Haman the Agagite

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Esther 3:1 tells us that Haman’s name is: “Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite”

What does it mean “The Agagite”? There is a strong Jewish tradition that Haman was a descendant of the Amalekite nation. I’m not questioning this tradition, or whether it was meant literally or figuratively. The only question here is whether “The Agagite” is telling us that Haman was a descendant of Amalek.

R. Amos Hakham, in his Da’as Mikra commentary to Esther, offers three interpretations to the title “The Agagite.” According to the early commentators, it refers to Haman being a descendant of Agag, the king of Amalek who fell into the hands of Saul and was killed by Samuel (I Samuel 15). More recent commentators suggest that Agag was the name of a Persian family to which Haman belonged. Others suggest that Haman was just called “Agag,” even without being a genealogical descendant, because his actions were representative of Amalekite values. This is similar to wicked contemporaries (e.g. Hitler) being called Amalekites despite their not being genealogical Amalekites.

However, R. Hakham concludes, in a footnote about the midrashic literature on the subject, that there is a certain literary parallelism between the Esther and Saul stories that supports the claim that Agagite was meant to indicate lineage from Agag, the Amalekite king. Just as Agag fell into the hands of Saul, so too Agag’s descendant Haman fell into the hands of Saul’s descendant Mordechai.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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