War against the Root of Evil

Remembering Amalek

In order to better understand our relation to the nation of Amalek and the great importance the Torah places on the remembrance of this nation’s evil acts, we must take note of the fact that there are three explicit Torah commandments regarding Amalek. The first commandment is to “remember that which Amalek did to you on the way, while you were leaving Egypt” (Deut. 25:17). In addition to being commanded to remember what they did to us, we are also commanded not to forget, as it is written: “Do not forget” (Ibid. 19). And finally there is a positive mitzvah to obliterate the entire nation of Amalek from the world, as it is written, “And when God allows you to rest from all of your surrounding enemies, in the land which the Lord your God has given you as an inheritance to possess, obliterate all memory of Amalek from under the sky” (ibid.)

What did Amalek do to cause the Torah to take such an extreme stand, commanding us to “obliterate all memory of Amalek from under the sky”?

Amalek was the first anti-Semite. The nation of Israel has a problem in this world. It appears that the faith-related and ideological message of the Jews causes all of the evil people in the world to attack us. This is not the place for an in-depth examination of the motives of anti-Semites throughout history, yet one thing is certain: There has never been a nation in the world so persecuted as the nation of Israel. From the destruction of the Temple, to the Crusades, the Inquisition, the pogroms of Chmelnitzki, and finally, the terrible Holocaust which struck our people fifty years ago – all the ink and paper in the world would run out before all the stories of evil done to our people by the nations could be told.

And all of this began with Amalek. At the very birth of our nation while leaving Egypt, even before we had an opportunity to organize and unify ourselves, for no cause or reason whatsoever, Amalek came and attacked. And just who did they attack? Slaves on the path to freedom after hundreds of years of bondage!

Amalek is a nation which, by its very existence, gives expression to hatred of the People of Israel, and in turn, to hatred of the Torah and of the idea of perfecting the world through God’s kingship. Therefore, the Torah commands us to wipe out the nation of Amalek.

Why Israel Requires a Special Warning to Destroy Amalek

Jews are naturally merciful and kind people; there are even many commandments in the Torah educating them towards this goal. Therefore, the mitzvah to remember and not forget the evil actions of Amalek, and to eradicate them from the world, had to be emphasized in a particularly acute fashion. Only after evil is eradicated from the world can there be complete joy. Thus on Purim, after the obliteration of Haman and his sons, happiness is especially great.

The Communal and Individual Mitzvah to Destroy Amalek

The main mitzvah of obliterating Amalek rests upon the entire nation of Israel in general. Thus, the Sages said: “Upon entering the Land, Israel was commanded three mitzvoth: They shall appoint a king; they shall destroy the descendants of Amalek; they shall build a temple” (Talmud Sanhedrin 20b).

Although the main mitzvah of wiping-out Amalek rests upon the community in general, every individual Jew is also obligated to fulfill this mitzvah. Therefore, if one comes upon an Amalekite and has chance to kill him, but does not – he has annulled this mitzvah (Sefer HaChinuch, 604). Today, the seed of Amalek has been lost; however, if becomes clear that a certain person is an Amalekite, following in their ways, it would be a mitzvah to kill him (see, Kol Mevaser 2:42).

Is Amalek Capable of Nullifying His Death Sentence?

Though the Torah commands us to obliterate the nation of Amalek, if an Amalekite decides to take upon himself the fulfillment of the Seven Mitzvoth of Noah’s Sons, according to Jewish law, there is no longer an obligation to kill him. Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, the Rambam, writes that it is forbidden to declare war on anybody without first attempting to settle things peacefully; if that nation agrees to our peace terms – the main condition of which is the acceptance of the Seven Mitzvoth of Noah’s Sons – it is forbidden to attack. This rule includes Amalek. Commenting on Rambam, Rabbi Yosef Karo adds that ‘If they take upon themselves these Seven Mitzvoth, they are no longer considered…Amalek – they are considered Children of Noah, and therefore acceptable.”

In other words, the obligation to kill every single Amalekite, only applies in a case where they refuse to accept the fundamental mitzvoth which the Torah places upon all of the Children of Noah, i.e., not to worship idols, not to commit adultery or incest, not to murder, not to steal, not to curse God, not to eat flesh from a living animal, and to establish courts of justice to rule ethically and justly in all that concerns relationships between individuals. If an Amalekite takes these mitzvoth upon himself, he is no longer considered an Amalekite, but a son of Noah.

All of this applies only if they accept these seven commandments when the peace offer is made, but if at first they did not accept the offer for peace, they are no longer given the opportunity to change their mind, and we must fight them till they are destroyed.

Can Amalek Convert?

There are conflicting opinions among Torah authorities regarding the question of Amalekite conversion to Judaism. In the Mechilta, Rabbi Eliezer teaches that God swore by his Throne of Glory that if an Amalekite should come to convert, he would not be accepted.

Yet, the Rambam appears to hold that it is permissible to receive a convert from the nation of Amalek, for, as the he explains in Mishneh Torah, any nation which converts, taking upon itself all of the mitzvoth of the Torah, becomes just like Israel… except for four nations: Ammon, Moab, Mitzrayim, and Edom. These nations are an exception, for though they can convert, restrictions are placed upon them when it comes to marrying Jewish women.

Perhaps we could say that all Torah authorities agree that it is preferable not to receive converts from Amalek, as is written in the Mechilta, yet, if a Torah court has already gone ahead and converted an Amalekite, the conversion is valid, and he is undeniably Jewish, as indicated by the Rambam.

In this light, it is important to take note of the words of the Talmud where it is told that “the grandchildren of Haman the wicked taught Torah in [the city of] Bnei-Brak” (Gittin 57b). It appears that the grandchildren of Haman converted and even became leading disseminators of the Torah. Some authorities explain that, indeed, this was a case in which the Torah court, by mistake, went ahead and accepted these people as converts, not knowing they were actually Amalekites. Once they were accepted as Jews, their conversion became completely valid, and from them came leading disseminators of Torah. Another possibility is that an Amalekite descendant of the wicked Haman raped a Jewish woman, and she gave birth to a child who, because his mother was Jewish, was, according to Jewish law, also considered Jewish. This opinion does not view the story of Haman’s grandchildren as proof that Amalekites may convert. Another possibility is that an Amalekite took upon himself the Seven Mitzvoth of Noah’s sons, leaving his people and joining another. After becoming integrated into this other nation, one of his children decided to convert to Judaism, and from him came leading disseminators of Torah.

Glatt or Kosher

Q: What should someone who makes a point to eat ‘chalak’ (glatt) meat do when invited to eat at another person’s house who is not meticulous about eating ‘chalak’, and feels uncomfortable asking whether the meat is ‘chalak’. Can he eat the meat or not?

A: He is allowed to eat the meat without asking whether it is ‘chalak’ or kosher, because this is a situation of ‘sefake sefayka’ l’hakel’ (a double uncertainty in which to be lenient). The first uncertainty is that perhaps the halacha goes according to the lenient opinion which holds that it is permissible to squeeze, manipulate, and peel ‘sirchot’ (adhesion of flesh) in order to check if there is a perforation underneath them. And even if we say that the halacha follows the stringent opinion, perhaps in actuality, the meat is in fact ‘chalak’ (D’var Shmuel Abuhav 320, Yibiyah Omer 5, Yoreah Deah 3).

Even when it is written ‘kosher’ on the meat, and thus seemingly there is no doubt that it is not ‘chalak’, it could be that it isn’t ‘chalak’ only because it had ‘sirchot’ requiring inspection according to the Ashkenazi ‘minhag’ (custom), but according to the ‘minhag’ of the ‘Bet Yosef’, such ‘sirchot’ are located in places that do not make the animal ‘treif’ and do not require inspection, and consequently, according to ‘minhag’ of ‘Bet Yosef’ the meat is ‘chalak’. Similarly regarding the Ashkenazi ‘minhag’ – perhaps the meat was determined not to be ‘chalak’ due to an excessive stringency with regards to very thin ‘sirchot’, but according to the letter of the law, such ‘sirchot’ are considered ‘chalak’ according to the Ashkenazi ‘minhag’. In addition to this, the words of the great Achronim – ‘Pri Chadash’ 39:3, and ‘Sha’agat Aryeh’ 64 – who wrote that nowadays the tendency is to declare many animals as being ‘treif’ because of fears and excessive stringencies, however, according to the letter of the law, the majority of animals are kosher without a doubt.

Consequently, ‘b’shat ha’dachak’ (in time of distress), when it is difficult to find out if the meat is ‘chalak’, a person who normally eats only ‘chalak’ meat, is allowed to eat meat which has only a ‘kosher’ certification.

Eating in a Restaurant

However, in regards to restaurants, those who are careful to eat ‘chalak’ must be meticulous not to eat in meat restaurants that do not have ‘mehadrin’ kashrut certification from a recognized kashrut institution. Even a person who normally eats only meat with a ‘kosher’ certification, should be careful to eat only in restaurants that have ‘chalak l’mehadrin’ certification, in order to insure that the meat he is eating is indeed kosher. For unlike large factories, which have standard kosher certification from a reliable rabbinate, can be trusted that, indeed, the foods are kosher, in restaurants, a standard kashrut certification does not guarantee that it is kosher, because without a permanent ‘mashgiach’ (supervisor), it is difficult to monitor a restaurant. And seeing as it is possible to receive a standard kashrut certificate without having a permanent ‘mashgiach’, one is unable to verify that the owner of the restaurant is careful to bring in only kosher meat. Incidentally, anyone who reads the fine print on the rabbinate certification of kashrut will find that often it is written that the kashrut is contingent on the worker’s being ‘shomerei mitzvoth’ (religiously observant), a condition which in practice, is not met.

However, in regards to a dairy restaurant where the problems of kashrut are less complicated, someone who is lenient and eats food with a standard kashrut certification from a reliable rabbinate has authorities he can rely on.

Kosher Certifications of Restaurants

Unfortunately, I must point out that in recent years, there are all sorts of Badatz’im (“high rabbinical courts”) giving fancy kashrut certificates to restaurants, attesting that they are “mehadrin lemehadrin” (strictly kosher), but in practice they lack a permanent ‘mashgiach’. At the very most, the ‘mashgiach’ acting on their behalf comes briefly once a day, and sometimes only once every few days, and occasionally only once a month in order to get paid. Therefore at best, such Badatz’im are considered like a standard rabbinate certification, and sometimes even less. And when it comes to meat, it is proper not to eat on the basis of their supervision. For example, in the center of Jerusalem, in the area of the shuk, almost all of the kashrut certificates are from these Badatz’im. Consequently, someone who wants to eat meat that is definitely kosher, should eat in a ‘kosher lemehadrin’ restaurant that has a permanent ‘mashgiach’ working on behalf of the Rabbinate, or a large and recognized kashrut institution, and who is present the majority of the day.

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