Two pieces of business to attend to today:
First, I’d like to coin the word ‘Halachics’ and define it as “the study of the application of Halachic categories to contemporary behaviors and situations.” Why do we need a new word? If you’ve you’ve ever used the word ‘halachacized’ you know exactly why we need it. I you haven’t, just put a smile on and go along with it. It is Adar after all.
On to the next, related item. Cross-Currents has a post today from Dovid Gottlieb on classic Halachics topic: The Contemporary Relevance of Parshat Zachor. I’m short on time today, so this will be brief (yes, really brief, not like the critique of the article in the Yated).
In his post, Gottieb says that Palestinians are Amalek.
The Palestinians may be descendants of Yishmael but – in this regard – they are also the ideological heirs to Amalek. The root of the problem, as has been pointed out by some political commentators, is not just the terrorist atrocities, but the culture of death from which these atrocities have emerged.
He goes on to mandate hatred for the Palestinians, no forgiveness for their crimes, and wishes that the memories of their leaders be wiped out.
I suppose that this is what the Torah commands for Amalek, but I’m just not convinced that the Palestinians are in fact Amalek. Certainly, we don’t believe that they are Amalek on a genetic level. However, as per the Rambam, the obligation to battle Amalek extends beyond the immediate descendants of the nation of Amalek. Any nation committed to the ideology of Amalek must be battled as well.
What then is the ideology of Amalek? The two leading examples of Amalekite behavior that are usually forwarded are Haman and the Nazis, yimach shemam v’zichram (may their names and memories be obliterated). Without getting into detail, our understanding of the essential character of Amalek is that Amalek wishes to destroy the Jewish people for no reason other than that they are Jews. Amalek will damage his own cause in order to do harm to the Jewish people, and Amalek will settle for no less than the destruction of the Jewish people.
I don’t love the Palestinian people. I’m quite angry with them, with their leaders, and with the policies of violence, terror, and dehumanization that they pursue. But that doesn’t make them Amalek. You see, the key difference between Palestinians and Amalek is that Palestinians, even judged by their most extreme rhetoric, don’t wish to destroy the Jewish people. They just want the land.
I suppose that you could probably construct some kind of argument based on the essence of the land to Jewish identity, or the refusal on the part of the Palestinians to recognize the divine mandate that Jews have over the land to claim that the Palestinians do in fact want to destroy the Jewish people. To me, it just sounds like the part of the haggadah where we learn that Lavan was worse than Pharaoh because Pharaoh only decreed that male babies would be drowned, whereas Lavan, by attempting to turn Yakov and his family into Arameans, was trying to uproot the whole of God’s plan. You just can’t take these things outside of their context.
Palestinians don’t hate Jews because they are Jews. They hate Jews because the Jews are sitting on land they believe belongs to them, and because Jews are living a life and a destiny that they desire. Using the halachic framework of Amalek to tar the Palestinians is very troubling to me. It is striking that Dovid Gottlieb is so horrified by the inhumanity of Mariam Farhat, aka Um Nidal that he describes her and her entire culture as having sunk to the depths of depravity; in the same breath he then brands the mark of Amalek into the flesh of the Palestinian people as a whole, and embraces a Jewish responsibility to slaughter, hate, and obliterate. If dehumanization is the precursor to devastating moral sin, I think we must consider ourselves forewarned.
The relationship between the Jewish and Palestinian people is fraught and irreducibly complex. Its intractable nature makes us weary and sometimes even disinterested. There is a great temptation to simply blame one side for everything and make some sweeping ideological claim to provide some kind of theological meaning to the daily attrition, but doing so comes at great moral cost. Let’s not make that mistake, or the price we have paid, and continue to pay, for our homeland will have been in vain.