We are commanded to "blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven". Deut 25:19 Haman was a descendant of Amalek [Esther 9:24]. Descendants of Haman studied Torah in Bnei Brak. [Sanhedrin 96b, Gittin 57b] Evidently then, a known descendant of Amalek is allowed to convert to Judaism. How does that square with the commandment?

  • Maybe the descendents aren't Jewish
    – yosefkorn
    Mar 12, 2019 at 16:44
  • 1
    Great q! This link addresses it nicely, although it would also be nice to see here formatted as an answer! yeshiva.co/ask/?id=317
    – alicht
    Mar 12, 2019 at 16:48
  • Related answer (see also comments ad loc.): judaism.stackexchange.com/a/36524
    – Fred
    Mar 12, 2019 at 23:58
  • It's a big machlokes rishonim.
    – Rafael
    Mar 13, 2019 at 0:53

1 Answer 1


We can see how the commandment to eradicate Amalek does not contradict the possibility of converting to Judaism, from Rambam's description of the eradication process (Hilchot Melachim 6:1-4, Touger translation, my emphasis):

אין עושין מלחמה עם אדם בעולם עד שקוראין לו שלום אחד מלחמת הרשות ואחד מלחמת מצוה שנאמר כי תקרב אל עיר להלחם עליה וקראת אליה לשלום אם השלימו וקבלו שבע מצות שנצטוו בני נח עליהן אין הורגין מהן נשמה והרי הן למס שנאמר יהיו לך למס ועבדוך

War, neither a milchemet hareshut or a milchemet mitzvah, should not be waged against anyone until they are offered the opportunity of peace as Deuteronomy 20:10 states: 'When you approach a city to wage war against it, you should propose a peaceful settlement.'

If the enemy accepts the offer of peace and commits itself to the fulfillment of the seven mitzvot that were commanded to Noah's descendents1, none of them should be killed. Rather, they should be subjugated as ibid.:11 states: 'They shall be your subjects and serve you.'

ואם לא השלימו או שהשלימו ולא קבלו שבע מצות עושין עמהם מלחמה והורגין כל הזכרים הגדולים ובוזזין כל ממונם וטפם ואין הורגין אשה ולא קטן שנאמר והנשים והטף זה טף של זכרים במה דברים אמורים במלחמת הרשות שהוא עם שאר האומות אבל שבעה עממין ועמלק שלא השלימו אין מניחין מהם נשמה שנאמר כן תעשה לכל וגו' רק מערי העמים לא תחיה כל נשמה וכן הוא אומר בעמלק תמחה את זכר עמלק ומנין שאינו מדבר אלא באלו שלא השלימו שנאמר לא היתה עיר אשר השלימה אל בני ישראל בלתי החוי יושבי גבעון את הכל לקחו במלחמה כי מאת ה' היתה לחזק את לבם לקראת המלחמה את ישראל למען החרימם מכלל ששלחו להם לשלום ולא קבלו

If they do not agree to a peaceful settlement, or if they agree to a peaceful settlement, but refuse to accept the seven mitzvot, war should be waged against them.

All males past majority should be killed. Their money and their children should be taken as spoil, but neither women or children should be killed, as Deuteronomy 20:14 states: 'But the women and the children... take as spoil." 'The children' refer to males below the age of majority.

The above applies to a milchemet hareshut fought with other nations. However, if either the seven nations or Amalek refuse to accept a peaceful settlement, not one soul of them may be left alive as ibid. 20:15-16 states: 'Do this to all the cities that ... are not the cities of these nations. However, from the cities of these nations,... do not leave a soul alive.' Similarly, in regard to Amalek, Deuteronomy 25:19 states: 'Obliterate the memory of Amalek.'

How do we know that these commands are only referring to those who did not accept a peaceful settlement? Joshua 11:19-20 states: 'There was no city which accepted a peaceful settlement with the children of Israel except the Chivites who lived in Gibeon. All the rest, they conquered in battle. This was inspired by God, Who strengthened their hearts to engage in battle against Israel so that they would be destroyed.' From these statements, we can infer that a peaceful settlement was offered, but they did not accept it.

Thus, according to Rambam, Amalekites are only killed if they do not agree to the peace offer. It should therefore be certainly possible for them to convert to Judaism. Furthermore, Rambam explicitly writes elsewhere (Hilchot Issurei Biah 12:17) that people from any nation can convert, and he does not list Amalek as an exception:

כל העכו"ם כולם כשיתגיירו ויקבלו עליהן כל המצות שבתורה והעבדים כשישתחררו הרי הן כישראל לכל דבר שנאמר הקהל חוקה אחת יהיה לכם ומותרין להכנס בקהל י"י מיד והוא שישא הגר או המשוחרר בת ישראל וישא הישראלי גיורת ומשוחררת חוץ מד' עממין בלבד והם עמון ומואב ומצרים ואדום שהאומות האלו כשיתגייר אחד מהן הרי הוא כישראל לכל דבר אלא לענין ביאה בקהל

Whenever any of the gentiles convert and accept all of the mitzvot in the Tora or a servant is freed, they are considered as Jews with regard to all matters, as [Numbers 15:15] states: "For the community: there will be one law [for you and the convert]." A convert may marry within the Jewish community immediately, i.e., a male convert or freed servant may marry a native-born Jewess and an Israelite may marry a female convert or a freed maid-servant.

There are four nations from which [converts] are exceptions: Ammon, Moab, Egypt, and Edom. When a person from one of these nations converts, he is like an Israelite with regard to all matters with the exception of marriage within the Jewish community. (Touger translation)

However, there may in fact be a specific rule against accepting Amalekite converts, as formulated in Mechilta of R. Yishmael at the end of Parshat Beshalach:

ר' אליעזר אומר נשבע המקום בכסא הכבוד שלו שאם יבא אחד מכל אומות העולם להתגייר שיקבלוהו ולעמלק ולביתו לא יקבלוהו שנ' ויאמר דוד אל הנער המגיד לו אי מזה אתה ויאמר בן איש גר עמלקי אנכי נזכר דוד באותה שעה מה שנאמר למשה רבינו אם יבא אחד מכל האומות שבעולם להתגייר שיקבלוהו ומביתו של עמלק שלא יקבלוהו מיד ויאמר אליו דוד דמך על ראשך כי פיך ענה בך לכך נאמר מדור דור

R. Eliezer says that God swore on His throne of glory that if someone from any of the nations of the world comes to convert, they should accept him, but [if someone comes from] Amalek and his house, they should not accept him. As it says, And David said unto the young man that told him: 'Whence art thou?' And he answered: 'I am the son of an Amalekite stranger.' At that moment David remembered that which had been told to Moses our teacher – if someone from any of the nations of the world comes to convert, they should accept him, but from the house of Amalek they should not accept him. Immediately, And David said unto him: 'Thy blood be upon thy head; for thy mouth hath testified against thee, Therefore it says from generation to generation.

According to this, then, it should not be possible for Amalekites to convert to Judaism. However, various resolutions to this contradiction have been suggested, including:

  • R. Solomon Alkabetz (Manot Halevi 3:8)

    The Mechilta only means that we cannot accept Amalekite converts. But the Amalekites on their own can come and convert.

  • R. Jacob Reischer (Iyun Yaakov Sanhedrin 96b)

    The Talmudic account of Haman's descendants studying in Benei Berak indeed contradicts the Mechilta's statement about not accepting Amalekites as converts. Further analysis is required:

    זה סותר למה דאיתא במכילתא הובא בילקוט סוף בשלח שנשבע הקדוש ברוך הוא שמעמלק לא יקבלו שום גר וצריך עיון

  • R. Benjamin Kazis (Megillat Sefer Negative Commandment # 115)

    1. In truth Amalekites are not permitted to convert to Judaism, but the descendants of Haman in Benei Berak were found abandoned as babies and were converted without the awareness that they were Amalekites.
    2. When the Mechilta says that we do not accept them it just means that we don't let them join the congregation and marry a Jewess, but of course they can become Jewish in every (other) sense of the term.
  • R. Chaim Yosef David Azulai (Ayin Zocher entry for Geirim)

    1. The Talmud disagrees with the Mechilta and we follow the Talmud.
    2. The statement in the Mechilta is attributed to R. Eliezer, and the law in general does not accord with R. Eliezer.
    3. There is another opinion in that very passage in the Mechilta that interprets the verse that R. Eliezer was expounding differently, so presumably there is already a dispute about Amalekites converting to Judaism.

      No link, so here's an image:

      Image of text from the cited book

      Image of text from the cited book

  • R. Chaim Palagi (Einei Kol Chai Sanhedrin 96b)

    It is true that Amalekites cannot convert to Judaism, but then Sancheirev came and mixed everyone up so we follow the majority and accept converts even though they might be Amalekites. In this case it was Divinely revealed that the people studying in Benei Berak were in fact descended from Haman.

  • R. Yosef Engel (Gilyonei HaShas Gittin 57b)

    True, Amalakites cannot convert; however an Amalakitess can marry a non-Jew from another nation and their child will not be an Amalakite since for non-Jews nationality is patrilineal. Once the person is not an Amalakite he can convert, and that is how Haman had descendants studying in Benei Berak:

    ולק"מ דמשכחת באשה מזרע עמלק שנישאת לעכו"ם שאינו מזרע עמלק וילדה לו בן דהבן ההוא איננו מתייחס לזרע עמלק דבעכו"ם הלך אחר הזכר כמבואר ביבמות ע"ח ב' וא"כ הבן ההוא וכל יוצאי חלציו שפיר מקבלין אותן ועל כזה הכוונה כאן והא דאמר מבני בניו לאו דוקא רק הכוונה יוצאי חלציו ע' רש"י פסחים צ"ד ב' ד"ה בן בנו ועמ"ש על הגליון לעיל נ"ו ב

  • R. Samuel Bornsztain (Shem MiShmuel Parshat Tzav and Zachor 5673)

    Those who studied in Benei Berak may have purified of there Amalekiness by being killed and reincarnated:

    ואולי גם באגג היתה טעות כזו שבאשר מלך הוא ראשית העם חשב שמוטב להחיותו ולהחזירו לקדושה אך זה טעות כנ"ל שאין הניצוץ הקדוש שבעמלק יכול לשוב לקדושה כמו שהוא ואולי מטעם זה נשבע הקב"ה שלא יקבל גרים מזרע עמלק אלא צריך מקודם להחרימו ואז רק אז ע"י סיבות וגלגולים שונים יכול לחזור לקדושה ואפשר שע"ז אמרו ז"ל (גיטין נ"ז:) מבני בניו של המן למדו תורה בבני ברק שלכאורה יקשה הרי אין מקבלים גרים מעמלק ומשמע שאפי' בדיעבד אם קבלו אינו מקובל כמו שהרג דוד לגר עמלקי שאיתא בפדר"א שנזכר דוד שנשבע הקב"ה שאין מקבלים גרים מעמלק אף שכבר הי' מקובל שהרי בן איש גר עמלקי הי' [ובפסיקתא שהוא דואג האדומי או בן דואג לפי חלופי הגרסאות] ולהנ"ל יש לומר דהא דמבני בניו של המן למדו תורה היינו אחר שנחרמו ונהרגו ע"י סיבות וגלגולים שונים נתלבן ניצוץ הקדוש שהי' בהם ושב אח"כ לעוה"ז בגוף אחר והם נקראט בני בניו של המן וברוך ה' היודע

  • R. Abraham Isaiah Karelitz (Chazon Ish Y.D. 157:5)

    When the Mechilta says that we don't accept Amalekite converts it is referring to after we have already begun a war with them. But prior to the war they can convert.

See also Tzitz Eliezer 13:71 which covers a lot of this.

1. Spelling in source-text.

  • 3
    Wow. Just Wow... Mar 13, 2019 at 2:39
  • I think that as soon as Yehoshua waged war in the land of Israel on the Kenaanim it was too late for them to convert anymore as indicated in the Rambam you quoted, and the same would apply for the amaleikim earlier when Yehoshua waged war in Parshas Beshalach as they did no make peace when it was offered to them. So that's why the Mechilta fits with the Rambam. Even Amoni and Moavi can convert to Judaism they just can't marry anyone Jewish so amaleikim can't be worst. And this is all theoretical as kol deparush meiruba porush and nowadays Sancheirev mixed everyone up anyway as you quoted
    – yosefkorn
    Mar 14, 2019 at 13:12
  • @yosefkorn Haman's descendants must have converted after Yehoshua's war.
    – Alex
    Mar 14, 2019 at 13:16
  • Yes but while they were Jewish they couldn't marry anyone Jewish just like an Amoni can convert but can only marry pesulei kohol e.g Geirim(not Passul just no part of the kohol), mamzeirim and nesinim. The Bavli does not contradict this.
    – yosefkorn
    Mar 14, 2019 at 13:19
  • That's the Megillat Sefer's second answer. But on the face of it the Mechilta seems to say that they can't convert at all.
    – Alex
    Mar 14, 2019 at 13:22

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