[Iturei Cohanim #155]
Question: In the Mechilta (on Shemot 17:16), our Rabbis prohibit accepting converts from Amalek, but the Gemara (Gittin 57a) mentions that the descendants of Haman learned Torah in Bnei Brak. Don't these two sources contradict one another?
Answer: Quite simply, it is a dispute. According to the Mechilta, we do not accept converts from Amalek, though the Babylonian Talmud does not forbid it. The Rambam ruled like the Gemara, since he did not mention in the "Laws of Converts" that it is forbidden to accept converts from Amalek. He must therefore explain the problem of how King David killed the Amalekite convert who claimed he killed King Shaul, even though there were no witnesses (Shmuel 2 1). According to the Mechilta, we do not accept converts from Amalek and a non-Jew can receive capital punishment based on self-incrimination, but the Rambam followed the Gemara that we can accept converts from Amalek and it is forbidden to kill a Jew based on his own testimony. The Rambam thus explained that King David's action was a temporary ruling or part of the unique powers given to a king (Rambam, Hilchot Sanhedrim 18:6). According to this explanation, there is a dispute between the two sources. It is possible, however, to resolve this contradiction in various ways:
1. There is a different version of the Gemara which reads: "The descendants of Na'aman" instead of "The descendants of Haman" (see, for example, Ba'al Ha-Turim on Shemot 28:2).
2. It is forbidden to convert them but if they converted of their own volition, they are considered converts (Megillat Sefer, Lo Ta'aseh 115). This resolution is difficult to accept, however, since the Mechilta seems to hold that we do not accept converts from Amalek at all.
3. It is permissible for them to convert and to be Jewish for all purposes but we do not marry them (Megillat Sefer ibid.). This is also difficult since the Mechilta is discussing conversion and not marriage.
4. We do not convert them from the outset, but if they convert they are considered converts after the fact (Shut Beit Yehudah. Resisei Lailah of Rabbi Tzadok Ha-Cohain Mi-Lublin #32 and 58). This is also difficult since the Mechilta implies that they are not considered converts even after the fact.
5. While Haman was from Amalek, he was a slave to Mordechai and slaves do not have "yichus" (are not related to anyone), i.e. his descendants are not related to him and are not considered Amalek (Kli Chemdah on the Torah).
6. If an Amalekite woman marries a non-Amalekite, the offspring are not considered Amalek, since the genealogy of non-Jews is patrilineal (Yevamot 78b). According to this explanation, the "descendants of Haman" is not to be taken literally but that they were descendants of women in the Amalekite line (Gilyon Ha-Shas, Gittin 57a and Chazon Ish, Yoreh Deah Gerim 157). This explanation follows the opinion of the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (3, 50) that the obligation to destroy Amalek does not apply to women.
This is still difficult, however, since the Mechilta there writes that Hashem swore not to leave a grandchild or a great-grandchild of Amalek and this potential convert is a great-grandchild of Amalek! Some explain that even though this potential convert is not an Amalekite, since he is from the offspring of "Amalekite women," we should still reject him since he is connected to Amalek in some manner.
7. According to the Rambam, if Amalek makes peace, there is no longer a mitzvah to eradicate them (Hilchot Melachim, chap. 6); i.e., he is no longer an Amalekite and it is then permissible to convert him (Mishpat Ha-Meluchah of Rav Gershuni, Hilchot Melachim, chap. 5). While it is forbidden to convert directly from Amalek, it is possible for one to convert in another manner.
Additional sources: Shut Maharsham 3:272, "Sefer Michlol Ha-Ma'amarim" erech mi-bnei, Shut Mishneh Halachit 6:220, Sefer Hasidim 1019, Kedushat Levi – Kedushat Revi'it p. 124b (Sefer Haichei David 560), Seridei Eish 2:104 (ibid. 564).