Virtual Talmud

Rabbi Stern compares Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Haman, and there’s certainly reason for comparison–but there’s also at least one important difference. In the Purim story, it is striking that Haman displays a level of hatred and arrogance that is unique in Jewish history–which is really saying something.

After being snubbed by Mordecai, Haman immediately hatches and promotes a plan to destroy all the Jews. This is in contrast with other Biblical archenemies like Pharaoh and historical figures like Hitler, and, I would argue, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. None of these other figures jump immediately to the place of genocide, or at least that’s not the seeming intention. At first Pharaoh ‘merely’ enslaved the Jews and Hitler ‘just’ persecuted the Jews and took away their rights; the road that led to a plan to annihilate the Jews was gradual. Ahmadinejad, too, does not openly state an intention to wipe out all Jews–he ‘only’ wants to wipe the State of Israel off the map, after which, officially at least, Jews will be allowed to remain as Palestinian citizens (so, too, is the stated position of Hamas, at least regarding those Jews who lived in the area before 1948).

Of course, all of these positions eventually morph into a desire to annihilate the Jews–and it would come as no surprise if Ahmadinejad were to follow his predecessors in that direction. But there is a subtlety to the incremental approach, and Ahmadinejad has learned it well.

Haman, and his forerunners, Amalek, are unique in going immediately to the place of annihilation. Perhaps this is why the Purim story is farce: It’s hard to imagine this tactic working in the real world. Haman is ultimately a clown and buffoon at whom we can laugh. The greater danger comes from the subtler, incremental approach of Pharaoh, Hitler, and Ahmadinejad.

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