The Midrash is extending Samuel’s moral justification for slaying Agag. Just as Samuel justified killing Agag because he killed others, so the Midrash justifies the order for wiping out Amalek because Haman ordered the wiping out of the Jews. Not able to anchor Amalek’s extraordinary punishment in any prior behavior, the Midrash perforce extends its moral compass to include Amalek’s future behavior. In any case, the issue remains moral.

This moral self-criticism extends to comments made about Amalek’s mother Timna. Accordingly to the Talmud, her efforts to convert were rejected by all three Patriarchs. Wanting to join this people at all cost, she marries Isaac’s grandson, through Esau, Eliphaz. The fruit of this relationship is Amalek who goes on to aggrieve Israel for their having ticked off his mother Timna.[34] The insight is that Israel’s lack of receptivity to converts can trigger a resentment that leads to retributive vindictiveness. 

The allusion to the Saul-Amalek incident explains another relevant peculiarity of the Book of Esther. Thrice, it states that “they did not lay hands on the spoils” (9:10, 15, 16) of those persons slain in trying to kill the Jews even though the royal edict (8:11) explicitly permitted it. Since the original decree specifically mentioned (3:13) the right of spoils for the slain Jews why did the Jews not act in kind? Unless it was to avoid transgressing the prohibition against taking the spoils of Amalek mentioned in 1 Samuel 15:3. But the murderous Persians are not of Amalek stock,[35]  unlike the sons of Haman where the same scruple was adhered to (see Esther 9:10). If they are not of Amalek why were they treated as if they were? if not because they were Amalek in character. Despite no chance for spoils, now that government support had been rescinded, they pressed on to kill the Jews. Wanting to kill Jews for its own sake, they are dubbed thrice-fold not just the enemies of the Jews, but also their haters (Esther 9:1, 5, 16).[36] Acting like Amalek, they are treated as Amalek, no longer an ethnic designation but an ethical metaphor.[37]

  Maimonides also makes no special provision for Amalek when he argues that all wars must be preceded by overtures of peace indicating that were Amalek to sue for peace they would not be subject to destruction.[38] The ruling that all must be offered terms of peace flows from the following Midrash:

God commanded Moses to make war on Sihon, as it is said, ‘Engage him in battle’ (Deuteronomy 2:24), but he did not do so.  Instead he sent messengers . . . to Sihon . . . with an offer of peace (Deuteronomy 2:26). God said to him: ‘I commanded you to make war with him, but instead you began with peace; by your life, I shall confirm your decision.  Every war upon which Israel enters shall begin with an offer of peace, as it is written, “When you approach a city to attack it, you shall offer it terms of peace” (Deuteronomy 20:10).[39]

Since Joshua is said to have extended such an offer to the Canaanites,[40] and Numbers 27:21 points out Joshua’s need for inquiring of the priestly Urim and Tumim to assess the chances of victory, it is evident that also divinely-commanded wars are predicated on overtures of peace as well as on assessments of the outcome.[41] Moreover, the cross-generational struggle against Amalek, according to Maimonides, is limited to Amalek maintaining the practices of their biblical ancestors of rejecting the Noachide laws which stipulate the norms of human decency and civil society.[42] Were Amalek to accept them they would achieve the status of other Noachites. Again morality trumps biology.

The concern with the humanity of the enemy is also a factor. Referring to Deuteronomy 21:10ff. Josephus says the legislator of the Jews commands “showing consideration even to declared enemies.  He . . . forbids even the spoiling of fallen combatants; he has taken measures to prevent outrage to prisoners of war, especially women.”[43] Apparently reflecting a similar sensibility, R. Joshua claimed that his biblical namesake took pains to prevent the disfigurement of fallen Amalekites,[44] whereas David brought glory to Israel by giving burial to his enemies.[45] It is this consideration for the humanity of the enemy that forms the basis of Philo’s explanation for the biblical requirement in Numbers 31:19 of expiation for those who fought against Midian. He writes:

For though the slaughter of enemies is lawful, yet one who kills a man, even if he does so justly and in self-defense and under compulsion, has something to answer for, in view of the primal common kinship of mankind.  And therefore, purification was needed for the slayers, to absolve them from what was held to have been a pollution.[46]

The position that the negation of Amalek is ethical not ethnic is also reflected in the following talmudic anecdote about Amalek’s ancestor Esau[47] who was later identified with Rome:

Antoninus (the Roman Emperor) asked Rabbi (Judah the Prince): Will I enter the world to come?” “Yes,” said Rabbi. “But,” said Antoninus, “is it not written, ‘And there will be no remnant to the house of Esau’ ” (Obadiah 18). (Rabbi replied) “The verse refers only to those who act as Esau acted.” We have learned elsewhere likewise: “And there will be no remnant of the house of Esau,” might have been taken to apply to all (of the house of Esau), therefore Scriptures says specifically -- “of the house of Esau,” to limit it only to those who act as Esau acted.[48]

Once the criterion becomes behavior and not birth, the Talmud can claim that even the descendants of Haman the Amalekite became students of Torah.[49] Following suit, Maimonides ruled: “We accept converts from all nations of the world.”[50] Radak even entertains the possibility that the Amalekite who refers to himself as a ger in 2 Samuel 1:13 meant a convert to Judaism. For him and Maimonides, the wiping out of Amalek can be accomplished by the wiping out of Amalekite qualities. This is why Maimonides states with regard to Amalek: “It is also a positive commandment to remember always his evil deeds.”[51] He adopts the position of Sifrei Deuteronomy[52] that “remember” is fulfilled with the mouth, and “do not forget” is fulfilled through the heart. No act of violence is mandated against Amalek. So why, according to him, was Amalek punished so harshly to begin with? To deter future Amalek wannabees.[53]

As Amalek became more and more a metaphor for human evil, the eradication of Amalek from the national-historic plane was shifted to the metaphysical and psycho-spiritual.[54] The interioralization of Amalek imposes the duty of eradication on all. This shift parallels the aforementioned rabbinic reading of the Amalek episode in Exodus if not that of the Bible itself.

In the post-biblical period the shift from ethnicity to ethics is total. In both the Saul-Amalek and Haman episodes, Scripture indicates that no one remained. Their ethnicity was also rendered operationally defunct by applying the same “Sennacherib principle” to them that was applied to the long gone Canaanites.[55] This principle was based on the fact that Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, erased the national identity of those he conquered which included all of the nations of ancient Canaan and surrounding nations,[56] as he says: “I have erased the borders of the peoples; I have plundered their treasures, and exiled their vast populations” (Isaiah 10:13). Independent of the “Sennacherib principle,” others limited the moral relevance of the command against Amalek by restricting the waging of a war of total destruction against Amalek to King Saul.[57] Such limitations best reflects the total biblical data. Applying the “Sennacherib principle” and limiting the commandment to a specific period in the past or postponing it to the messianic age effectively removes the case of Amalek from the post-biblical ethical agenda. 

In sum, there are four ways of rendering Amalek operationally defunct:
1. The recognition that the mandate for their extermination was a minority position based on Na”kh (1 Samuel 15), not confirmed in the rest of the Bible indeed implicitly denied.
2. The realization that the process of transmuting Amalek into a metaphor for human evil is rooted in the Torah (Exodus 17).
3. The limitation of the conflict to King Saul and/or postponing the battle to the messianic era
4. The application of the same “Sennacherib principle” to Amalek that was applied to the long gone Canaanites.

 These four overlapping stratagems of the biblical and post-biblical exegetical tradition mitigate the ruling regarding the destruction of the Amalekites. This trumping of genealogy by ethics helps account for the absence of any drive to exterminate or dispossess Amalek even when Israel was at the height of its power under the reigns of David and Solomon. 


[1]On the practice of genocide in antiquity, see Louis Feldman, “Remember Amalek!”: Vengeance, Zealotry, and Group Destruction in the Bible according to Philo, Pseudo-Philo, and Josephus, (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 2004), pp. 2-6.
[2]Taking kee as introducing direct speech; see The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, eds. L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner, et al., (3 vols., Leiden: Brill, 1994-1996), 2:471a; and Amos Ḥעakham, Sefer Shmot, (2 vols., Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1991), 1:329a.
[3]See Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 3; and Pesikta Rabbati 12.
[4] Which is how the Midrash takes it; see Midrash Tanḥעuma, Be-Shalaḥע 25, p. 92; and Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 3.8, ed. Mandelbaum, 1:47 with parallels in n. 5. Otherwise it should probably be located several chapters later after the Sinaitic narrative.
[5]So Pesikta de Rav-Kahana 3.4, ed. Mandelbaum, 1:42-43:
R. Banai, citing R. Huna, began his discourse [on remembering Amalek] with the verse “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord ...” (Proverbs 11:1). And R. Banai, citing R. Huna, proceeded: When you see a generation whose measures and balances are false, you may be certain that a wicked kingdom will come to wage war against such a generation. And the proof? The verse “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord” ... which is immediately followed by a verse that says, “The immoral kingdom will come and bring humiliation [to Israel]” (Prov. 11:2).
See Rashi and Abarbanel to Deuteronomy 25:17 with Tosafot to B. T. Kiddushin 33b, s. v. ve-eima.
[6]Pesikta De-Rav Kahana 3.16, ed. Mandelbaum, 1:53 with parallels in n. 8.
[7]See Menaḥem Kasher, Torah Shelemah (Jerusalem: Beth Torah Shelemah, 1949-1991), 14:272f.
[8]This may be what allowed Josephus (Antiquities 3:60) to say that Moses predicted that the Amalekites would perish with utter annihilation.
[9]As spelled out in the end of the first stanza of the kerovah of Parshat Zakhor; see the Yotzer for Parshat Zakhor in The Complete ARTScroll Siddur for Weekday/ Sabbath/ Festival, Nusach Ashkenaz (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1990), p. 880f.
[10]Sifrei Deuteronomy 67, T. Sanhedrin 4.5, B. T. Sanhedrin 20b.
[11]The eschatological reading may already be in the Dead Sea Scroll 4Q252, 4.1-3; see Louis Feldman, “Remember Amalek!”: Vengeance, Zealotry, and Group Destruction in the Bible according to Philo, Pseudo-Philo, and Josephus (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 2004), p. 52f. It is clearly already tannaitic. Rabbi Joshua reads Exodus 17:6 to mean “When God will sit on His throne and His kingship is established -- at that time will the Lord war on Amalek.” And according to Rabbi Eliezer: “When will their names be blotted out? When idolatry is uprooted along with its devotees,when the Lord is alone in the world and His kingdom lasts forever-- then the Lord will go out and war on those people” (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, ed. Horowitz-Rabin, p. 186). See the version and discussion in Menahem Kahana, The Two Mekhiltot on the Amalek Portion [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1999), p. 239f. The Aramaic translation, Targum Jonathan, takes the word “end” in Numbers 24:20, which refers to Amalek, as an allusion to the Messianic era. For medievals who also postponed the conflict to the messianic period, see Moses b. Jacob of Coucy, Sefer Mitsvot Gadol (SeMaG), negative commandment #226; and R. David b. Zimra (RaDBaZ) with Maimonidean Glosses to Hilkhot Melakhim 5:5.This probably includes Maimonides since he made the battle with Amalek contingent upon a king, see his “Laws of Kings and Their Wars,” 1:2.
[12]See Nachmanides, Abarbanel, and Sforno ad loc., and Exodus 17:16 along with Josephus, Antiquities 4.304.
[13]See Josephus, Antiquities 3.41; Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Amalek 1 (ed. Horovitz-Rabin), p. 176; Mekilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai 81 (ed. Epstein-Melamed) 119; and the end of the second stanza of the kerovah of Parshat Zakhor in The Complete ARTScroll Siddur for Weekday/ Sabbath/ Festival, Nusach Ashkenaz (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1990), p. 882f.
[14]Philo, The Life of Moses, 1:218 (LCL 6:391).
[15]Mekhilta, Amalek 1, ed. Horowitz-Rabin, p. 116, l. 9 (see p. 116, lines 3 and 18). See Ralbag (Gersonides) as cited by Abarbanel ad loc. 
[16]See Midrash Tannaim, ad loc., ed. Hoffmann, p. 170; and Hizkuni ad loc.
[17]Judges 3:13; 6:3-5, 33; 7:12; 12:15. The word עמלק appears also in 5:14, but, based on the Septuagint, probably should be emended to עמק
[18]Based on B. T. Sanhedrin 20b, Maimonides explicitly states that the commandment devolves only on the collectivity not the individual; see his Book of Commandments, end of positive commandments #248. In his “Laws of Kings and Their Wars,” 1:2, based on 1 Samuel 15:1-3, Maimonides rules that the appointment of a king precedes the war against Amalek. He also rules there that the destruction of Amalek precedes the building of the Temple; see Sifrei Deuteronomy  67, ed. Finkelstein, p. 132, with n. 4. Nonetheless, there is no mention of Amalek with regard to David’s failed attempt, or Solomon’s successful attempt, to build it. Presumably, Amalek had already disappeared or was irrelevant.
[19]See Michael Fishbane, The JPS Bible Commentary Haftarot (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2002), p. 344f. 
[20]B. T. Yoma 22b; and Yalqut Shimoni 2:121 (Genesis--Former Prophets [10 vols., ed. Heyman-Shiloni, Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1973-1999], Former Prophets, p. 242 with parallels).
[21]Based on B. T. Sanhedrin 20b, Maimonides explicitly states that the commandment devolves only on the collectivity not the individual; see his Book of Commandments, end of positive commandments #248.
[22]“Laws of Kings and Their Wars,” 1:2; see Sifrei Deuteronomy  67, ed. Finkelstein, p. 132, with n. 4. 
[23]This sentiment leads, in the nineteenth century, Avraham Sachatchover (Bornstein) to reject the idea that the seed of Amalek is punished for the sins of their fathers, for it is written (Deuteronomy 24:16): “Fathers shall not be put to death for children, neither shall children be put to death for fathers." Thus the punishment of Amalek is contingent upon their maintaining the ways of their fathers (Avnei Nezer, part 1: Orahע Ḥayyim [New York: Hevrat Nezer, 1954] 2.508).
[24]As Maimonides states: “Amalek who hastened to use the sword should be exterminated by the sword” (Guide for the Perplexed 3:41. ed. Pines, p. 566); see Eugene Korn, “Moralization in Jewish Law: Genocide, Divine Commands and Rabbinic Reasoning,” The Edah Journal 5:2 (Sivan 5766/2006), pp. 2-11, especially p. 9.
[25]See The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, eds. L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner, et al., (3 vols., Leiden: Brill, 1994-1996) 1:258a
[26]Just as Saul, in 1 Samuel 15:15b, claimed was his intention.
[27]See Numbers Rabbah 19.20, Yalkut Shimoni 1:764 with Menahem Kasher, Torah Shleimah 41:196, nn. 4-5.
[28] צורר בן צורר, see  P. T. Yevamot  2:5 with Penei Moshe ad loc.; and Agadat Esther 3.1, ed. Buber, p. 26, along with Louis Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, 7 vols. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1968) 6:461, n. 88, and 462f., n. 93.
[29]See Midrash Psalms 7.13-15, and B. T. Moed Qatan 16b
[30]B. T. Megillah 12b; see Menachem Kasher, Torah Sheleimah, Megillat Ester (Jerusalem 1994), p. 60, n. 45.
[31]Accordingly, Targum Rishon adds “Agag son of Amalek” and Targum Sheinei traces the genealogy all the way back to Esau echoing Genesis 36:12.
[32]Josephus, Antiquities 11.212
[33]Pesikta Rabbati 13.7, ed. Friedmann, p. 55b; ed. Ulmer, 13.15, p. 205. For the demonization of Amalek, see the Yotzer for Parshat Zakhor, Birkat Avot, found in The Complete ARTScroll Siddur for Weekday/ Sabbath/ Festival, Nusach Ashkenaz (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1990), pp. 880-883.
[34]See B. T. Sanhedrin 99b, Midrash Ha-Gadol, Genesis, ed. Margulies, p. 609
[35]Pace Targum Rishon 9:6, 12; Rabbenu Baḥעyעa to Exodus 17:19 and Ralbag to 1 Samuel 15:6
[36]The combination of “enemies and haters” recurs in the blessing after the Shema of the evening service referring to Israel’s opponents in general not just the Egyptians.
[37]This is similar to the classical Soloveitchikean position which identifies Amalek with those groups whose policy with regard to the Jewish people is “Let us wipe them out as a nation” (Psalm 83:5). See the discussion of Norman Lamm, “Amalek and the Seven Nations: A Case of Law vs. Morality,” in War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, ed. Lawrence Schiffman and Joel Wolowelsky (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 2007), p. 215.
[38]“Laws of Kings and Their Wars,” 6.1, 4. This became the normative position; see Aviezer Ravitsky, “Prohibited Wars in Jewish Tradition,” ed. Terry Nardin, The Ethics of War and Peace (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), pp. 115-127.
[39]Deuteronomy Rabbah 5.13 and Midrash Tanhעuma, Sעav 5.
[40]“Who came and told the Cannanites the Israelite were coming to their land?
R. Ishmael b. R. Nahman said, ‘Joshua sent them three orders: “He who wants to leave may leave; to make peace may make peace, to make war against us may make war.” ’ The Girgashites left ... The Gibeonites made peace... Thirty-one kings made war and fell” (Leviticus Rabbah 17.6, ed. Margulies, p. 386 and parallels).
[41]The position that all wars must be preceded by an overture of peace gained widespread acceptance; see Maimonides, “Laws of Kings and Their Wars” 6:1, 5; Nahmanides and Rabbenu Baḥaya to Deuteronomy 20:10; SeMaG positive mitzvah #118; Sefer Ha-Hעinukh mitzvah #527 along with Minḥat Hעinukh, ad loc.; and possibly Sa’adyah Gaon, see Yeruḥעam Perla, Sefer Ha-Mitsvot Le-Rabbenu Sa’adyah (3 vols., Jerusalem, 1973) 3:251-252. Cf. Tosafot, B. T. Gittin 46a, s.v. keivan.
[42]See Maimonides, “Laws of Kings and Their Wars” 6.4, with Joseph Caro, Kesef Mishnah, ad  loc.; and Avraham Bornstein, Avnei Nezer, to Oraḥע Ḥעayyim 508.
[43]Josephus, Contra Apion II. 212-13.
[44]Mekhilta, Amalek 1, ed. Horovitz-Rabin, p. 181; ed. Lauterbach, 2:147; and Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin, Ha‘ameq Davar to Deuteronomy 17:3.
[45]See Rashi and Radak to 2 Samuel 8:13. In general, no one is to be left unburied. Deut. 21:23 allows for no exceptions; see B. T. Sanhedrin 46b with Saul Lieberman, “Some Aspects of After life in Early Rabbinic Literature, in Harry Austryn Wolfson Jubileee Volume (Jerusalem: American Academy of Jewish Research, 1965), pp. 495-532, 516.
[46]Philo, Moses 1.314.
[47]See Genesis 36:12, 16; I Chronicles 1:36.
[48]B. T. Avodah Zarah 10b. A later midrash even applies “Your priests O Lord,” (Psalm 132:9, or 2 Chronicles 6:41) to Antoninus the son of Severus; see Bet Ha-Midrasch, ed. Jellinek (Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1967) 3:28; and Yalqut Shimoni 2:429. He is also included among the ten rulers who became proselytes; see Louis Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, 7 vols. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1968), 6:412, n. 66.
[49]B. T. Sanhedrin 96b, B. T. Gittin 57b. For a range of modern traditional opinion on the issue, see Yoel Weiss, “Be-Inyan Mi-Benei Banav Shel Haman Lamdu Torah Be-Benei Beraq, Ve-Ha’im Meqablim Gerim Me-Zera Amaleq,” Kovets Ginat Veradim 1.1 (5768 [20008]), pp. 193-196.
[50]“Laws of Prohibited Relations,” 12:17.
[51]“Laws of Kings and Their Wars” 5.5. Not dealing with messianic reality, the subsequent codes, Arba‘ah Turim and the Shulkhan Arukh, make no mention of Amalek’s elimination only the possible (!) requirement of reading it from the Torah; see Joseph Karo, Shulkhan Arukh, Orakh Hayyim 685:7.
[52]296; see Finkelstein edition, p. 314, l. 8, with n. 8.
[53]Guide for the Perplexed 3:41 (ed. Pines, p. 566).
[54]See Zohar 3:281b. The approach gained currency in medieval philosophy, in medieval and Renaissance biblical exegesis, in Kabbalah, in Hasidic literature, and in other modern traditional commentaries; see Eliot Horowitz, Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), pp. 134-35; Alan Cooper, “Amalek in Sixteenth Century Jewish Commentary: On the Internalization of the Enemy,” in The Bible in the Light of Its Interpreters: Sarah Kamin Memorial Volume, ed. Sara Japhet (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1994), pp. 491-93; Avi Sagi, “The Punishment of Amalek in Jewish Tradition: Coping with the Moral Problem,” The Harvard Theological Review, 87 (1994), pp. 323-346, esp. 331-36; and Yaakov Meidan, Al Derekh Ha-Avot (Alon Shvut: Tevunot, 2001), pp. 332-35.
[55]See Elimelech (Elliot) Horowitz, “From the Generation of Moses to the Generation of the Messiah: Jews against Amalek and his Descendants,” [Hebrew] Zion 64 (1999), pp. 425-454; and Sagi, “The Punishment of Amalek in Jewish Tradition: Coping with the Moral Problem,” op. cit. pp. 331-336, who cites Yosef Babad, Minḥat Ḥinukh, 2. 213 (commandment 604); and Avraham Karelitz, Ḥazon Ish Al Ha-Rambam (Bnei Brak, 1959), p. 842.
[56]See M. Yadayim 4:4, T. Yadayim 2:17 (ed. Zuckermandel, p. 683), T. Qiddushin 5:4 B. T. Berakhot 28a, B. T. Yoma 54a, with Osעar Ha-Posqim, Even Ha-Ezer 4.
[57]See Minhעat Hעinukh to Sefer Ha-Hעinukh, end of mitzvah #604; and Avraham Karelitz, Ḥעעazon Ish Al Ha-Rambam (Bnei Brak, 1959), p. 842.

Print post

You might also like

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...