Biblical treatment of the local inhabitants is mixed. Israel is instructed to love the stranger "as yourself." This is a general principle whose specific application in certain instances is instructive. Concerning the Seven Nations, there are the admonitions: "You must doom them to destruction… give them no quarter"(Deut. 7:2), "You shall destroy all the Peoples that the Lord your G-d delivers to you, showing them no pity" (Deut 7:16). Concerning a conquered city: "You shall put all its males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, children, the livestock… and enjoy the use of the spoil" (Deut 20:13,14), "The Lord will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages" (this verse). It is not my intention to suggest even remotely that contemporary official Judaism or Israel is guided by these principles. The intent is to demonstrate how in this context, as in so many others, recourse to biblical authority, unmediated and uncontrolled by rabbinic transmutation, can result in dangerous moral consequences. It is enough to cite one "authority" who invoked Deuteronomy 7:16, "You shall show them no pity," or others who have raised the intriguing possibility that the Arabs of the West Bank might be Amalekites. Jews cannot succumb to biblical fundamentalism which could subvert millennia of rabbinic moral metamorphosis, any more than we can succumb to the biblical territorialism by which a zealous chaplain in the IDF overwrote Beirut on a map as Israel's ancient B'erot. Concerning the stranger living in the midst of Israel, Maimonides says that the resident stranger is to be treated as a Jew is to be treated. This includes even idolaters: "We should treat resident aliens with the consideration and kindness due to a Jew, for we are bidden to sustain them… Even with respect to heathens, the Rabbis bid us to visit their sick, bury their dead along with the dead of Israel, and maintain their poor with the poor of Israel, for the sake of peace" (Hilkhot Melakhim 10:12). Referring to Deut 23:16ff, the rules are applied as follows: If even a slave is to be given sanctuary and equal treatment and is not to be extradited when he finds shelter in Israel, how much more does this apply to any Gentile who wishes to reside in the land of Israel with the understanding that he will accept the laws of Noah? However, this does not apply ever since the Jubilee ceased in Israel (Erakhin 29a). Nevertheless, in the context of our concerns, the principle is of paramount importance. In addition, we are admonished that even when the Jubilee is not in effect, Jews must, nevertheless, deal kindly with the ger toshav at all times. This is reaffirmed in Sotah 37, which states that even members of the biblical Seven Nations who accept the laws of Noah to be treated kindly ("If they repent, they are to be welcome"). Concerning Amalek, whom some extremists contemporaneously identify with Arabs on the West Bank, we know the rabbinic dictum that "Sennacherib mixed up the entire world" and, therefore, Amalek really does not exist. In a remarkable interpretation, Naftali Zvi Judah Berlin comments that Exodus 17:16, declaring that G-d wages a war against Amalek, refers to everything for which it stood--war, immorality, idolatry. Thus, G-d is not continuing a violent conflict with Amalek, since it does not exist, but, although it has perished, its evil ideology persists and it is against this that G-d carries on His conflict. There is, of course, the passage in Sefer Hamitzvot of Maimonides in which he makes the startling statement that there are still Amalekites in the world and that they must be destroyed. This, how are, it is not reaffirmed in his later writings. As for those who want to make a case of this today, Aaron's Soloveitchik says, "Any other opinion is grounded in ignorance." Obviously, there are also rigorous positions, such as Rashi's comments on Deut. 21:11 -- "They shall be a tribute to you." On one hand, according to the Sifrei, even members of the seven nations may be kept alive if they surrender, but, on the other hand, their surrender may not be accepted unless they submit to taxation and servitude. Yet it is the task of religious Judaism to offset such positions with more compassionate but, for many, no less authentic stands by the same tradition.
VIEW EXCERPT DETAILS