3 - Remembering Amalek
In order to better understand our relation to the nation of Amalek and the great importance that 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 dealing with Amalek. The first 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 commanded not to forget , as it is written: "Do not forget" (Ibid. 19). Lastly, 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 hunted down as the nation of Israel. From the destruction of the Temple, to the Crusades, the Inquisition, Chmelnitzki, and the terrible Holocaust which struck our people fifty years ago - ink and paper would run out before all the stories of evil done to our people by the nations 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.
4 - Fulfilling One's Obligation to Remember Amalek
We fulfill the Mitzvah to remember what Amalek did to us by reading the Parshat-Zachor Torah portion on the Sabbath before Purim. On this Sabbath two Torah scrolls are brought out. From one, the weekly Torah portion is read; from the other, Parshat-Zachor.
According to the Torah this "remembering" must be pronounced out loud, for our sages teach that because the Mitzvah not to forget Amalek's actions includes the obligation to recall in our hearts , when, in addition, the Torah commands us to remember what Amalek did to us, the intention is that we should remember by pronouncing it out loud . What's more, they teach that this remembering must be carried out by reading from a scroll. Therefore we fulfill the Mitzvah to remember what Amalek did to us by reading Parshat-Zachor from a Torah scroll.
Since the reading of Parshat-Zachor is a Torah-based commandment, great care is taken that it be read with exactness and incantation from a choice Torah scroll. It is preferable that each individual hear Parshat-Zachor in the incantation and pronunciation of his own family's custom. But even if one hears it in a different incantation and pronunciation, he has fulfilled his obligation.
In order to link the remembrance of Amalek with the obliteration of Haman who was of Amalekite descent, the sages instituted that the reading of Parshat-Zachor take place each year before Purim. The commandment to remember Amalek is fulfilled by our reading Parshat-Zachor once a year, for only after an entire year of not recalling something is it considered forgotten. By virtue of this yearly reading, then, it is considered remembered.
There are conflicting opinions amongst authorities as to whether or not women are obligated to hear Parshat-Zachor. Most authorities rule that they need not hear it. Still it is preferable that they hear it, or at least read it to themselves.
5 - 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 , there is, according to Jewish law, 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."
That is, 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: 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 what we have said here applies only if he receives these seven commandments when the peace offer is made, but if at first he did not accept the offer for peace, he is no longer given the opportunity to change his mind, and we must fight against him and kill him.
6 - 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. At any rate, as far as our inquiry is concerned we see that there are no conversion restrictions upon Amalekites.
Perhaps we could say that all 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 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. There are those who explain that, indeed, this was a case in which the Torah court, not in keeping with the law, went ahead and accepted these Amalekite converts; once they were accepted, their conversion became completely valid, they became Jewish, and from them came leading disseminators of Torah . Another possibility is that an Amalekite 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 what we are dealing with here is an Amalekite who 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 child decided to convert to Judaism, and from him came leading disseminators of Torah.
Torah - Five Books of Moses
Mitzvah/Mitzvoth - Commandment/s
Haman - The dreadful enemy of the Jews in the Purim story. See Book of Ester
Seven Mitzvoth of Noah's Sons - Judaism calls upon the non-Jewish world ("Noah's Sons") to observe these seven commandments.
Mechilta - Earliest commentary on the Book of Exodus
Mishneh Torah - Rambam's all-inclusive codex of Jewish law
Talmud - Voluminous embodiment of the Oral Torah. Basis of Jewish law and philosophy