Egyptians were pretty bad. They killed Jewish boys. It's as bad as the Chinese one-child policy. But God told Jews not to abhor the Egyptian.

The Amalekites are evil too. But they did not have non-aggression pact with Jews. They didn't back-stab the Jews. They attacked other wandering tribes like Jews attacked Cannaites. Why was God's judgment toward Amalekites harsher?

More controversially, we have laws that Jews are expected to threaten neighboring countries before killing them.

As you approach a town to attack it, first offer its people terms for peace. If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you in forced labor. But if they refuse to make peace and prepare to fight, you must attack the town. When the LORD your God hands it over to you, kill every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder. You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that the LORD your God has given you. Deuteronomy 20:10-14

Okay, so this town did nothing wrong besides refusing to be slaves, which is pretty much what every single town would do now. Why is the judgment over them so harsh?

I can think of a few explanations. Perhaps God simply wants his people to be slightly better, rather than perfect. Everyone else is enslaving everyone else at that time, so threatening of slavery is pretty much the market standard of the ever-evolving morality we have. But this still leaves many issues unresolved.

I don't know which one is right. What's Judaism's perspective on this? How would Jews explain this judging algorithm?

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    God told Jews to love the Egyptian? – Baal Shemot Tovot Apr 11 '12 at 14:13
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    @Vram I assume he means לא תתעב מצרי – Double AA Apr 11 '12 at 15:05
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    You are misunderstanding the actions of Amalek, which were an outright denial of G-d. Similarly, the residents of Canaan were so morally bankrupt that to work for a holy people was in and of itself a path to holiness. – yoel Apr 11 '12 at 15:27
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    Sorry for misunderstanding. I remembered vaguely about acting favorably or something around that to egyptian and edomite but forget the verses. I am sorry if my questions offend anyone. – user4951 May 2 '12 at 11:02
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    I corrected the question. – user4951 May 3 '12 at 1:43

I think there may be a few misconceptions at work here.

  1. The Torah does not tell us to "love" the Egyptians, just (as DoubleAA pointed out in a comment) to not abhor them (Deut. 23:8) - which, as the Torah goes on to say in the next verse, means that we are to allow the grandchildren of Egyptian converts to freely intermarry into the body of the Jewish people ("enter the assembly of the L-rd," as the translation there puts it).

    The point, as Rashi to vv. 8-9 states, is that (a) we do owe the Egyptians a debt of gratitude for hosting us in a time of need (during the famine described in Gen. 41-47), and (b) that they harmed us physically but not (so much) spiritually, as compared with the nations mentioned in vv. 4-5, whose males are forever debarred from intermarrying with the general Jewish population.

  2. With Amalek: first of all, it wasn't just an attack, but a stealthy and cowardly one ("he happened upon you on the way and cut off all the stragglers at your rear" - ibid. 25:18). This contrasts with the principles of just war outlined in the verses you quoted, in which we are to give fair warning before an attack, to give the enemy a chance to leave or make peace. [We are also told (Jerusalem Talmud, Sheviis 6:1) that Joshua, before leading the Jews into the Land of Canaan, did the same thing, sending each of the Canaanite city-states a message offering them a three-way choice: leave the country and be given safe-conduct (one of the Canaanite nations, the Girgashites, took him up on this); stay put and make a peace treaty (on the terms outlined in the verses you cited - see below; the Gibeonites did so, as described in Josh. 9); or fight.]

    The special enmity to Amalek, though, has other bases as well. One of them is, as Rashi points out there, that they were the first to attack the Jews after the Exodus and the splitting of the Red Sea, and by doing so they undermined the impact, and the respect for G-d's power, that these miracles had created in the surrounding nations. There is also the idea, based on the phrase at the end of the verse there that Amalek "did not fear G-d," that they are the prototypical ones who "know their Master and deliberately rebel against Him" (see yoel's comment on the question). Chassidic teaching also goes further and identifies the "coldness" that Amalek promoted (see Rashi there) as apathy towards G-d and His Torah - a very dangerous spiritual enemy indeed.

  3. That the inhabitants of a conquered town (or those who accepted Joshua's second option, as above) are to be "serving you in forced labor" does not mean that they become people's personal slaves. The Hebrew is יהיו לך למס ועבדוך, which might better be translated "shall be tributary to you and serve you" - which means exactly what it sounds like: they are to be subjects of the Jewish state, which can requisition their labor for public works projects and the like, something to which born Jews were also occasionally liable (I Sam. 8:11ff; I Kings 5:27 and 15:22), and which was the norm in the ancient world (i.e., these people were equally liable to be drafted for government service under their previous ruler). For example, in the case of the Gibeonites, mentioned above, Joshua put them to work for the Tabernacle and later for the Temple - Josh. 9:23,27.

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  • Oh that's clear then. Tributary system is normal in ancient time. So is now. – user4951 May 2 '12 at 11:01
  • Where in the bible does it say that Joshua gives Canaanite tribes a chance to get the hell out? I think Joshua is sorry that the gibeonites make peace with him and even that only after trickery. – user4951 May 3 '12 at 1:44
  • @JimThio: the people, not Joshua, are the ones who complained afterwards (see 9:18); he just upbraids them for their trickery. And precisely because of this: had they been willing to make peace a couple of months earlier (when he sent his three messages, before the Jews actually entered the land), they could have done so aboveboard. – Alex May 3 '12 at 4:02
  • As for your question about a textual source: we find the Girgashites listed among the Canaanite nations in some places and not others, which indicates that they didn't need to be conquered - because they left. (The Byzantine historian Procopius says that he saw a stele in North Africa that said that they left their native land because of "the robber Joshua"; this fits precisely with the statement in the Jerusalem Talmud that I mentioned, which says that the Girgashites ended up in a particularly fertile part of Africa.) – Alex May 3 '12 at 4:03
  • Ah that make sense. Did Josua really send threatening messages to all Canaanites before he got in? Why Torah doesn't mention that? In fact Torah effectively said that the Canaanites are so evil they got to be exterminated. Hitler also said the same about jews and I don't believe him. – user4951 May 3 '12 at 10:46

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