Sunday, March 24, 2024

Who is Amalek?Shabbat Zachor and Hamas—In memory of my father, Rabbi Dr. Willaim Weinberg, z”l.


Shabbat Zachor and Hamas—In memory of my father, Rabbi Dr. Willaim Weinberg, z”l.

Link to video




Who is Amalek?


“There are 3 kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”, that’s what is attributed to Mark Twain. Apparently, he was not a good numbers cruncher- but I now see that besides Marcelo [PhD in mathematics] and Geoff [ math teacher], nobody else is.

Here’s my example. In the current War against Hamas, there is an understandable outcry against the wholesale destruction of all of  Gaza. That’s what it sounds like. So, as we should do our fact checking, I searched on Google to ask how much of Gaza has been blown up.

I see this statistic:

Wow- 70 % of the housing, 50% of all the buildings: Well, Al Jazeera is the Cheering Squad for Hamas, but the Wall Street Journal reports the same, so it must be right.


So, this is about the same time period: 50% to 61%. BBC- it must be right!



Reuters is a reliable agency-only 18%, not 50%, not 75%, in the time period!

By February, we would have assumed that nothing is left standing BUT, according to the UN:

Satellite images show 30% of Gaza destroyed, UN centre ...

Reuters › world › middle-east › satellit...

Feb 2, 2024 — Satellite imagery analysed by the United Nations Satellite Centre shows that 30% of Gaza Strip's buildings have been destroyed or damaged in ...

Satellite Images Show 30% of Gaza Destroyed, UN Centre ...

U.S. News & World Report › News › World News

Feb 2, 2024 — GENEVA (Reuters) - Satellite imagery analysed by the United Nations Satellite Centre shows that 30% of Gaza Strip's buildings have been ...

At least 30% of Gaza is destroyed, UN Satellite Centre says

Global News › gaza-israel-destruction-photos

Feb 2, 2024 — Satellite imagery analyzed by the United Nations Satellite Centre shows that 30 per cent of Gaza Strip's buildings have been destroyed or ...

Not 70%, not 50%, but as low as 18% and as high as 30%-- a month or more after the reports of 70%!

Now, since this can be tracked by simple satellite imagery, available to all news agencies, how can we get to the number of actual casualties on the Gazan side:

If 70% of the buildings were destroyed, and let’s say, half the people were killed in indiscriminate bombing, then , my numbers crunchers, one half of 70% is 35%, 35% of 2 million is 700,000. Now, the accusation is that Israel has killed 30,000, not 700,000.

If that were an attempt at genocide, then the Israelis are enormously incompetent. Afterall, the German Einsatzgruppen wiped out 1.5 million Jews in the space of a few months with simple machine guns, and much less destruction. In Rwanda, 20 to 30 times as many people were brutally slaughtered in less time.

Or is it that when blacks are killed in Africa, no one did anything, just as the world turned a blind eye to what was happening to us Jews until it was too late?

I raise this to show how our perceptions are distorted.

In this current conflict, many Israeli leaders have used the Biblical account of Amalek as a call to take out Hamas. If course, this reference to Amalek has been used as an excuse to denounce Israel’s actions, as if it were a call to genocide of the Palestinians.

Is that really the analogy?

Who is Amalek?

This is our reading for this Shabbat, a reference to the first battle of survival by the children of Israel as they left Egypt :

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt—

how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.

Therefore, when your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! ( Deut 25:17ff)


We then have the event, centuries later, as Saul is called upon to finish the job:

I Samuel 15.


“Thus said the LORD of Hosts: I am exacting the penalty for what Amalek did to Israel, for the assault he made upon them on the road, on their way up from Egypt.

Now go, attack Amalek, and proscribe all that belongs to him. Spare no one, but kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and asses!”


Certainly sounds like genocide, but we know, in fact, that the genocide was botched, and the Amalekites continued attacking Israel  for years later.


So, how is it resolved? That answer is hinted at in the Story of Esther, which we must read as a highly stylized rendition of an ancient war.


“Mordecai, son of Jair son of Shimei son of Kish, a Benjaminite.” Esther 2:5. Kish of Benjamin is the father of King Saul!

Against whom?

Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite- Agagi- a descendent of Agag, the king who was spared by Saul, and we see here-unfinished business.


But who here is plotting the genocide? NOT the Jews, but by Haman, who convinces the Persian Shah to eliminate an enemy in their midst:


“Accordingly, written instructions were dispatched by couriers to all the king’s provinces to destroy, massacre, and exterminate all the Jews, young and old, children and women, on a single day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month—that is, the month of Adar—and to plunder their possessions.”3:13


We know that Mordecai and the Jews take up self-defense, as the King is unable to withdraw his call for genocide but:


Here is the King’s decree for the right of self-defense:


“The king has permitted the Jews of every city to assemble and fight for their lives; if any people or province attacks them, they may destroy, massacre, and exterminate its armed force together with women and children, and plunder their possessions.”8:11.


 A quid pro quo.


Do the Jews carry it out?



“ So the Jews struck at their enemies with the sword, slaying and destroying; they wreaked their will upon their enemies. In the fortress Shushan the Jews killed a total of five hundred men. 9:5

And the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the foe of the Jews. But they did not lay hands on the spoil.9:10

Not much of a massacre, not much of a genocide.


And again, the next day , in Shushan, 9:15

“and the Jews in Shushan mustered again on the fourteenth day of Adar and slew three hundred men in Shushan. But they did not lay hands on the spoil.


Finally, across the entire Persian empire,


The rest of the Jews of the kingdom gathered together, stood up for their lives ,and found respite from their enemies and killed their haters-75,000, But they did not lay hands on the spoil


Considering the size and range the Empire- from India to Ethiopia, not much of a massacre--- note- it  is in self defense, and they did not attack the women and children which had been devised by Haman and authorized by the King against them!



But, once again—numbers can be twisted: So this week, in LA Times, an op-ed by Jane Eisner, a former editor of Forward, a leading Jewish media piece, and someone who should know better, writes:

March 21, 2024:

  But as we relate to the victimhood, we need to also acknowledge and relate to the revenge taken by the Jews. The ninth chapter of the Book of Esther, often read quickly as if an afterthought, details a violent episode of state-sanctioned retaliation, when Jews murdered 75,000 Persian “enemies” including women and children, and rejoiced afterward.


 She should know better!  

It evokes Shylock, demanding our pound of flesh, and she, like Portia, evoking , The quality of mercy”. It is much more a channeling of classic anti-Judaic stances by Christian preachers, such as Martin Luther, who wanted to eject the Book of Esther from the Bible.

However, any simple reading of the text would show that it tells just the opposite. When push comes to shove, the Jews do no exact their” poind of flesh.”!


  The text states very much the opposite of her point. There is no word of revenge here, rather, as a straight translation of a very clear Hebrew shows: “stood up for their lives”,” found respite from their enemies” repeated emphatically, “ did not lay hands on the spoil.”

What about “women and children”. Although that was the enemies plan, and although the king authorized it, the text specifically OMITS it!.


Haman is Hamas, killing women and children wantonly and taking the spoils, and the Jews are like the Israelis today—defending for their lives, not intentionally killing women and children, and taking no spoils of war!


Why this repeated emphasis? To show the spirit of this new generation of Jews- although, under Saul, the people took spoils of war, and although the King authorized it, this new generation did not make war for plunder and gain!


Ms Eisner has intentionally read into the text what is not there and has thereby committed a crime of false accusation against her fellow Jews!


There is an unusual discussion in Midrashic lore, surrounding the account of King Saul and the Amalekites, reflecting the moral quandry about the extent of bloodshed.

( for a full analysis, go to my published research paper on Saul in the Midrash )


Based on a discussion in Talmud Yoma 22b and other sources:

 Rav Shimon ben Lakish said, “Whoever is merciful instead of cruel will in the end be cruel when it is time to be merciful” as he reflected on Saul’s sparing the King of the Amalekites and in  the end, as he degenerates morally, exterminates the men, women , and children of the priestly town of Nob.

In other words, there is a point in which innocent people do die for the sins of others, whether we like it or not, as in Dresden ( 25,000 killed) or Tokyo ( 100,000).

The alternative to that ugly fact would have been the final killing of every last Jew in Europe, or the continued mass killing of other Asians ( in the millions!).

The alternate in war is worse.

Finally, though, for those who claim the reference to Amalek is a call to genocide, I post this picture:




This is the rededication of the synagogue in Salzburg, Austria—the Salzburg of Mozart and beautiful music—now, a center of DP camps.

Standing at the Bimah is my father, Rabbi Dr Wilhelm/ William Weinberg, then head of adult education and jobs training for the survivors under the Joint.

This week is his yahrzeit ( Shushan Purim), so it is an appropriate reminder.

The slogan on the wall is our Torah reading: Zachor et Asher Asah Lecha Amalek:

Remember what Amalek did to you!

Followed by the German paraphrase:

Jude vergiss nicht das Ka Zet!

Jew, Do Not Forget the Concentration Camps!


There is no call for revenge upon the German people, no call for genocide, though the sentiment might have been there. My father  shortly after wards, decided he had enough of bloody Germany and bloody Europe and left. 

I leave this land with bitterness, but one may never slam closed the shutters upon any people. The future is with God and not with humans. But may it not be long, that Jews in German become once again the bearers of a world civilization and with the German language of a Lessing, Kant and Goethe.”


The call against Amalek is not against innocent women and children. It is a warning for all  humanity, that the ability to unleash hatred upon any group of people is a sin against God.

 That is what has happened against us in our day and time again.














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