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We are being confronted more and more each day with the subject of genocide. Lately, comparisons are being drawn between possibly refusing Syrian Muslim refugees, or Muslims in general, entry into the United States with the genocide that was committed upon the Jewish people during World War II by the Nazis.

This term, 'genocide', actually originated in 1944 during United Nations discussions about what happened to the Jewish people during the Holocaust.

It means the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political or cultural group. Genocide is considered a crime against all of humanity. There is no justification or defense for committing genocide.

In the case of the Syrian refugees, at least some of them are fleeing ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). ISIS is, in fact, committing genocide against then Yazidi people. Similarly, the Turkish Muslims committed genocide against the Armenian people in 1915 and the Khmer Rouge committed genocide against the Cambodian people in the killing fields during the mid 1970's.

We are commanded to erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Like it says in Devarim 25:17-19, "Remember what Amalek did to you, on the road in your departure from Egypt.That your apathetic ones (קרך) and all the underprivileged (כל-הנחשלים) amongst you trailed behind you. And you were weary (from thirst) and tired. And he didn't fear G-d. And when it will be, when the L-rd, your G-d will give you rest from all your local troubles in the land that the L-rd, your G-d gives to you as an inheritance to possess, you will erase the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do not forget."

And this commandment is based upon Shemot, chapter 17, which recounts the test of Massah and Merivah, when the Jewish people had no water to drink in the desert. And they quarreled with Moshe and doubted whether G-d was with them and whether Moshe had misled them.

With G-d's help, Moshe was able to provide them with water to drink. And on the heels of this, Amalek attacked the weak and sick who were straggling behind the main camp, outside of the protective clouds of glory.

The Torah relates the coming of Moshiach with, among other things, winning the war with Amalek. (Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Melachim, 5:5, 11:4, Aruch HaShulchan HaAtid, Halachot Shonot, Siman 71, Tzeida l'Derech, Ma'amar 5, K'lal Shelishi, Chapter 4, Semag (Sefer Mitzvot Gadolot), Mitzvot Lo Ta'aseh 226, Mitzvot Aseh 116)

This is generally considered to be part of the wars that Moshiach must fight and win (Shemot 17:16).

But at the same time we are told that we are to choose life and not the opposite of life. (Devarim 30:15-20)

Additionally, we are commanded not to take vengeance (Semag, Lo Ta'aseh 11, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot De'ot, 7:7). The Semag, in particular says this trait of seeking vengeance is exceedingly bad.

Does erasing the memory of Amalek mean we are commanded to commit genocide?

If not, what does it mean that we are supposed to do?

Please keep in mind that the halachic aspect of this discussion requires that this must be understood according to the plain meaning of this subject.

In dealing with this question, it is important to keep a few points in mind.

1) The commandment itself doesn't say simply, 'Amalek attacked us and we are to wipe them out'. It makes a point of bringing the whole story of how we were dieing of thirst. (In the best of conditions, a human being cannot survive without water more than about 3 days.) And the weakest among us were straggling behind the group in a very vulnerable position. Only then did Amalek attack the weak and vulnerable people. They didn't go after the strong.

2) The mitzvah does not say wipe out Amalek. It says wipe out the 'memory of Amalek'.

3) Even in the example of Moshe and Yehoshuah, it emphasizes that they did not wipe out everyone from Amalek. Yehoshuah only killed those necessary to stop the action. And in the commentaries it emphasizes that this was done at the specific command of G-d.

4) This exact same behavior is detailed in regard to David HaMelech's war with Amalek through his General Yoav ben Tzaruyia as found in Sefer Yalkut HaMakiri on Tehillim, Chapter 18, sief 61. This means that David HaMelech, at least on the face of it, did exactly the same thing that Shaul HaMelech did. Clearly, something else must have happened that was different.

A link to this can be seen here: http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=32636&st=&pgnum=132

5) The Meiri on Sotah gives an explanation for this type of action. He says that for non-Jews, when a woman marries out to a different nation, both she and the offspring are no longer associated with her fathers nation. So in order to fall into the category of Amalek, the lineage would have to be preserved father to son in a continuous chain. The Meiri takes that idea a step further in the context of the mixing of the generations by Sennacherib and suggests that by his time (the time of the Meiri) the nation of Amalek had ceased to exist altogether. The citation begins with the words: "שבעה עממין"

A link can be seen at: http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=40767&st=&pgnum=115

6) We are told explicitly that whatever this 'war with Amalek' is for G-d, it exists in each and every generation. (מדור דור)

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    Are you asking whether we have to kill out a nation? Or are you assuming we have to kill out a nation and asking whether that's considered genocide? Or are you asking both (whether we have to kill out a nation and, if so, whether that's considered genocide)? I don't understand what's unclear to you. – msh210 Dec 9 '15 at 3:09
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    "The Torah relates the coming of Moshiach with, among other things, winning the war with Amalek. This is generally considered to be part of the wars that Moshiach must fight and win." Editing in sources for those claims would improve your post. I didn't know either was true. Did Shaul think he was Moshiach? – Double AA Dec 9 '15 at 3:20
  • @DoubleAA, I can't speak for Shmuel HaNavi or Shaul HaMelech. But if I were to speculate and offer a possible answer, at that time, the conquest of the original inhabitants had not been completed. That mitzvah is different from the mitzvah of erasing the memory of Amalek from under heaven. – Yaacov Deane Dec 10 '15 at 1:46
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    This is generally considered to be part of the wars that Moshiach must fight and win considered by whom? – mevaqesh Dec 26 '16 at 4:39
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As seen in Rambam here, there is a peace process even when dealing with Amalek and the other seven nations.

"A war is never waged against anyone before peace is offered. This applies both to an obligatory war and to a permitted war, as it is written “when you get near a city to wage war against it, you must offer peace” (Deut. 20:10). If they agree and accept upon themselves the seven mitzvot given to the children of Noah, not a single soul is to be harmed, and they are to pay taxes , as it is written “they will pay taxes and serve you” (Deut. 20:11). If they accepted taxes but not servitude, or servitude and not taxes, we don’t listen to them, until they accepted both. …

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.'..."

So we are not simply committing blind genocide, we are killing the people who refuse to accept God's sovereignty and offer of peace.

It should be noted that this type of warfare cannot happen until after Moshiach arrives when the Jewish people have a king. But at that time our tradition tells us all the nation's will recognize and accept God. So their refusal to accept peace and God seems unlikely.

  • Can they accept peace halfway through the war (eg. after most of the fighting males have been killed)? – Double AA Dec 9 '15 at 14:56
  • Interesting question. See Raavad there who calls this Rambam a mistake and says we kill these seven even if they accept these terms. The Radbaz backs up the Rambam by saying his opinion of acceptance peace means accepting the seven Noahide laws, I.e. they become a ger toshav. Seemingly he would call your situation a conversion under duress which wouldn't work. But Kessef Mishna there defends Rambam by stating their acceptance of peace is a way to drop their lineage to these nations thereby becoming standard non Jews. In this explanation there is probably more room to consider your case. – user6591 Dec 9 '15 at 15:10
  • So if I understand you correctly, you believe the Torah advocates a view of convert or die or pay the 'jizyah' (the tribute non-Muslims must give to Muslims) and submit to us. That sounds like Islam, not Judaism. – Yaacov Deane Dec 14 '15 at 4:15
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    @Yaacov you can disagree. Just be clear that you are disagreeing with the Rambam, not with me. – user6591 Dec 14 '15 at 11:10
  • @YaacovDeane Perhaps the Rambam did not necessarily mean covert by the sword. Maybe he meant that the seven nations should convert in goodness as in the case of Jonah and the repentance (teshuvah) of Nineveh. They stopped their misdeeds but did not convert to Judaism. This was enough for G-d to spare them. – Shmuel Sep 8 at 20:56
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yes we are commanded to wipe out Amalek. Practically speaking though this would be challenging as there is no nation we can point to and say they are amalek. Perhaps moshiach will tell usor maybe not. Until then though we still must ask ourselves then why would such a thing be in the Torah? Everything in the Torah is meant to teach us something practically for all times and places. While we may not have a physical war or battles with amalek as a nation we have the daily war with amalek as the yetzer hara. sometimes when we are weak and tired there comes along a justification for why we should do something contrary to the Torah and at that moment we must remember and wipe out this amalek who is attacking us from behind when we are at our most susceptible state with justifications. This is the amalek we must wipe out today.

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    So are you saying that the Torah's commandment to destroy the nation of Amalek is purely metaphorical and there is no actual obligation to destroy a group of people? – Daniel Dec 9 '15 at 14:59
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    @Dude, This is spoken about in Sefer Eit Keitz in the name of Radak. It explains that part of the miracle of the final redemption is that the remnant of the original inhabitants of Canaan, meaning Amalek, even though they were completely mixed up by Sennacherib, will be reconstituted and brought back to the land of Israel. This is in order that Moshiach can fulfill the mitzvah. They are supposed to occupy Gaza, the area around Jericho, part of the Shomron and possibly east Jerusalem. – Yaacov Deane Dec 9 '15 at 21:16
  • @Daniel no I am saying that there is no way to currently fulfill this as a physical mitzvah and so there still needs to be a lesson that we can take away from the fact it is in the Torah. There is clearly the annihilation of Amalek in a literal sense also but if there is no Amalek to identify then we need to look for a lesson as everyhting in Torah has a permanent lesson for us at all times. – Dude Dec 9 '15 at 22:48
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    Ok but that has absolutely nothing to do with this question. – Daniel Dec 9 '15 at 23:12
  • @Dude Concerning your question about why this commandment is in the Torah if we never do it, how is it different from the Sotah, the ‘Rebellious Son’ and Piggul? At least according to some, these things also never happened. – Yaacov Deane Jun 19 '18 at 16:24
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Plainly, yes, we are commanded to wage war with a specific nation and fully destroy them, and yes I suppose that fits the definition of genocide.

Now, how to morally cope with that is a good question that has been dealt with by many, but that's another question...

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    Editing into your answer sources for its claims would improve its value. – msh210 Dec 9 '15 at 14:01
  • @msh210 It seems common knowledge...you want me to quote the pasuk? – andrewmh20 Dec 9 '15 at 14:02
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    Sure, if that's how you know. Or a halacha book, perhaps. Maybe also an English dictionary. :-) – msh210 Dec 9 '15 at 14:33
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    @andrewmh20 The OP apparently didn't think it was common knowledge... I don't see why your asserting it will convince him otherwise. Do you? – Double AA Dec 9 '15 at 14:57
  • @DoubleAA Understood. I cuss I misread the question, reading "erasing memory" as "wiping out physically". I'll edit bli neder when I get a chance to show that erasing memory->killing->genocide. – andrewmh20 Dec 9 '15 at 17:49
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Amalek was the first nation to wage war with Israel after the Exodus. Their animosity towards us will not end unless either we are destroyed or they are. The two people/philosophies are totally irreconcilable.

So really it is a defensive war.

We can see this in our time with the Nazi rulers who were supposedly from Amalek (see video below). Hitler gave greater priority to the trains to Auschwitz than those to his own struggling troops.

See this lecture for more on this.

So the answer is yes, though till then we accept converts from them, so we recognize that there are some good ones among them.

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    I don't see the parallel with Germany. The Allies didn't go kill every German when they got there. – Double AA Dec 9 '15 at 6:17
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    It's not kill all of them or have all of us be killed. It's kill some of them or have all of us be killed. That's what you can conclude from Hitler. – Double AA Dec 9 '15 at 14:55
  • @DoubleAA: I seem to recall that the Allied leadership seriously discussed doing exactly that. No handy sources, sorry. – Codes with Hammer Dec 9 '15 at 21:36
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    @ray So how does that help answer the question about killing a whole nation? – Double AA Dec 10 '15 at 21:01
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    Oh so you are proposing that ALL Amalekites were as bad as Hitler? So like, Hitler's siblings, should be killed? If Eichman managed to have children, we should go kill them all? That would answer the question but seems highly unlikely. – Double AA Dec 10 '15 at 21:03
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Is the command to destroy nations cruel?

While traveling through the desert (or wilderness) during the Exodus, Moshe sent an envoy (or emissaries) to Sihon, king of the Amorites, with a declaration of peace (Deuteronomy 29, Numbers 21 and Deuteronomy 2 and 3). They were hoping to travel through their lands, freely, without any animosity. Moshe promised to stay on the road at all times and to keep to themselves. For this was no modern army which feeds on the property of private ownership, destroying crops in their wake. No, this was refugees returning home, to the Land of Israel. In fact, the Jewish historian and general Flavius Josephus recall how the Israelites were willing to pay for food and water, a commercial incentive. In any event, due to international law, it was prohibited for the king to kill the envoys. Instead, they were sent back to their camp according to Philo. As a result, they were denied all access and permission to enter the land. Concerning Kings and Wars 5:1 and 6:1, 4, the Mishneh Torah says not to harm them [Amalek] without offering a peace treaty. Only under these circumstances where a truce is denied are we permitted to attack. The Amorites violated this law. In due course, the Amorites responded with an unprovoked attack, ambushing men, woman, and children in the Israelite camp. However, the Israelites won the battle. A similar scenario happened to Heshbon and Bashan and Og. And again, the Israelites retaliated. (See Exodus 17 and Deuteronomy 25). Some think this retaliation implies that even three-year-old children were killed as depicted in Gemara in Yavamos 60b where it exaggerates the death of the Midianite women. But children up to thirteen years of age are not held responsible for their actions, according to Judaism. For the son shall not bear the sins of the father. Should children be murdered if not in the account for their parents' misdeeds? So is there any justification in killing children? Where do we draw the line? Do the ends always justify the means? The Amorites had no justification for killing children. If we kill children, how are we any better then the Amorites?

Sometimes the Torah exaggerates to highlight its message. For the Torah “speaks in human language,” says Rabbi Ishmael. It could be that the command to “killed all its inhabitants” is not a literal command just as the tower of Babel “reached into the heaven” is not understood literally. The Israeliests were simply attacked, defended themselves, and killed the combatants in battle. However, the narrative of Amalek is not an easy read for some commentators, as we shall see.

In Exodus 17 and Deuteronomy 25, we read the report that Amalek attacked the Israelites from the rear. This was cowardice. They didn't dare attack at front. Though the tribe of Dan was routed, the Israelites defend themselves. G-d then commands to blot out the name of Amalek. In I Samuel 15, it is repeated again. King Saul is the only objection. Let's look at some commentators.

Philo understood Amalek to be an allegory, a symbol for a bandit who deliberately strikes without warning because of his cowardice. This concept of destroying an idea (the nefarious self-destructive quality of Amalek) runs reminiscent to the original Islamic concept of jihad where an individual is required to improve his personality by eradicating the evil inclination within him. Contrary to his view Josephus thought Amalek was a war-like nation. Though he thinks the command in the Bible is not to destroy the Amaleks entirely but, as Moshe predicts, that Amalek, due to their belligerent behavior, would be wiped out. Eventually, other nations would grow tired of their arrogance and may attempt to obliterate them. This is not a wrong interpretation either. Josephus then explains that in Samuel's day the Jews were kind to the Amalek nation who showed little respect in return. This would lead Israel to be the begetter of further crimes, if not stopped. The proof is Haman who causes Mordechai much trouble. It even leads to Saul's ultimate death. Thus this drive to cut off the head of the snake will play out as Moshe predicts. The Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 22b captures this idea when Rabbi Mani ponders on G-d's justice. The Talmud quotes Ecclesiastes 7:16, “Be not righteous overmuch.” That is not to say that one should treat people with no respect but that one should not be naive. In the same spirit, Pseudo-Jonathan (Aramaic translation) and targumic understood Amalek's hatred for Israel. The inception of this relates to the notion that the Amalekites were once descendants of Esau, Jacob's brother. Their enmity was, apparently, is still in effect despite the fact that the two brothers later rectified their differences. Similarly, though not exact, the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q252) says to grapple with Amalek until “the end of days,” before they are destroyed by G-d when He carries it out if He wants to do so. Interestingly, although at face value this seems to foretell the apparent doom of Amalek, it is hinted that G-d can show mercy. This is not to be confused that G-d can change His mind. G-d did not have any regrets to commence the flood but provided redemption to Nach and his family. Similarly, He is depicted here as providing redemption to the people of Amalek, if they want it. The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 96b agrees that not all people, even those of Amalek should have been killed for some repented and converted and became proselytes to Judaism, studying Torah in B’nei Berak.

Summery

From this, we see that there is not one consensus in Judaism regarding the eradication of Amalek. Some see it as an allegory, even the Nazis were Amalek. Others see it as a true occurrence, a literal commandment which calls for the annihilation of a people akin to Hitler's final solution and yet others feel that Amalek should not be exterminated but mostly left alone until G-d can provide them a redeemable solution akin to a rehab rehabilitation center.

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