Clinton's Rabbi Declares Islamists "Amalek"

Rabbi Jack Riemer, founding chair of the National Rabbinic Network, and Bill Clinton’s rabbinic counsel during his presidency, has, in his weekly Torah commentary on parsha B’shallah, declared Islamic fundamentalism to be Amalek.

Let me say today–and I take no pleasure in saying this—I wish that I were wrong in saying this–but I am slowly but surely and reluctantly becoming convinced that we of the western world are confronting the kind of evil that Amalek represents. I am becoming convinced that Islamic Fundamentalism, or, as some people prefer to call it, ‘Islamo-fascism’, is the most dangerous force that we have ever faced and that it is worthy of the name: Amalek.
The two great challenges of the twentieth century were Nazism, and Communism. And, God knows, they were each mighty threats. It cost untold lives and untold billions to defeat each of them. And yet, let me say, in all seriousness, that I am beginning to fear that the danger of Islamic Fundamentalism may be more serious than either of those two awful movements were.

How utterly irresponsible.
Riemer’s full commentary after the jump.
This is not going to be an easy sermon for me to give today. And it is not going to be an easy sermon for you to hear.
I hope, I hope, I hope with all my heart, that I am wrong in what I am going to say today, but unfortunately, much to my regret, I am afraid that what I am going to say is true.
Those of you who know me know that I seldom speak about politics from the pulpit. You know that I prefer to speak about spiritual things, and about personal things. I prefer to speak about how you and I can live better lives rather than to speak about what the political leaders ought to do. But sometimes, the political situation is a moral situation. Sometimes the political situation in the world will determine whether we will live at all, and if we do not live, we will not be able to live better lives. And sometimes the Torah itself forces us to deal with a political issue.
And this is what happens on this Shabbat. Like it or not, there is a verse in today’s Torah reading that we must reckon with. For if this verse is correct, then we have some very hard thinking to do about the world in which we live.
The verse that I have in mind is the last sentence in today’s Torah reading. It is a verse that I confess that I have always resisted, for it contains a grim analysis of the world in which we live. The Torah says that the tribe of Amalek, which was a brutal, barbaric, savage tribe, attacked the Israelites —for no reason—as they were journeying on their way through the wilderness. And so Moses turned to Joshua and told him to form an army, and they went out and fought against the Amelekites. And Israel won! It was the first military victory in Israelite history! Unlike the Exodus from Egypt and unlike what happened at the Reed Sea, where God did everything and Israel only stood and watched, this time the Israelite army won the war.
Iz doch gut? The war is over—the enemy has retreated—finished? Right?
And then God says: “Yad al kes Ya; milchemet Hashem im Amalek miydor lador.” God says: don’t think that it is so simple. Don’t think that the war against Amalek is over; it has only just begun. And then God takes a solemn oath. God says: There will be a war between the Lord and Amalek throughout the generations”.
You can understand why I am uncomfortable with this verse. I am a nice person and so I want to believe that other people are nice too. And if we disagree on occasion, I want to believe that we can reconcile our differences by rational discussion and by compromise. I am a religious person and so I want to believe that religion is a force for good and not evil in the world. And yet, in this verse, the Torah seems to be saying that there is evil in this world, unrelenting, uncompromising, unending evil, and that down through the centuries, this evil must be recognized and resisted and fought with—or else.
Let me say today–and I take no pleasure in saying this—I wish that I were wrong in saying this–but I am slowly but surely and reluctantly becoming convinced that we of the western world are confronting the kind of evil that Amalek represents. I am becoming convinced that Islamic Fundamentalism, or, as some people prefer to call it, ‘Islamo-fascism’, is the most dangerous force that we have ever faced and that it is worthy of the name: Amalek.
The two great challenges of the twentieth century were Nazism, and Communism. And, God knows, they were each mighty threats. It cost untold lives and untold billions to defeat each of them. And yet, let me say, in all seriousness, that I am beginning to fear that the danger of Islamic Fundamentalism may be more serious than either of those two awful movements were.
You may think that I am exaggerating when I say that Islamic Fundamentalism is THE most dangerous force that we have ever faced, and that it is worthy of the name: Amalek. But let me give you three reasons why I have begun to believe that this is true.
The first is demographic. Do you know how many Moslems there are in the world? Demographers say that there are approximately one point three billion Moslems in the world! Neither the Nazis nor the Communists, even together with all their allies, ever came close to this many followers. And the demographers say that, by the year 2050, there will be more Moslems than Christians in the world! I am not prepared to say that all Moslems are fundamentalists or that all Moslems are terrorists, but still, think of what this statistic means. If just three per cent of the Moslems in the world are fundamentalists—and that is a very, very conservative estimate—you do the math. How many does three per cent of one billion, three hundred make?
The second is that with the Nazis there was a certain limit to the war. If you bombed Dresden hard enough, if they saw that you had an atomic bomb and might use it, if they saw that they had no possibility of winning the war, the Nazis surrendered. And when the Communists had a showdown over Cuba, and they realized that they might be able to destroy us with the missiles that they had placed there, but that, if they did, we would destroy them too, they blinked. The Soviet Union chose to back down because they did not hate us so much that they were willing to be wiped out, just so that they could wipe us out too. But what do you do when you are confronting hundreds and perhaps thousands of suicide bombers, who do not mind dying so long as they can kill you too? This is a different kind of war that we are engaged in today. It is a war in which you cannot use a fleet of airplanes or a tank corps, not when the enemy is someone who can come into your country with a suitcase that contains an atomic bomb. Tanks and planes won’t work against a suitcase.
But the third reason why I am concerned is because of the pictures that we saw on the television and that we saw on the front page of every newspaper in the world last week. Did you see those pictures? There were pictures of Moslems in Beirut, in Damascus, in Jordan, in the Philippines, in Cairo, in Bali, in Istanbul, in Pakhistan, in Malaysia, in countries all around the world, picketing and protesting, screaming and burning figures in effigy, over the fact that a Danish newspaper had printed cartoons that they felt were offensive.
A preacher at a mosque in Gaza told worshippers: “We will not accept anything less than severing the heads of those responsible. And a preacher at a mosque in Amman called for amputating the hands of the cartoonists who drew these pictures.
As Jeff Jacoby, the Boston Globe columnist says in his column: “Most of these cartoons were tame, to the point of dullness. One pictured an artistsketching Mohammed, while looking over his shoulder to make sure he is not being watched. That pictures like these could trigger a reaction so crazed—riots, death threats, kidnappings, flag burnings—speaks volumes about the chasm that separates the values of the civilized world from those of these people.”
These crazies claim that the cartoons have defamed Islam. The editor of an Islamic newspaper in Jordan wrote an editorial this week in which he asked a very simple question: “which do you think has defamed Islam more? Who do you think has brought more disgrace to the religion of Islam–these stupid cartoonists or the suicide bombers who blew themselves up in the midst of a wedding reception in Jordan or the terrorists who were photographed holding a knife to the throat of a kidnapped victim just before they beheaded him?”
Good question? Do you know what happened to the editor of the Islamic newspaper who raised this question? He was fired within hours! And so was the editor of a newspaper in Paris who ran the cartoons. The owner of the French newspaper, a Copt whose name is Raymond Lakah, issued a craven apology, expressing regrets to the Muslim community and offering the firing of the editor as a token of respect for the beliefs and convictions of Islam.
Many of the newspapers in Norway, France, Italy, Spain, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic reprinted the Danish cartoons this week, as an expression of solidarity with the Danes, and as an expression of their belief in freedom of the press. Unfortunately, there has been no such show of backbone in America. As of last Friday the only newspaper in America to print the cartoons was the New York Sun. No other newspaper did! And our State Department issued a craven and obsequious statement, saying that the Moslems were right to feel offended.
Try to imagine, if you can, reading these two newspaper stories: “Associated Press: Hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world–in America, in the United Kingdom, in France, in Russia, in Spain, in Poland, in Israel and elsewhere took to the streets today to protest against the blatantly anti semitic cartoons that have appeared so often in the Arab press. Jews burned the flags of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, and other Arab countries, and they blocked the entrances to the embassies of almost all Arab countries, allowing no one to enter. The signs they carried threatened death and destruction to any television station or newspaper that published these cartoons. The police did their best to maintain order, but the riots got out of hand in many cities, and numerous people, both demonstrators and policemen, were hurt and had to be hospitalized.”
Or imagine reading this story in the newspaper: “United Press: Hindus consider it sacrilegious to eat meat from cows, and therefore, when a Danish supermarket ran an ad announcing a sale on beef, thousands of Hindus everywhere reacted with outrage. India recalled its minister to Copenhagen. Danish flags were burned in Calcutta, Bombay and New Dehli. A Hindu mob in Sri Lanka beat two employees of a Danish-owned firm, and demonstrators in Nepal chanted “Death to Danes!” In many places, stores selling Danish furniture were looted and firebombed.”
You won’t read either of these stories in the newspaper because they don’t happen. Hindus and Jews don’t do this. Neither do Christians or Budhists. But evidently Fundamentalist Moslems do.”
Jeff Jacoby, whose grim analysis of what is going on has done much to convince me of the danger we face, ends his column with these words: “Make no mistake. This story is not going away, and neither is the Islamo-fascist threat. The freedom of speech that we take for granted is under attack from them, and it will be destroyed if we do not defend it bravely. Today the censors may be coming for cartoonists, but tomorrow, it will be your words and your ideas that they will silence. Like it or not, we are all Danes now.”
I am sorry that I have spoken on such a grim topic today. I apologize if what I have said today is depressing. I wish that I could have spoken on a more cheerful theme. But the words with which today’s Torah reading end don’t allow me to do so. “Yad al kes Ya, milchemet Hashem in Amalek”–know, says the Torah, know and never, never forget, know that there is a war between God and Amalek that goes on from generation to generation”. And if this is so, then we must recognize who Amalek is in our generation, and we must prepare to fight it in every way we can. And may God help us in this task.
Let me finish with one last comment. Some of you may be thinking: well, it’s about time that the rabbi caught on. We have been feeling this way for a long time now. To those of you who feel this way, let me say that it is not something to boast about-that religious people have come to look upon others as evil sooner than we had to. And others of you may be thinking: how can our rabbi speak with such hysteria and such venom against a whole group? Is that an appropriate thing for a religious person to do? To those of you who feel this way, let me say that it is essential for a religious person to be idealistic; it is not essential for a religious person to be naïve. The point of the last sentence of today’s sedra is to teach us that the goal may be to be good and to be loving, but there is a time to hate, and a time to fight in this world too, and there is evil and danger in this world. Not to see it for what it is is to endanger ourselves and to endanger the planet.
And so, to both groups, to those that were ahead of me in seeing danger in Moslems, and those who are behind me in seeing the danger, let me say that we need to be on our guard, as never before, against an enemy who does not fight fair, against an enemy who does not value life as we do, and against an enemy that is this generation’s incarnation of Amalek. We need to be careful against blanket labels, and against condemning those who may be innocent, but we must also be careful to stop those who are out to destroy. And we must somehow hope for the wisdom to be able to do both, at the same time.
We must realize that, so long as Amalek is in the world, the choices may not be as simple as we would like them to be. The choices we must make may sometimes be between bad, very bad, worse, and awful. May we know how to choose when choose we must.

30 thoughts on “Clinton's Rabbi Declares Islamists "Amalek"

  1. What about the piece is irresponsible? And since today’s Jewschool offerings include a loony theory about American imperialism and “Conservatives endorse the Fuhrer principle”, since when is being responsible of any importance around here?

  2. yeah whatever…oddly silent about the dubai ports deal tho, aren’t we, j? nothing to say in defense of your fearless leader there, huh? fuhrer principle indeed.

  3. Changing the subject, are we? And I had no idea that I had to opine on every topic mentioned here. (But for the record: I disagree with Bush’s position, but how vehemently depends on the details of exactly what security info the people in Dubai would have access to, and I’m not expert in that subject. Further, we ought to appreciate that Bush has a tough job here in trying to maintain relations with the Arab world, which will certainly take notice of Dubai’s exclusion.)
    My silence equals “Fuhrer principle”? And suddenly you have concerns about irresponsibility?
    Well, I’ve answered you. Now how about sticking to the topic?

  4. “i’m sorry…do i really need to justify my statement that deeming muslims to be amalek is irrepsonsible? is that even a question in your mind? ”
    Excuse me? Muslims? The rabbi was very careful to include only Islamic Fundamentalists in his comparison. But congratulations for addressing the issue and not trying to change the subject (for future reference, just in case: I’m against McCarthy, Reagan shouldn’t have gone to Bitburg, and I don’t know what’s up with George Will and that bowtie).

  5. you may have the ability to detect nuance and understand the difference between islamic fundamentalists and muslims in general. most jews with whom i speak, do not know the difference, other than to pay it lip service while segueing into a tirade about how the muslim hoardes need to be put to a stop. this commentary is throwing fuel on the fire.

  6. “most jews with whom i speak, do not know the difference”
    You should start speaking with smarter jews.
    Oh wise one, its not that we dont there is a difference, its that we dont beleive it.

  7. “most jews with whom i speak, do not know the difference, other than to pay it lip service while segueing into a tirade about how the muslim hoardes need to be put to a stop. ”
    Judging by your comment above, you may be one of those Jews that can’t tell the difference. But leaving your elitism aside, I don’t think very many Jews have a hatred for Islam in the abstract (no love, either, to be sure) or for Arabs on a racial or genetic basis. They hate the fundamentalists and the others (such as the secular nationalists who started the wars with Israel) who try to kill Jews.
    “this commentary is throwing fuel on the fire. ”
    I think the commentary was very careful and measured, and even if it might rile up some people inordinately, I think that would be more than offset by the benefits of alerting Jews and others who are too complacent.

  8. of amalek we are sworn to destroy every last man, woman, and child. you call fingering a group as amalek “careful and measured”? i call it advocating genocide.

  9. I don’t know how literally the rabbi intended to take his comparison. It’s true that halachically, at least in the old days, Amalek was to be wiped out entirely, but sometimes comparisons are made to Amalek based on intense evil and incorrigibility. Even if we’re unprepared to wipe out the entire families of fundamentalists, we could still escalate the severity of our responses to them.

  10. I don’t like that Rabbi Riemer sounded like an LGF-er, but what he said isn’t so off. When there are people dancing and passing out candies after 9/11 and other suicide bombings in Israel, you have a huge fucking problem. Amalek is understood more as a metaphorical embodiment of absolute evil. Some Islamic fundamentalists (let’s call them IF’s) have become so consumed by hatred and bloodthirst that they cherish every chance they have to kill innocent Jews and Westerners; their values run counter to Jewish values. And before someone starts saying that that is an elitist ethnocentric thing to say, the reason you people are all here using this website and discussing all of these social issues is because you feel that it is what you “Jewish values” tell you to. And that is perfectly acceptable.
    Anyways, it’s an elitist thing to say that most Jews do not know the difference between Muslims and IF’s. Most Jews know that we were much better off under Islamic rule than in Europe. A few so-called neocon revisionists (I hate the word neocon because of its anti-Semitic implications, but I’ll use it) might say that Jews always suffered under Muslims, but I would say that still most right-wing Jews know that we were better off under Muslims. It’s this ugly creature that has spawned from an interpretation of Islam that is the problem, and that it has gained legitimacy among too many in the Muslim world, but surely not all. The point is, there are Muslims out there besides those few names on Morton Klein’s roladex who would agree with Rabbi Riemer. Maybe R’ Riemer should have been more clear, but it’s much better than a well-known rabbi saying “the Palestinians yemach shemam v’zichronam.” (And yes, I have heard this unfortunately.)

  11. “Amalek was to be wiped out entirely”
    If it’s in the bible how can it be wiped out entirely?
    I need a Kabalist, stat!

  12. the talmud says we have no way of knowing who amalek is, and further, that we won’t know until eliyahu hanavi tells us himself. rather, it’s taught that amalek is in each one of us.

  13. matt — 39 years of occupation, with 60 years of disposession preceding, you’d jump for joy too. that’s not pure evil. that’s just 100 years of pent up anger. if islamic fundamentalism is amalek, how’d we fare so well under islam until the crusades?

  14. Heh. Cute. But the glasses are a bit modernish. And the shirt…
    But I have a feeling that even if you were very strictly Orthodox, Artscroll wouldn’t be your cup of tea (at least, the Artscroll of the hagiographies and the omitted non-yeshivish commentators; the Artscroll that’s putting out the Yerushalmi rocks).

  15. true…i can’t stomach hagriography. i mean, it’s one thing to not focus on a person’s faults and failures out of respect and appreciation, and another to pretend they didn’t exist at all.
    and the yeshivish world drives me up a friggin wall. if i was all-out orthodox i’d probably be samtar/neturei karta. which makes sense. they’re all my cousins.

  16. Islamic fundamentalism isn’t medieval Islam; it’s a modern invention, just like Kahanism and other contemporary varieties of Jewish fundamentalisms.
    The commandment to exterminate Amalek, while genocidal, doesn’t apply to every individual Jew and every individual Amalekite. (In this, it’s less extreme than either former Chief Rabbi Bakshi Doron’s equation of Reform Judaism with Zimri, or Agudah spokesman Avi Shafran’s equation of Conservative rabbis with heretics who one should wish to be exterminated and, practically, is forbidden from rescuing if they are trapped in a pit and noone is watching). If one were to take Reimer’s statement as a serious halachic statement, one would still have the practical difficulty that it’s forbidden to randomly kill non-fundamentalist Muslims. Which is why Reimer’s drasha is not the same as Baruch Goldstein’s midrash. (The Wikipedia Amalek discussion page has some interesting, relevant information).
    Riemer statement is rather similar to what Rabbi Saul Plotkin said four years ago tomorrow: “There is no question that Palestinian terrorists are Amalekites.”
    What interests me is this: If we were to really accept it on ourselves that God has commanded us to eliminate Palestinian terror and Islamic fundamentalism from the world, what would we do differently?
    This is a difficult question, but one worth asking.
    On Sept. 11, Rumsfeld didn’t say, “how can I eliminate Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism.”
    He said: Will this give me grounds to go after Saddam?
    And he therefore increased the power of Islamic fundamentalism and terror.
    This is why the distinction between “Islamic fundamentalism” and “Muslims” is not a relatively minor point, as some would have it. Killing Muslims is relatively easy. Killing Islamic fundamentalism is much more difficult. But then, whoever said that mitzvot were supposed to be easy?

  17. the principle now is that anyone who wants to kill you and your family is considered Amalek. The loophole is, as soon as they don’t want to kill you, they’re not Amalek anymore.

  18. “matt — 39 years of occupation, with 60 years of disposession preceding, you’d jump for joy too. that’s not pure evil. that’s just 100 years of pent up anger. if islamic fundamentalism is amalek, how’d we fare so well under islam until the crusades?”
    We don’t rejoice in the downfall of our enemies. This is a fundamental principle. And many Jews won’t even say that the Palestinians as a whole are their enemies (not to say that they should). If anything, we feel bad that we have to kill when we do. The terrorists are not waging a war of self-defense, neither in Israel nor in the US. How can one rejoice in the death and pain of others, especially when there are innocent children and parents losing loved ones? There are sick fucks on every side that will do that, but I have never seen it so widespread before as on the Palestinian side.
    Buddy, do you even know what distiguishes an Islamic fundamentalist? Fundamentalism in all religions is usually a reaction to modernity, so it flares up in times that traditionalists feel that the values of their faith are challenged. In the Middle Ages, we prospered under an Islamic empire, but not one ruled by IF’s. They spoke a certain political language of their dynasty, to name one ruling Islamic power, promoted intellectual advancement, and Jews did really well under them and contributed to society. Fundamentalists today are looked down upon by intellectuals in the Arab and Muslim worlds because, while they appeal to those who feel that their religion is under attack by the West, they want to somehow bring back through horrific violence an empire that has been gone for almost a millenium and would not fit into today’s political picture of nation-states.
    Get off the pedestal.

  19. “We don’t rejoice in the downfall of our enemies.”
    the talmud says we shouldn’t. that doesn’t me that we don’t. when arafat died there was much rejoicing in this city. and all the jokes about rachel corrie “pancakes” which have spread across the jewish blogosphere should also serve to counter your claim that we don’t have our own pervasive case of sick fuckery.
    “we prospered under an Islamic empire, but not one ruled by IF’s.”
    au contraire. we lived in dhimmitude under shariah, ruled by devoutly religious emperors. today’s fundamentalism may indeed by a reaction against “modernity” but “modernity,” as exemplified by rank crony capitalism, exploitative globalism and callous “fuck me” feminism, is in many cases a moral bankruptcy that should be revolted against. islamic values are less questionable than the means of resistance, though in the face of western imperialism, few options remain. just ask anyone who’s tasted tear gas or rubber bullets for exercising their right of peaceable assembly.

  20. But if fundamentalism is ultimately a hilul hashem it might be inappropriate to excuse it as a reaction to the excesses of the reigning systems in the Muslim world.
    That fundamentalism is seen as the sole viable response to the West’s excesses is in part the result of another hilul hashem — the failure to take religion seriously.
    Certainly that was Ariel Sharon’s sin in the fostering of Hamas, and Bush’s in his decision to attack Saddam Hussein (without knowing about Shiite / Sunni tensions!) rather than commit real resources to rebuilding Afghanistan.

  21. This is not a comment, but a inquiry/request!
    Please advise how I can get a copy of the sermon:
    by Rabbi Jack Riemer
    Thank you in advance!
    Rifkah Kralman

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