Joey Kurtzman refers me to a remarkable and relevant article in the New York Times:
“Quite a coincidence: I discovered your interlocutor Scimitar just last night, when I was up late reading a discussion he had in the comment thread to a post on a white nationalist website. Very interesting stuff, though totally outside the realm of accepted discourse. I’m eager to get back into some of these issues, and I’m going to try to grab a chunk of time to read your interaction with him.
At this very moment I’m in the middle of doing an e-mail interview with Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law school and observant Jew who had an already-controversial article titled “Orthodox Paradox” in today’s NY Times Magazine. He states his professional interest as “the predicament of faith communities that strive to be modern while simultaneously cleaving to tradition,” and in the article he discusses (among other things) some of the ugliest aspects of the theology of traditional Jewish communities, the sort of Judaic dirty laundry I’ve not seen discussed before in the mainstream media. Very interesting.
If you read the article any time today or tomorrow, and have any questions you’d like him to answer, just send them to me and I’ll bounce them off him.”
Well, here’s an excerpt from the piece for publishing which the New York Times deserves a round of applause:
“Goldstein committed his terrorist act on Purim, the holiday commemorating the victory of the Jews over Haman, traditionally said to be a descendant of the Amalekites. The previous Sabbath, he sat in synagogue and heard the special additional Torah portion for the day, which includes the famous injunction in the Book of Deuteronomy to remember what the Amalekites did to the Israelites on their way out of Egypt and to erase the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens.
This commandment was followed by a further reading from the Book of Samuel. It details the first intentional and explicit genocide depicted in the Western canon: God’s directive to King Saul to kill every living Amalekite — man, woman and child, and even the sheep and cattle. Saul fell short. He left the Amalekite king alive and spared the sheep. As a punishment for the incompleteness of the slaughter, God took the kingdom from him and his heirs and gave it to David. I can remember this portion verbatim. That Saturday, like Goldstein, I was in synagogue, too.
Of course as a matter of Jewish law, the literal force of the biblical command of genocide does not apply today. The rabbis of the Talmud, in another of their universalizing legal rulings, held that because of the Assyrian King Sennacherib’s policy of population movement at the time of the First Temple, it was no longer possible to ascertain who was by descent an Amalekite. But as a schoolboy I was taught that the story of Amalek was about not just historical occurrence but cyclical recurrence: “In every generation, they rise up against us to destroy us, but the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hands.” The Jews’ enemies today are the Amalekites of old. The inquisitors, the Cossacks — Amalekites. Hitler was an Amalekite, too.
To Goldstein, the Palestinians were Amalekites. Like a Puritan seeking the contemporary type of the biblical archetype, he applied Deuteronomy and Samuel to the world before him. Commanded to settle the land, he settled it. Commanded to slaughter the Amalekites without mercy or compassion, he slew them. Goldstein could see difference as well as similarity. According to one newspaper account, when he was serving in the Israeli military, he refused to treat non-Jewish patients. And his actions were not met by universal condemnation: his gravestone describes him as a saint and a martyr of the Jewish people, “Clean of hands and pure of heart.”
It would be a mistake to blame messianic modern Orthodoxy for ultranationalist terror. But when the evil comes from within your own midst, the soul searching needs to be especially intense. After the Hebron massacre, my own teacher, the late Israeli scholar and poet Ezra Fleischer — himself a paragon of modern Orthodox commitment — said that the innocent blood of the Palestinian worshipers dripped through the stones and formed tears in the eyes of the Patriarchs buried below.