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March 01, 2007

Descendants of Amalek

I'm on the mailing list for the Jewish Theological Seminary, the principal rabbinical school of Conservative Judaism, and nearly every week I receive at least one e-mail on the Torah portion.

This week is shabbat zachor, the Sabbath of remembrance, in which we add an extra reading about the attack of Amalek on the Israelites as they left Egypt. We are instructed to blot out the memory of Amalek and not to forget, a directive that subsumes not only the historical Amalek but evil generally and genocidal butchers specifically. Haman, the villain of the Purim holiday, which falls on Sunday, is considered to be a descendant of Amalek. Some consider Hitler to be as well, at least metaphorically.

The e-mail I received from JTS today is written by Rabbi Marc Wolf, who addresses Amalek and Haman. He quotes Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, who in 1976 said this: "It is evident that we live in an age of violence and terror. There is not a continent on the globe that is not despoiled by terror and violence, by barbarism and by a growing callousness to human suffering."

Amalek, Haman, terrorism. You see where this is all leading, right? Palestinian terrorism? Ahmadinejad's threats to wipe Israel off the face of the map, right?


It's all leading to Darfur.

As Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum warns, the "violence and terror" that Amalek and Haman bred persisted through his day. The disconcerting truth is that it still persists; presently in the atrocities in Darfur. According to recent estimates, almost 400,000 people have been killed since the genocide began. Millions more are displaced and threatened by starvation and violence. Armies and militias are acting contrary to the global ethic that Haman and Amalek also abused. They trample on human dignity and are categorically different from the nations of the world. They must be stopped — they must be taught to recognize that human dignity must be afforded to everyone. To be sure, the preferred solution is diplomatic, but whatever the result, we cannot stand by as this scar on the face of humanity grows.
What's happening in Darfur is evil, but if Rabbi Wolf is discussing Amalek, it's bizarre that he would ignore the existential threat to us as Jews from Iran and the Palestinians in order to focus on Muslim-on-Muslim violence in Darfur. (I won't even get into the absurdity of believing that diplomacy can prevent genocide in Darfur. A military solution is needed, but neither the U.N. nor what I call the "worthless countries" of the world will do anything.)

Is Rabbi Wolf so totally averse to anything that smacks of particularism that he won't recognize who the modern-day descendants of Amalek really are?