Shabbat Zachor

Pyiut for Shabbat Zachor, Mahzor Bamber (13th Century)

Today is Shabbat Zachor “Shabbat of remembrance” the Shabbat before Purim. We have read these two verses from Deuteronomy, describing the attack by Amalek against the Israelites. That is because of a tradition from the Talmud according to which Haman [boooh!], the antagonist of the Purim story, was descended from Amalek.

Haman and Amalek are two different kinds of people.

Amalek was a nomadic tribe, like many at that time. They assaulted the Israelites for no particular reason other than hate, pure hate, desire to erase our presence from the face of the Earth. There are no reasons for Amalek’s assaults. They don’t want to steal our belongings. They do not want to kidnap women and children and sell them as slaves (as nomadic tribes in the desert often do, at least in literature). They are not driven by greed; of by a misunderstood will to survive. It’s just pure, savage, barbarian hate.

Haman seems to be a much more sophisticated guy. He is a minister at the court of one of the most powerful kings of that time. He knows how to speak, how to dress, how to captivate people. He’s manipulative and subtle. A very cultivated person, not a savage. But the kind of hate that Haman nurtures against the Jewish people is the same as Amalek: unreasonable, ferocious, gratuitous, with no reason. Yes, he dislikes Mordechai, but how quickly Haman moves from opposing one individual to planning a genocide. There was clearly some hostility in his soul, already and ready to come to the surface at the first pretext.

The Rabbis link these two individuals and establish a genealogy of evil that goes back to Esav (Amalek is portrayed as a descendant of Esav) Constructing such a genealogy the Rabbis teach that antisemitism runs into the family. Not because there are out there families that pass to each other the genes of antisemitism. Antisemitism is rather a matter of education. It’s a set of prejudice and stereotypes part of the general culture, absorbed during education. And it comes to the surface at certain points in history, quite often unexpected.

Antisemitism is an undercurrent — a set of images and prejudices that become popular at certain points in history.

One example: at a time when plagues and pestilences were common, the Jews were accused of spreading the contagion. Why? Because in Christian mythology, Jews hate the Christians and profit from their deaths. Generally speaking, Jews led a healthier lifestyle than the Christians and went to the mikveh regularly, while some branches of Christianity did not have personal hygiene as a spiritual duty. In times of pestilence, it could happen that Christians died more frequently than Jews. That was seen as evidence of Jewish conspiracy, which Jews were forced to confess with torture.

Fast forward to 2021, and you have the BBC that -as last week was forced to acknowledge- spread a similar rumour: Israelis want to murder the Palestinians through the use of COVID, And how? By denying them vaccinations and medical care, which it’s not true and -let me repeat it again- the BBC itself has been forced to admit it was a lie.

The prejudice is the same: Jews hate the non-Jews, especially the most vulnerable and for this reason, Jews spread virus, pestilence and contagion. It has been widely believed in Christian Europe and it is reformulated in the secular world we live in.

There are several other examples. If you look at the way news from Israel is reported by the media, you can easily see an undercurrent of antisemitic prejudices.

We are familiar with the descriptions of Palestinian children slaughtered by Israeli soldiers. Most of these stories turn out not to be true: the alleged child often is a teenager; he was attacking the soldiers with stones or worse; thank God he has not been tortured but only immobilised (and shouting in front of the cameras of the CNN).

The legend according to which Jews torture and kill non-Jewish children dates back from the Middle Age. People believed to it in the past, and today people believe that the Israeli Army is not an army like any other but a sadistic institution that serve the interest of “Jewish supremacists” that is us, and our plans to subjugate the world, beginning from Palestine.

The myth of the lobby that uses the power of money to subjugate the Governments, to force them to do the Jews’ interests,? That was already shouted on the squares of Italian cities during the Middle Ages by preachers and friars, at a time when the local rulers were in debt with the local Jewish moneylender. International banking was the dominion of great Christian dynasties, but this was not visible for the mob who assaulted the Jews after the preachers’ sermon. As an aside, the local rulers found their debt cancelled after the Jews were burned. What a curious coincidence.

At this point, I should probably explain that Israel is not perfect, that it has its faults and that this Rabbi does not want to censor anyone. I should reassure that it is possible to criticise Israel without being antisemitic and, as the Americans say: ya-dah ya-dah ya-dah or blah blah blah. You got the idea.

But I won’t. Because I am tired to state the obvious. And it seems obvious to me that criticising the Country where you live it’s an elementary right. Israeli citizens have such aa right. Israel indeed has very vibrant vocal and critical media. In fact, their Prime Minister is criticised every day, even when his name was Ben Gurion, his Party had 40% of Parliament, and his trade union ruled the economy in an almost Socialist way.

But one thing is to criticise the Country where you live, pay your taxes and serve in the Army. Another thing is to voice your criticism from the comfort of your home, judging from afar, and express your criticism in front of an audience that is fed with lies on a daily basis, and for which the Jewish State is always wrong.

Don’t tell me that talking of antisemitism is a way to silence the critics of Israel because it is not. And also because today it’s Shabbat Zachor, when we Jews reflect on how antisemitism threatens us at every generation, and we are commanded not to forget about that.

There’s a time for everything, and today, the Shabbat before Purim, it’s time to think about antisemitism, not about international politics. And we think about antisemitism by retelling the story of Purim And we wish the antisemites the same destiny to Haman.

Shabbat shalom and see you on Purim.

I’m the first Rabbi ever to be called “a gangster”. Also, I am a Zionist.

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Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo, PhD

Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo, PhD

I’m the first Rabbi ever to be called “a gangster”. Also, I am a Zionist.

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