We recently explored R. Yerachmiel Zelcer’s encyclopedic treatment of the classic Chanukah question (link). We now have the opportunity to discuss his similar treatment of Purim. In his Ner Le-Mei’ah on Purim, he addresses R. Shlomo Alkabetz’s question, posed in Manos Ha-Levi, regarding the fate of Amalekites. We are commanded to destroy the nation of Amalek but how far must we go? Are there exceptions, loopholes by which Amalekites can convert from their cursed ancestry and even become Jews in good standing?
The Torah commands us to destroy the remembrance of Amalek (Deut. 25:19) as part of a permanent war against the nation (Ex. 17:16). The Mekhilta (to Ex. 17:16) states that, as part of this permanent state of war, God vowed not to accept converts from Amalek. However, the Gemara (Gittin 57b) states that Haman’s descendants (sons of sons) taught Torah in Bnei Brak. While this turn-about demonstrates the ironies of history and the ultimate victory over our enemy, it seems to violate the command to destroy the remembrance of Amalek. R. Shlomo Alkabetz pointed out this contradiction and sparked a literature offering creative resolutions.
R. Zelcer collects 100 answers, many he proposes himself based on others’ related theories. Most importantly, none escape his critical pen, although he is able to rescue most through further analysis of proofs and counterproofs. Below is my summary of 25 answers from Ner Le-Mei’ah on Purim, including chapter number and the name of R. Zelcer’s primary source. When he offers an answer based on a related theory, I provide the source of the theory and list Ner Le-Mei’ah as the source of the answer.
- They converted on their own [very problematic] (ch. 1, Manos Ha-Levi)
- Amalekites may convert to Judaism but may only marry other Amalekite converts (c2, Megillas Sefer on Semag)
- They were found as babies and were converted, and only later discovered they were Haman’s descendants (2, Megillas Sefer on Semag)
- The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Issurei Bi’ah 12:17) ruled like the Gemara in Gittin, against the Mekhilta, that we may accept Amalekite converts (3, Chida in Pesach Einayim)
- If the Amalekite makes peace with the Jews and accepts the seven Noahide commandments, he loses his status as an Amalekite and may later convert (4, Chida in Ein Zokher; 17, Avnei Neizer)
- Haman was Mordechai’s slave (Megillah 16a) and a slave loses his ancestry (5, Tzofnas Pa’anei’ach)
- The mitzvah to blot out the memory of Amalek only applies when you can fully accomplish it (7, Yismach Moshe)
- They tricked the converting rabbis and their Amalekite ancestry only became known in the second or third generations (8, Shevus Yehudah)
- There is no impediment to accepting an Amalekite convert, just that God will not obligate it (8, Shevus Yehudah)
- The view that we may not accept Amalekite converts is a minority (8, Shevus Yehudah)
- They were Amalekite descendants through a female ancestor and tribal status flows through males (9, Tiferes Moshe)
- An Amalekite had an illegitimate child with a Jewish woman (11, Peri Tzadik)
- Haman was not an Amalekite [see this post] (12, R. Yerucham Fishel Perlow)
- After Sancheriv mixed the nations, we do not know with certainty whether those who claim to be descendants of Amalek really are (14, Tal Oros; 21, R. Chaim Palaggi in Einei Kol Chai)
- The text should read that descendants of Na’aman, not Haman, taught Torah in Bnei Brak (15, Margoliyos Ha-Yam)
- The Torah teachers in Bnei Brak were merely reincarnations (gilgulim) of Haman’s descendants but not physical descendants (19, Sheim Mi-Shmuel)
- The Torah teachers in Bnei Brak were reincarnations (gilgulim) of the positive aspects of Haman himself (20, Sheim Mi-Shmuel)
- We only refuse Amalekite converts after they begin fighting us (22, Chazon Ish)
- When we are unable to kill Amalekites, we may accept them as converts (24, R. Shimon Sofer in the name of R. Yosef Wald)
- The obligation to battle Amalek only applies when directed by a prophet (Griz). Perhaps the decision to accept Amalekite prophets was also directed by a prophet (27, Ner Le-Mei’ah).
- Haman’s mother was a maidservant so he does not obtain his father’s lineage (28, R. Tzvi Eisenstadt in the name of the Rogtachover)
- The mitzvah to destroy any remembrance of Amalek does not apply outside of Israel (Bnei Yissaschar in Rei’ach Duda’im). Therefore we could accept Amalekite converts outside of Israel (29, Ner Le-Mei’ah)
- We need a king in order to be obligated in destroying the remembrance of Amalek (Oneg Yom Tov). In the time of Purim, there was no Jewish king and therefore we could accept Amalekite converts (30, Ner Le-Mei’ah).
- Rachav converted even though she was a Canaanite because her soul was a reincarnation of Tamar (Chida in the name of the Arizal). Similarly, the prohibition to accept Amalekite converts only applies to Amalekite souls and not reincarnations (31, Ner Le-Mei’ah).
- The permission for an uncertain mamzer (safek) to marry into the Jewish people is based on a derivation from the word “kehal” which also applies to Amonites and Moabites (Sha’ar Ha-Melekh). This also applies to Amalekites so perhaps when Haman’s descendants came to convert, their lineage could not be definitively proven (36, Ner Le-Mei’ah).