Monday, February 26, 2007

PETA and evolutionists = Amalek???

Avi Shafran writes:

In fact, asserts the chance-worshipper, he is no different from the animals whom he considers, through the lottery of natural selection, his ancestors. He may be more evolved, but in the end is no less an expression than they of purely random events.

Amalek’s credo is proudly and publicly proclaimed today. From “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals” (PETA), which contends that “meat is murder”; to Princeton University’s Professor Peter Singer, who asserts that “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog or a chimpanzee”; to books like “Eternal Treblinka,” which makes the loathsome comparison of animals slaughtered for food with (one winces to even repeat it) the victims of the Nazis.

And it lurks, more subtly but no less surely, in the contemporary insistence that chance-based evolutionary theory is the only explanation for the diversity of species.

I’m sorry, but the equation of Amalek with PETA and evolutionists is simply ludicrous. No, Avi Shafran, belief in evolution does not necessarily entail espousing the position that life is meaningless, unless you start with the preconceived assumption that meaning is found only in some afterlife. No, Avi Shafran, evolutionists don’t think of their parents or grandparents as animals. No, Avi Shafran, Peter Singer does not morally equate killing all humans with killing animals (when asked if he does, he replied, “That’s a total misunderstanding. I’ve never said that – in fact, more than 30 years ago, in the first chapter of Animal Liberation, I said the opposite.”) No, Avi Shafran, the scientific question of human origins has absolutely nothing to do with the philosophical question of how to lead an ethical life given our current evolved or created state of existence.

I am really turned off by this stuff. Why do I care? Because people “out there” read Shafran and think his views are representitive of Orthodox Judaism, and I don’t care to find my belief system defined by half-baked apologist drivel. I haven’t read Singer, but think his widely quoted beliefs can be refuted by critical thinking without resorting to Biblical references to Amalek. Isn’t it ironic to condemn the moral devaluing of life at the hands of utilitarianism or science in the context of a commentary on a mitzvah that demands no less than the murder of every man, women, and child of Amalek who does not voluntarily surrender and accept the 7 Noahide laws? Does Avi Shafran think rationally it is more morally repugnant to euthanize an infant with no consciousness, born with a congenital disorder, than to murder a conscious innocent child simply because he is a descendent of the tribe of Amalek whose ancestors attacked yours a few thousand years ago and he does not agree to accept your dictates of morality?


  1. Thank you for being a genuinely rational and intellectually honest voice for Orthodox Judaism. I was deeply gratified to read your analysis of R' Shafran's statement. He has unfortunately appointed himself as the representative of Orthodox Judaism in America, although his views do not resonate with many of us. Thank you.

  2. The article on Singer that you referenced is very interesting as well.

  3. Yehuda R4:22 PM

    Its tax season so I don't have time to post on this blog anymore but you got me fired up too so I'' post (1) I sure hope all frum people are in agreement that adom hrishon was indeed yetzer kapov shel HKB'H not... RL(2)mechiyas amolek is not genocide as you imply-(a)there are halachos as to when it may done and(b) its not 'simply' due to being a descendent of someone who did something 4,000 years ago etc.

  4. Yehudah R, that's not fair - if you want to argue the point, then you have to spell out your reasons. Point (1) is irrelevant because I think the whole issue of evolution has nothing to do with discussions of morality, so I won't even debate it. Point (2) - killing every man, woman, and child of a nation is not genocide??? Do you have some other definition of the word. As to (a), agreed, there are halachos. So you committ genocide only under halachically sanctioned conditions. Point (b) granted as well because I did not phrase myself well. What I meant was if you could theoretically establish someone's lineage as being from Amalek, irrespective of whether they did something wrong or not, you must kill them. So because of someone genetic or racial makeup, they are deserving of death, correct? That is a halachic fact. I think if I were Peter Singer I would not mind defending my position on the value of life if you are stuck defending a statment like that on purely rational grounds.

  5. Yehuda:I sure hope all frum people are in agreement that adom hrishon was indeed yetzer kapov shel HKB'H not...

    I hope any frum person would agree that "yetzir kapav" is not to be taken literally. :-)

  6. Chaim, if I remember correctly I believe the Rambam maintains that an Amaleqi who accepts the Seven Mitsvot of Bnei Noah is not to be harmed, removing the mitsvah of mechiyat Amaleq from the technical category of "genocide".

  7. The Emek Bracha (p. 126) discusses this question. There is a Mechilta and Tanchuma that say we do not accept geirim from Amalek (based on the story on Shmuel II:1); the Bavli does not address the issue. The E.B. is mesupak if the geirus would be chal b'dieved. M'inyana d'yoma, he also addresses the question if you assume geirim from Amalek are not accepted, how do you explain the gemara (gittin 57) 'mbnei banav shel Haman lamdu Torah b'bnei brak'?

  8. Doesn't the Rambam in hilchos melachim read the Sifrei as requiring the offer of peace even to Amalek? I recall this is a machlokes rishonim but I though there were significant rishonim, again including the Rambam who would allow peace -- assuming, as Rabbi Maroof writes, that they accept the terms of surrender including 7 mitzvos benei Noach.

  9. yehuda r12:13 PM

    Josh M-Agreed.
    Cahim B.Even assuming we don't accept ameleikim as geirim into klal yisroel(which I'm not)we surely allow ameleikim to be 'm'geir' into nonameleiki nonjews to whom who the mitzvah of mechias amalek doesn't apply to.To give a simple proof Shaul H'melech was given an opportunity to kill all amaleikim.Surely by that point in time amalek had decsendants who no longer lived there.

  10. OK, I fixed the post in response to the last 2 points. But please don't lose the forest for the trees - PETA and evolution do not Amalek make, lomdus of giyur aside.

  11. Tal Benschar3:26 PM

    Chaim, you don't think the equation by PETA (or at least the more extreme elements of PETA) of slaughtering of animals for food with murder and the Holocaust smacks of extreme moral relativism?

    And, on the other side, you don't think that there has been an extreme devaluing of human life in modern society? On that score, see the following blog entry:

    I chanced across this one the other day. It is utterly shocking how callous the doctor was in this story. Throwing away a baby is suggested as casually as having minor cosmetic surgery.

  12. The fact that there are extremists in moden society with warped ideas and you happened to read a story about a crazy doctor does not establish that evolutionary theory leads one to believe life is meaningless, or that joining PETA will make one a murderer. Non sequitor.
    I'm not commenting on this topic further because it's pointless.

  13. Bob Miller3:44 PM

    Amalek was not the PETA type; he was more like the teen punk who gets a charge out of shooting people on the street for the sheer joy of it. However, we should note that the Nazis were able to combine this attitude with Social Darwinism (and antisemitism, of course).

    The obliteration of Amalek is a specific Divine command not subject to our second-guessing or to our comparison with life situations where normal rules apply. By the way, only Canaanites had the option to escape death by surrendering and agreeing to the Noachide laws; Amalekites were given no such out.
    Chaim, what's on your mind when you stand up to hear Parashat Zachor or its Haftarah?

    I don't agree with Rabbi Maroof's strange accusation that Rabbi Shafran has ever represented himself as the one spokesman for Jews in America. He is a spokesman for one major organization and labels himself as such.

  14. Tal Benschar3:49 PM

    Furthermore, you should read the whole link to Peter Singer and his philosophy. Quite shocking. Your rendition of it here does not do it justice.

  15. Bob Miller3:49 PM

    Aove, when I wrote, "Amalekites were given no such out." I meant during the long period of warfare with the Amalekite nation. Did Rambam say anyone could have opted out of Amalek at that time? If so, why don't we see any reference to a peace offer from King Saul or the prophet Samuel?

  16. Bob Miller3:50 PM

    s/b "Above"

  17. me:I hope any frum person would agree that "yetzir kapav" is not to be taken literally. :-)

    My point is not merely a nitpick, but rather an argument that literal readings of *any* sources regarding Bereishis are on shaky ground if one wants to understand the emes - see the first Ramban on Chumash.

    Of course, k'var horu z'keinim, so that one has the option to understand the pesukim in this way, but to say that all frum Jews must understand them this way, as opposed to... requires rather broad shoulders (or an acknowledgement that one is relying on such).

  18. Chaim Markowitz11:07 AM

    WADR, I really think you missed the whole point of Avi Shaffran's piece.

    I thought his whole point was that Amaleik represents the philosophy that everything is driven by chance and coincidence. If one believes in chance based evolution then you are saying that there is no creator and everything that happens is just pure coincidence.

  19. There is much to argue with on Shafran's piece but I have long believed that Peta's philosophy of equating the value of humans with the rest of the animal kingdom is inherently evil. But this is only because I believe in God and certain absolute standards of morality. However Peta, Singer, and the rest of the radical animal rights movement have perfectly consistent and justifiable beliefs when one takes a relativistic/rationalistic approach to morality.

    BTW, for an interesting approach regarding the mitzah of destroying Amalek, see this post:

  20. I thought his whole point was that Amaleik represents the philosophy that everything is driven by chance and coincidence. If one believes in chance based evolution then you are saying that there is no creator and everything that happens is just pure coincidence.

    Not necessarily. This ignores the issue of Hashem's omniscience and also ignores the sheer size of the universe. Hashem may well have created laws that through the undirected workings of chance would lead to intelligent life somewhere, someday. His omniscience would let him know when and where in advance, but to time bound beings no direct intervention would have been evident.

  21. Chaim Markowitz4:18 PM

    Larry Lennoff-

    But you yourself admit that at some point HKBH cause to happen whatever is happening. The the nekudah of Amaleik is that there has never been and never will be a world that in some way is controlled by HKBH.

  22. I thought that the ikar defining Amalek was a hatred of Jews because they are Jews. This chiddush of defining Amalek as "chance-woshippers" is highly dubious. For one thing, it would read Nazis out of the Amalek club -the Nazis believed in a purposeful world whose destiny it was to be ruled by the German Ubermensch.

    I've developed this critique a bit further on my blog here:

  23. Chaim Markowitz2:00 PM

    "This chiddush of defining Amalek as "chance-woshippers" is highly dubious"

    Actually it is not dubious at all. It has it's roots in any sefer machshava on Purim that you will read. Look in the GR"A's peirush on megillah for an example. This yesod basically says that this is the pshat behind Hamna's lottery, it is the pshat in the words of the chumash "ashar korcha baderch" and it is the pshat in the conversation between Dovid HaMelech and the ger amaleiki.

  24. "why don't we see any reference to a peace offer from King Saul or the prophet Samuel?"

    Maybe not in the time of King Saul, but it is clear that later on, some descendents of Amalek became Jews: Sanhedrin 96b says that descendents of Haman taught torah in Bnei Brak. (That is also proof that the command to wipe out Amalek is NOT racial.)

  25. Achronim write this is no ra'aya (otherwise you have agemara directly contradicting the mechilta prohibiting accepting geirim from amalek) because it could be they converted without revealing their identity.
    The episode with Shaul was a hora'as sha'ah al pi navi as well.