There is a scary Times op-ed today by Jeffrey Goldberg about Benjamin Netanyahu's beliefs in Amalek.
The column is an amazing and penetrating review of Netanyahu's worldviews as they pertain now especially to Iran. As we interpret it, Goldberg argues that in the guise of historical narrative, Bibi was fed by his father a set of religious and mystical beliefs about the nature of antisemitism in the world and the recurring danger of a transcendent archenemy of the Jewish people, who must be labeled by the ancient near Eastern tribal name "Amalek."
My rebbe, the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, lectured frequently on the truth of the two-part Amalek narrative in rabbinic Judaism. In every generation, the first part of the story goes, there is a tribe or nation that rises up to obliterate our people. The Rav proposed that in the 1940s Amalek was the Nazis. In the 1960s Amalek was the Russian communists.
These instances of national antisemitism are political and historical facts that can be examined and verified or falsified. The notion that this trend repeats itself eternally -- well that is a mystical religious belief and one that we really don't want our political leaders to base their decisions on.
The second part of the Rav's (and Judaism's) Amalek narrative is where the religious obligation kicks in with a literal vengeance. You see the rabbis teach that it is a high level mitzvah to attend synagogue to hear the reading of Parshas Zachor -- the ominous warning about Amalek -- on the Shabbat before Purim, before the reading of the book of Esther in which Haman -- a descendant of the Amalek tribe -- proves the religious and mystical theory to be absolute historical fact. In that biblical book's narrative, Haman tries to exterminate the Jews of Persia. But through cunning and guile and an implied divine intervention, Mordecai and Esther foil his plot.
According to the rabbis, and the biblical text is quite clear on this too, the mitzvah in the Torah is to blot out the very memory of Amalek. Hence, and this is what scares me, the very essence of ancient near Eastern account of Amalek is the license to kill. You must obliterate the nation that wants to obliterate you.
Goldberg makes it clear that he believes that Bibi Netanyahu operates under the license of Amalek. What he does not spell out in the Times is that religious Jews believe that gives them a blank check to do anything and everything to their mortal enemies -- including to commit a preemptive genocide against them.We specifically filled in the blanks to spell out the whole religious and mystical narrative of Amalek.
But wait. Today there is more. As if reading the script right out of the Bible, the Persians in Iran recently have clearly proclaimed on their own religious grounds that they are Israel's mortal enemies and that they do in fact want Israel to disappear from the map. Bibi calls Iran's leadership a “messianic apocalyptic cult.”
So yikes. Now we have both sides reading from the religious texts of the ancients -- only they are not in Sunday School. Both sides possess the weapons and armies and are loudly beating the drums of war.
It appears to us that Goldberg comes to the Times with a raw message so urgent that he puts it up in his op-ed's title, "Israel's Fears, Amalek's Arsenal."
Our fears go way beyond Goldberg's op-ed. We fear an imminent conflagration between two sovereign political states -- both possessing great resolve and both possessing way too much religion and mysticism which colors and even guides their worldviews and their policies.
Accordingly, we hope that Goldberg has overstated his case regarding Netanyahu's worldview. We pray that Bibi is not a true believer in the ancient mysteries of Amalek - rather that he is a tough and imaginative pragmatic and realistic political leader and modern-world statesman.