Culture, Israel, Justice, Politics

Between Hebron and Jerusalem

Editor’s note: The following D’var Torah is a guest post from Elliott Horowitz
On a Friday morning fourteen years ago, Dr. Baruch Goldstein walked into the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, on a day that was Purim for him but Ramadan for his victims, and opened fire, with his army-issued semi-automatic rifle, on dozens of Muslims who were praying there, killing twenty nine. Goldstein had, like his hero Rabbi Meir Kahane, been born in Brooklyn, and after studying at Yeshiva University and completing his medical studies, immigrated to Israel in 1983, settling in Kiryat Arbah on the West Bank. It was from his home there that Goldstein, accoutered in his IDF reserve officer’s uniform, made his way to the holy tomb. Before leaving on his deadly mission he dutifully attended services for the day of Purim. The Torah reading, from Exodus 17, recounted the Amalekite “rear attack” upon the Israelites at Rephidim, and it was followed by a re-reading of the book of Esther, culminating in the hanging of Haman and the revenge of the Jews. There is little doubt that Goldstein regarded not only Haman and his sons, but also the Arabs of Hebron, as Amalekites who, according to divine commandment, were to be utterly destroyed.
Earlier this month, on a Thursday evening that inaugurated the New Moon of the traditionally merry month of Adar, Ala Abu Dhaim, a twenty-five year old Arab resident of East Jerusalem, left his home in the Jebel Mukaber neighborhood armed with a semi-automatic rifle and made his way to the Merkaz Ha-Rav Yeshiva in west Jerusalem, a trip just a bit longer than that taken by Goldstein from Kiryat Arbah to Hebron. Abu Dhaim sprayed his bullets as indiscriminately as had Goldstein, killing eight young men – most of them teenagers.
Speaking at the collective funeral of all eight young victims, which took place the next day at Merkaz ha-Rav, Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, who recently succeeded his late father as head of the Yeshiva, said that “the murderers are the Amalek of our day, coming to remind us that Amalek has not disappeared, just changed its appearance.” He also saw the attack as “a continuation of the 1929 massacre,” in Hebron, many of whose 67 victims were students of the famed local Yeshiva.
Although the rabbis of the Talmud have taught us that “a man is not to be held responsible for things said in a time of sorrow” (Baba Batra, 16b), I beg to differ with Rabbi Shapira on both points. Regarding the latter, it is not likely that Abu Dhaim, who was not much older than most of his victims, ever heard of the massacre in Hebron. He was much more concerned with the 126 Palestinians, many of them women and children, who were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza during the first week of March, 2008, in their (perhaps overzealous) attempt to save the lives of Israeli women and children in Sderot and Ashkelon. By contrast, Baruch Goldstein, like most Jewish residents of the Hebron area, had been well aware of (if not obsessed with) the bloody massacre that took place some three score and five years earlier, and it is his murderous action in that same city which is is better described “a continuation of the 1929 massacre.”
With regard to the alleged Amalekite affiliation of “the murderers,” Rabbi Shapira is on even shakier ground. As every student in his yeshiva knows, the biblical Amalek was the grandson of Esau, the older son of Isaac. The Arabs, by contrast, are seen as descendants of Ishmael, the half-brother of Isaac. Rabbi Shapira presumably meant that those behind the murder of his young students were Amalekites in the metaphorical sense. But in that sense, it may be argued, so was Dr. Baruch Goldstein.
Elliott Horowitz is the author of Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence (Princeton, 2006)

32 thoughts on “Between Hebron and Jerusalem

  1. Score another one for moral relativism. I wonder if another decade might pass until EVERY single major arab terrorist isn’t held as a parallel to Baruch Goldstein.

  2. Not all Arabs are descended from Ishmael. Many people who we call Arabs today had non Arabic speaking ancestors who just might have been Amalekites. If it walks like an Amalekite and talks like an Amalekite it just might be an Amalekite. I don’t recall Jews attacking Arabs for no reason other than hatred in the 1920’s. The similarities to Amalekite our quite thought provoking.

  3. Your skewed view and incorrect comparison of events reeks, it seems that you are just another idiot with grammar skills blowing his mouth off in a book for the sake of a few shekels.
    How about filing a demand in Israel against the state to release their secret documents that surround the murder of Dr. Baruch Goldstein, Z”TL H”YD
    Or is that too much research and effort for you, Jew?

  4. I don’t recall Jews attacking Arabs for no reason other than hatred in the 1920’s
    Yes, of course that’s why 1929 happened. There were no other underlying economic reasons or anything. And when Jews kill Arabs? Well now, that’s something else entirely. Jeez.

  5. Amit: Underlying economic reason’s are not good enough to kill Jews. They had reasons to be mad at the British and earlier they had reasons to be mad at the Ottomans but not the Jews. They started the cycle of violence and they usually are the ones who put the cycle of violence back on track.
    We can learn from King Saul who was told to wipe out Amalekite when he had the chance. He decided to show mercy at the very end and Amalekite’s ancestors have been targeting us ever since(Purim). The Israelis decide to leave Gaza and we are thanked with rockets falling on women and children. If we want to end the cycle of violence, mercy will not do it. The Palestinians will use any event as an excuse to attack us, even if it’s 60 years old. We must not make the same mistake as King Saul.

  6. Um… aaron, you’re calling for ethnic cleansing. which is wrong for many, many obvious reasons, but since you want to take a biblical perspective, Gaza is not in biblical israel, the palestinians are not amalek, and there are very few groups G-d commanded us to kill, and monotheists are not them… so … yea that argument is pretty offensive.
    KFG- of course there’s a parallel, that’s not my point. My point is this: fine, we had ONE goldstein, he was horrible, it was a severe chillul hashem. where are the palestinians calling this a chillul Allah? the argument you seem to be supporting is as follows: “palestinians commit terrorist acts. jews had baruch goldstein. therefore we’re all equal-ish”. i’m just pointing out that this argument makes little sense if you, say, put all the palestinian/arab murderers on one side of the scale and the jewish ones (baruch) on the other.

  7. AaronfromWG writes:
    I don’t recall Jews attacking Arabs for no reason other than hatred in the 1920’s.
    Amit: Underlying economic reason’s are not good enough to kill Jews.
    Hashta de’ateit lehachi, hatred isn’t “good enough to kill Jews” either!
    This isn’t the first time (even in the last week) that we’ve had this particular breakdown in communication. “Reasons” are not synonymous with “good reasons” or “morally justifiable reasons” or “reasons that would have led to the same outcome if I had been making the decision”.

  8. It seems to me that the absence of God in the book of Esther and the violence at the end of the book combine to produce the message that taking vengeance into our own hands is denying the presence of God.
    Note the blessing after the Megillah reading: Blessed are you, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, Who takes up our grievances, judges our claim, avenges our wrong; Who brings just retribution upon all enemies of our soul, and exacts vengeance for us from our foes. Blessed are you HASHEM, Who exacts vengeance for His people Israel from all their foes, the God Who brings salvation.
    Perhaps the sages composed this blessing to counter the false and idolatrous implication from reading Esther that we are to be violent instruments of our own salvation.

  9. BearsForIsrael: I’m not trying to advocate ethnic cleansing but if it is wrong then why does the Torah instruct us to do it to Amalek. American society deems certain things reprehensible. Europe deems self defense reprehensible as is evident by their condemnation of Israel when they kill a popular terrorist. Even when no civilians were used as human shields they condemn Israel. The Torah has a different standard and should not be twisted in order to fit European or American Cultural norms.
    Ross: This is a very good argument. I believe one should either fight and do it 100%, or stop fighting altogether and see what God has in store. Going 50% will lead to a never ending battle of on again off again fighting. Not fighting altogether will either make the Palestinians not as likely to attack or much more likely to attack. What does everyone think would really happen if Israel put away all their weapons and allowed Arab refugees into all of Israel???(I’m not being sarcastic because I really don’t know.)

  10. Goldstein was a brilliant trauma surgeon. More than one doctor has told me that the methods he developed treating Jewish & Arab victims of violence were published in medical journals, and helped to save thousands of lives all over the world.
    Since the Mob of “Worshipers” lynched him immediately after they disarmed him, we will never know what the real motivation for his rampage was. But, motives aside, what did the Dhaim do for anybody s future before he “made his way” from “East Jerusalem” to “west Jerusalem”?

  11. Roli: éù ÷åðä òåìîå áùòä àçú. And there are those who lose it too. I’m sure mengele saved thousands of lives too.

  12. What does everyone think would really happen if Israel put away all their weapons and allowed Arab refugees into all of Israel???(I’m not being sarcastic because I really don’t know.)
    Can you cite an Israeli voice who is advocating for this, or are you simply displaying genuine curiosity about a straw man?

  13. Why is BearsForISrael claiming ethnic cleansing is “wrong for obvious reasons”? I think if you don’t kill them and instead only kick/deport/transfer them out of your country then what’s the big deal?
    I think most Jews who are against this kind of ethnic cleansing simply wish to uphold the illusion of peaceful coexistence with arabs against any price. But what does the Torah say about jews peacefully coexisting with arabs, or in fact anyone.
    Remember that when G-d wished to punish the Jews He expelled them from the land of Israel, which is the same thing as forcing you to live among other nations. And we all know how accurately the curses of deuteronomy are reflected in history.
    So what freakin difference does it make that Jews are forced to live among other nations in THEIR land and living among other nations in your OWN land. Isn’t the end result, death and destruction, the same? If a Jew makes aliyah to escape anti-semitism shouldn’t he also throw out the anti-semites from his land?

  14. BZ: I feel that this is a legitimate solution to the violence. The only other legitimate solution to the violence is what formermuslim mentions. Anything else is only a temporary solution.

  15. actually the terrorist attack on merkaz harav was planned before the israeli incursion into gaza. the level of scholarship demonstrated in this post fits with horowitz’s usual standards, as those who read his book will be aware

  16. What a tool!
    Army actions to defend Jews in sderot and ashkelon are “overzealous”?!?!?!
    A person suffering from such severe moral confusion should not be giving musar to anyone!
    If I had the strength I would fisk the entire dribel of a post, but its probably not worth my time. He brings up SO many red herrings… just one example is whetehr Abu Dhaim ym”sh ever heard of the Hevron masacare. Its irrelevant! What R’ Shapiro OBVIOUSLY meant and what any mind capable of any thought of minimal depth would have grasped is that this is a continuation of a war people two peoples, two nations, two civilizations. The HATRED that the Arabs of Hebron had in 1929 is the SAME hatred this evil amalekite had in merkaz.
    As for the identification of the arabs with Amalek, R’ Yaakov obviously meant it in one of two ways:
    1) in the poetical sense. These people are evil like amalek
    2) he was invoking R’ Soloveitchic’s view that any nation which takes the role of amalek has the halachic status of amalek. A view I am SURE horowitz knows but probably ignored for the polemic purposes of his post.
    Further, the comparison between Abu Dhaim and Dr. Goldstein is pathetic. Say what you will about Dr. Goldstein, he thought that this was the only way to prevent another Arab riot in Hebron. A riot that every newsstation was predicting at the time and which the army said it would do nothing about. Further, it was a riot that was to originate from the very place where his action took place. He was NOT driven by a desire to destroy amalek as evidenced by the fact that he routinely treated arab patients and in many cases saved their lives. He was driven by a desire to prevent a second massacare of Jews. Of course, there are those that would rather see Jews massacared than purpatuating massacare, but the distinction is obvious.
    Of course this is not to excuse his actions but one must take a look at the real motives before any comparison is made. Dr. Goldstein’s motives were to save Jews, Abu Dhaim was to kill Jews.
    Shame on Horowitz! shame, shame, shame!

  17. A brilliant parody on what a man from Mars might write on Arab-Jewish relations.
    The trouble with irony is that it does not go well over the Web, and someone might take this nonsense seriously.
    Hag Purim Same’ah.

  18. For the Bar Illan scholar: Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik wrote “I heard the answer from my father of blessed memory. Every nation that conspires to destroy the Jewish people is considered by the halakhah to be Amalek. My father added that as concerns Amalek itslef we were commanded to perform two mitzvot: (a) [for the individual] to blot out the memory of Amalek , which is incumbent on everyone [to slay] any individual member of Amalek [that he encounters], as expounded in the Torah portion of Ki Tetzeh, “You shall blot out the memory of Amalek” (Deuteronomy 25:19), and (b) [for the community] to engage in communal military preparednes for war against Amalek, as it is explained in the Torah portion of B’shalach, “The Lord will wage war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:16). With relation to any other nation that stands ready to destroy us, we are [now after the time of Sennacherib] commanded to wage war against it [even] whil it prepares for war against us, and our war against it is a “War of Mitzvah”, in accordance with the command of the Torah that “The Lord will wage war with Amalek from generation to generation.” However, the destruction of individuals, which is derived from the Torah portion of Ki Tetzeh, refers only to the biological descendants of Amalek. The words of Maimonides include the obligation to wipe out individuals, which does not apply to any other antion that plots destruction against the People of Israel. However, since the obligation of warring with Amalek pertains to such a nation (as well), he did not employ the phrase “And its memory has already been lost.”
    And further:-
    The Mossad HaRav Kook editon of Ish HaEmunah includes Kol Dodi Dofek
    and on page 101, RJB writes [my translation YM]: “the evil machinations of the Arabs are not directed only towards the political independence [of the state of Israel] but to the very existential essence of the Jewish community in toto. They aspire to destroy, *chaliliah*, the *Yishuv*, from man to woman, from child to infant, from bull to sheep. At one of the assemblies of the Mizrachi, I said in the name of my father, my teacher z”l, that the portion in the Torah “Hashem wages war against Amalek from generation to generation” is not limited in its community application as a *milchemet mitzva* to a certain race, but is inclusive regarding the obligation of rising up against any nation or group that is infused with irrational [crazed?] hatred, and directs its hate against *Knesset Yisrael* …In the 1930s and 1940s, this role was filled by the Nazis and Hitler at their head. They were Amaleks, representatives of the pathological animosity of the last period. Today, the masses of Nasser and the Mufti are substituting for them.”

  19. Wow–there’s a lot of hatred coming out in these comments. I think Elliot does well in pointing out the danger of labeling individuals/groups as Amalek– demonizing the other only leads to an inability to see individuals and individual situations according to their own merits. Personally, I’m much more comfortable with the mystical readings of Amalek as an internal negative force than with any attempts to identify Amalek with specific individuals or groups–this latter approach only leads to violence and hatred, and is good for no one.

  20. I wholeheartedly support Elliott Horovitz’s post and commend the author for standing up and being counted. The nastiness of some of the opposing responses undermine the case that they are making (whatver this may be) and undermine the fine principle of kavod habriyot which this site commends (NB: and of course kavod habriyot applies to non-Jews as well as Jews).

  21. Sheesh, hasn’t this academic ever heard of analogy and comparison??? I think he really is the only person who would take any of the statements he cites literally.

  22. yael:”That formermuslim… you can tell he used to be a muslim!
    such violence!”
    Exactly! Now what does that tell you?

  23. I like to interpret Amalek in the social rather than just the individual sense. Then Amalek, the enemy, is structural racism, war, classism, etc. Are there sources that agree with this view?

  24. I’d like to suggest that there is a middle ground here, which probably no one will like.
    This Amalek discussion is irrelevant. I think there was a real Amalek, and we were required to wipe them out. That we don’t know who exactly Amalek is today is important, because clearly God wouldn’t require us to kill someone who MIGHT be Amalek- we don’t give the death penalty under halachah unless we’re absolutely sure, we must apply something close to that standard to Amalek today.
    For those who want to make Amalek racism or whatnot… that’s very pretty. But I think it’s indicative that you stress what you want and THEN look for sources to prove it. How ahalachic of you.
    The bottom line is that terrorists should be killed. But the average arab is not a terrorist. So let’s be deadly when we now where to aim- but not a millisecond sooner. And let’s not use ridiculous religious frameworks- ridiculous in their application here, not their general idea.

  25. BearsForIsrael writes:
    For those who want to make Amalek racism or whatnot… that’s very pretty. But I think it’s indicative that you stress what you want and THEN look for sources to prove it. How ahalachic of you.
    First of all, this discussion is aggadic, not halachic (except for those commenters who are advocating murdering real people). Second of all, by your standard, is ANYONE in Jewish history (prior to the last few decades, when “I *really* want to do/say X, but just can’t find textual justification for it” became popular in progressive Orthodox and right-wing Conservative circles) truly “halachic”?

  26. I did not hear the eulogy delivered by Rabbi Yaakov Shapira – nor was a source referenced in this post. Even so, I believe that Elliot Horowitz is mistaken on both points.
    First, with regard to the Amalek status of such people, Rabbi Shapira knows of what he speaks Elliot. You would do well to study up on the Rambam’s views regarding Amalek and how although the term stems from the grandson of Esav when it is used to describe a Halachic status it takes on an entirely different meaning. The Rambam may hold that the term Amalek and the imperative it implies is applicable to a descendant who is carrying on the ways of Amalek OR a non-descendant who has adopted Amaleki policies. Though the Rambam’s position itself is debatable Rabbi Shapira is safely within the bounds of normative Jewish thought when he applies the term Amalek to murderers of innocent Jewish children.
    Second, Rabbi Shapira was surely not suggesting that this young 25 year old terrorist saw himself as a continuation of the 1929 Chevron Massacre. What he WAS suggesting is that this act was a continuation of the culture of hatred and cowardice behind the Chevron Massacre, which took the lives of 67 innocent and defenseless Jews – men, women and children, including 23 yeshiva students.
    An eyewitness account by a British policeman told of seeing an arab cutting off a child’s head with an axe. Do you hear me Elliot!? CUTTING OFF A CHILD’S HEAD WITH AN AXE!!
    My hands shake and my heart bleeds at the loss of perspective that could allow someone to compare Baruch Goldstein’s crime to the Chevron Massacre.
    Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 innocent victims and the vast majority of us were HORRIFIED. Yes, some will tell you all sorts of fantastic theories about why he did it etc… but that only proves the point. They can’t believe he would have done such a thing without some reason – some secret knowledge about an immanent attack – something – anything – but not that he just did this because he hated Arabs. Because that’s not how we act in our culture. (( and I know you’ve written a book that is supposed to redefine how Jews REALLY dealt with violence but I am not speaking from a birds-eye view of history here – I am just speaking from the culture as it exists today. In the vast majority of Jewish households the world over violence is abhorred)) The perpetrator of this act was a lone individual – not supported or celebrated – or copied – and we hope and pray he never will be.
    The Massacre in Chevron and the whole culture of suicide bombing (really homicide bombing if you think about it…) is the product of a culture that celebrates violent homicidal acts of cowardice against innocent children. A culture that runs out into the streets to celebrate upon hearing of the murder of innocent children and by so doing allowing a straight line to be drawn from the Chevron Massacre to the murders in Merkaz HaRav.
    That is what Rabbi Shapira was referring to and in this respect he was RIGHT.

  27. Amit:
    Sorry but…Comparing Baruch Goldstein to Mengele is like firing a tracer round in the wrong direction. In other words, you cannot see your target or where it is coming from, but the stones by my feet just jumped and I was standing right next to you a minute ago…
    Its very difficult to imagine, for friends and foes alike, why anybody who is not arab and muslim would want to live in Hebron. Although the Army protects them and makes life inconvenient for and at times tries to impose justice upon the neighbors of the Hebron Jewish Community, convenience & justice are severely limited for such a tiny group of Jews, accordingly and in relation to their size within Israeli society. The mentality of- “there are just few enough of them left to remove all at once without too much trouble” was as familiar to Mengele as it was to the administration that orchestrated the withdrawal of Jews from Northern Gaza.
    The idea that Mengele and his cohorts in cold-blooded murder experiments may have had an impact on modern medicine is another similar “half glass empty” concept. Except for the fact that Nazi experimental data was completely outdated and useless within 10 years after the Shoah thanks to cybernetic analysis of commonly available empirical data (relating to the effects of extreme cold- BTW), does not limit in actuality how long anything that Goldstein developed will help mankind today or in the future, you may take the relatively low mortality rate of American GI’s in Iraq as a broad enough example.
    Goldstein will be remembered long after even his “hero Rabbi Meir Kahane” because he achieved more in life than in martyrdom and more in death than in life.

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