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  • Family and Society
  • Attitude Towards Other Nations

Cannanites, Amalekites, genocide

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Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Shevat 21, 5782
Question
Well we see that In the tractate of Yoma (22b), Rabbi Mani says that King Saul argued with God: If the Torah said (Deut. 21:1-9) that if you find an anonymous dead body between two cities you must bring an eglah arufah ,“how much the moreso all of these souls! And if an [Amalekite] sinned did his animal sin? If adults sinned, did children sin?” Doesnt it sound cruel and inhuman and barbaric to kill men, women, children, and animals? Amalek: why do children,women and animals have to be slaughtered because their ancestors did something evil? Canaanites: how can one justify the killing of children, women,men and animals Just because they dont agree with you religiously and they dont want to accept the 7 Noah laws? Doesnt that sound jihadist? And because your God said that the land that all their ancestors lived in, is yours?! It makes it hard for us to be against genocide when our tanach promotes it. Its painful for any human being with a heart to read these paragraphs. I dont think that there is any justification to kill children and babies.
Answer
Shalom U'vracha, Thank you; your question is a good one. As you wrote one of our great figures in history, Saul, the first king of Israel, asked that very question. He didn't understand why we should kill the children and the animals of Amalek (Gemara Yoma 22:). However, it seems that the answer to the question appears in that very Gemara. The Gemara brings Saul's claim and then relates that a voice came from heaven (known as a 'bat kol') and announced: "Don't be too righteous". Much later, when Saul chased David and tried to kill him and eventually decided to wipe out the entire population of the city of Nov, a voice came out and exclaimed-- "don't be so evil!!". Another sentence mentioned by Rabbi Elazar, also referring to King Saul, goes like this: “Anyone who is merciful to the cruel will eventually be cruel to the merciful”. (Tanchuma Parshat Metzora) The nation of Israel is a nation of peace and love. In times that war was considered a legitimate part of life, the prophet Isaiah prophesied the Jewish hope of all generations וְכִתְּת֨וּ חַרְבוֹתָ֜ם לְאִתִּ֗ים וַחֲנִיתֽוֹתֵיהֶם֙ לְמַזְמֵר֔וֹת לֹא־יִשָּׂ֨א ג֤וֹי אֶל־גּוֹי֙ חֶ֔רֶב וְלֹֽא־יִלְמְד֥וּ ע֖וֹד מִלְחָמָֽה, meaning that the wars will end and the whole world will live in peace. However the world also consists of bad that has to be wiped out. The Amaleks proved to us throughout the generations that, Saul, despite his good intentions, made a huge and historical mistake. He did not kill the entire Amalekite nation as commanded and the result was, King Agag's descendant, the evil Haman, tried to wipe out the whole Jewish nation. It did not end there. The Gemara in Mesechet Megillah mentions that the State of "Germamia" would destroy the whole world if they had the option but G-d does not allow them to destroy the world. Rav Yaakov Emdin (Megillah in that section) and the Vilna Gaon (Yomah 10) wrote a few hundred years ago that the correct text should read "Germania" and not Germamia. The obvious meaning is the Germany of contemporary history. We clearly saw that the nazis that came from Germany tried to kill every Jew; man, woman, and child, for no other reason than for being a Jew. Hitler, yemach shemo, explained openly that his purpose was to destroy the Jewish nation which brought the Ten Commandments to the world and with it, ethics. You can see Hitler saying this in this video yourself here: see the video הכחשת השואה האמיתית בדורנו | הרב ראובן פיירמן minutes 24-25. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88zjF9hUGvc The Torah doesn't want us to kill the Amalekites or Canaanites. The opposite, the Torah commanded us to suggest that they leave their bad ways of idol worship and murder and accept the seven Mitzvot of the B'nei Noach. Accepting these mitzvot does not coerce them to do anything besides acting like a good human being such as not to murder, steal, curse G-d, and worship idols. If they don't want to accept these mitzvot, rather they prefer to continue with the evil ways of their ancestors then the same G-d who created them commanded us to kill them. This is because He knows that doing so will cleanse the world from the bad. The Canaanites of the time were not so much better than the Amalakites, as one may see in the verses (see for instance Vayikra 18; 3, and rashi there). Today, the wars in the world are different, seemingly due to the inspiration of the Torah. It is considered unethical to fight in the way that was mentioned back then. In those days wars were vicious and it was impossible to fight in an ethical manner. To survive and make a difference you had to play by the rules of the time and that meant killing women and children (see Igrot Haraaya-- page 100). Today there is no way to kill the Amalekites or Canaanites because the nations were long ago mixed up and we can't identify them completely. (I alluded to the notion that probably in modern day Germany there is a big concentration of Amalekites but halachically we don't have enough evidence for that, and apparently, we will never be able to fulfill the Mitzvah of literally destroying them. Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein once recalled how in a stage of adolescent doubt regarding these types of moral challenges, he gained strength from reading that the great talmudist Reb Chaim Soloveitchik would regularly arise early to see if a woman had abandoned her unwanted child on his doorstep. Lichtenstein concluded that if Reb Chaim, with his deep moral care for a baby, managed to “live deeply with the totality of Halacha,” including that of killing Amalekite children, then so could he. Not through less ethical sensitivity, but through an even greater faith in a beneficent God (beor panecha yehalechun page 116) . All the best
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