Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Christopher Hitchens, Iraq, and Amalek

In his many debates with Rabbis, Christopher Hitchens was often challenged that Judaism charges people to be kind to others.  To which Hitchens would answer, "Not if you have the misfortune of being a Midyanite or an Amalekite to whom Jews are charged with genocide."

As I watched these debates I was always bothered that nobody ever took him up on the context.
As for the Midyanites, Hitchens is correct that the Torah says, "Harass the midyanites..."  But he failed to read the next verse which says, "for they are harassing you."

Hitchens of all people should appreciate this.  He, after all, supported America's war with Iraq because he believed in the Jewish principle when someone comes to slay you, slay them first!

Amalek is a different story.  Unlike Midyan and other nations whom there is a particular context to when they must be battled, the Torah tells us in this week's parsha, Bishalach, that we must wage an eternal war against Amalek.  But once again, Hitchens demonstrates his ignorance, arrogance, and antipathy towards Judaism and reports only half of a story in order to make his point.

1. Hitchens'vulgar and ignorant understanding of the Torah was that any person can act on any impulse if it is written in the Torah.  Therefore, the Torah says that an adulterer is stoned, so if you think you know someone is committing adultery then you have a religious obligation to kill him.  But he fails to understand that the Torah is a law book that was predicated on a system of courts and a government.  Adultery is against the law but so is killing a person without due process.  Israel was a nation and civilization before it became a religion.  Adultery is illegal and it is a serious crime.  But that does not mean that the people, or even the courts, regularly carried out the death penalty for adultery.  Hitchens should have known better then to judge a legal system before studying the history of the people that lived by that system.
If a Jewish individual would act on his own and kill another person because he believed that person was a descendant of Amalek, that Jew would be tried and likely convicted for murder in a Jewish court.
If he would argue that there are Jews today in Israel that are stoning people for immodest dress, the fact that the entire Jewish world from left to right has condemn these fanatics actually demonstrates that over all Judaism and its adherence are outraged by such behavior.  That outrage is founded in the Torah.

2. The Mitzvah of wiping out Amalek is only in affect when Israel is a sovereign nation in its land with a Jewish king.  The king is then commanded to go after Amalek.  However, "No war can be waged on any person in the world without first calling out to them in peace. If they make peace and accept the seven noachide laws then it is forbidden to kill even one single soul."
I would hope that Hitchens would have been against establishing peace with any nation that on principle rejects laws that prohibit murder, theft, rule of law, and humane treatment of animals (I imagine he would not have a problem with them rejecting laws against blasphemy, idolatry, and sexual immorality).

3. An interesting fact about Amalek that makes them unique from every other nation is that Amalek seems to dwell all over the place in the ancient world.  Other nations generally inhabited one specific region.  Amalek appears between Egypt and Israel, in Southern Israel, in the territory of Seir, and in the territory of the tribe of Ephraim.  This has led many to believe that Amalek was a nomadic tribe that wondered from place to place where ever conditions suited them or where ever other nations would harbor them.
Others believe, however, that Amalek does not represent a particular nation as much as it represents a particular evil philosophy.
Other nations attacked when they felt threatened by the Jews.  Amalek attacks with no so interest or apparent reason other than pure hatred.  They attacked us when we were weak, tired, and unprepared.  They did not use conventional warfare, but rather they attacked the women children, and elderly.
When the Torah commands us to wage war on Amalek, it is telling us to stomp out this type of evil where ever it exists.  
This idea is supported by the fact that the Tanach reports at least twice that the Jews succeeded in completely eradicating Amalek (once by the hands of Shaul and Shmuel and once in Chronicles 4:43) and yet Jewish tradition insists that Haman, who came many years later, was a descendant of Amalek.
The war against Amalek is a war against evil where ever it is found, and this lesson is as relevant today as it ever was.

Once again, Hitchens either deliberately, or through gross ignorance, used the Bible out of context to bring calumny upon the Jewish people.  He portrays the people who were the target of attempted genocide as a people who promote genocide.

And yet, I must admit, when I finished writing this post I realized that I had to edit and change all present tense Hitchen verbs to past tense.  While I disagree with him so often, and even find his methods of argument at best unfair and at worst reprehensible, I can't help but lament his passing because he made us think, and for that I am grateful.

 Go to Hell Christopher Hitchens, you earned it!