Remembering and Destroying Amalek

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

According to the Rambam [Hilchot Melachim 5: 4, 5], the Mitzvah to destroy the seven Canaanite nations no longer applies because Sancheriv dispersed the nations. We therefore are unable to definitively identify any members of those seven nations. However, the Rambam fails to rule similarly regarding the Mitzvah to destroy Amalek. Why should that be so? If we cannot identify members of the seven nations how can we possibly identify any member belonging to Amalek?

Rav Soloveitchik suggested that regarding the Mitzvah to battle against Amalek [Devarim 25:19], Amalek is a status and not necessarily a nationality. Even after the dispersal and loss of national identity, someone who acts like Amalek- attempts to destroy the Jewish nation- acquires the status of Amalek and becomes a target of this Mitzvah. The Rav specifically applied this to the Nazis. Interestingly, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook opposed this teaching of Rav Soloveitchik, but not in theory. He opposed this teaching due to concern that a student may conclude that all Arabs of today have the status of Amalek and act accordingly.

Rav Soloveitchik further explained that in Halacha, statuses of nationality are consistently transmitted by parentage. Judaism is a nation and therefore membership travels through the mother while gentiles form tribes in which identity flows through the father. In the Torah, only we are referred to as a nation, as HaShem says to Avram [Bereishit 12: 2] “And I will make you into a great nation”. However the gentiles are referred to as tribes or families- “And all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you [12:3], their lineage is therefore traced through the father. Thus we find in Talmud Yerushalmi [Yevamot 2; 6], that Esther describes Haman as being the son of Hamedasa the Aggagite [Esther 3:1, 9:24]. The Gemara asks why the text calls him the son of Hamedasa when in fact, he was not, and answers that he was comparable to Hamedasa in his hatred towards the Jews.

So although Haman may not have been a direct son of Hamedasa, and therefore not a linealogical descendent of Amalek, he is still considered an Amalekite. For someone who follows the Amalek’s footsteps acquires the nation’s despised status.

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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