Post-Yom Kippur reflection on intergenerational guilt

During the Yom Kippur service, we repeat many times the “Vidui” (confession) prayer. While reading the commentary in the Artscroll Machzor (AM below), I was struck by the gloss on the line

‘But we and our ancestors have sinned’ (אבל אנחנו ואבותינו חטאנו)
The gloss asks: why are the sins of ancestors mentioned, which we did not commit? And indeed, Leviticus 26:39-40 reads (KJV translation):
And also in the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away. [But] if they shall confess the iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers…
Now does that mean that the people of Israel today are on the hook in perpetuity for, say, the sin of the Golden Calf? The implications of a “yes” answer for contemporary political reparations debates in the US speak for themselves: are present-day nonblack, non-aboriginal Americans on the hook for slavery abolished in 1865, or for the tragedy of the American Indians? (Actually,  the “reparations” advocates go one step further and expand the “blood guilt” to people whose ancestors weren’t even in the US in those times!)
Closer to home: what does Lev. 26:39-40 imply for the responsibility of present-day Germans for the Shoah and other genocidal and democidal campaigns that happened before the defeat of National Socialism? That is, do people who were born or came of age after these crimes against humanity were committed bear some sort of blood guilt?
As pointed out in AM, the Talmud (TB Sanhedrin 27b) explains that we are punished for our ancestors’ sins only if we approve of their way of life, and especially if we adopt it.
The Moroccan Jewish Torah commentator Rabbi Chaim Ibn-Attar, in his commentary Or haChaim, notes ad loc. Lev. 26:40 that a proper understanding of our ancestors’ sins is often a prerequisite of repentance. Paraphrasing AM, sometimes we accept family or community traditions as a proper way of life because ‘it’s always been done this way and no-one was ever punished.’ Thus we are to ‘confess’ — i.e., acknowledge — such sins of the past.
If true teshuva is achieved (repentance, but literally: “return” [to G-d] or “backtracking” from the evil ways) then the guilt has been washed away.  The Torah describes Amalek as what amounts to the first terrorist (Deut. 25:17-18): the Amalekites avoided combat with the Israelite warriors but lay in ambush and attacked the women, the children, and the elderly. Indeed, Amalek becomes a symbol, or a synecdoche if you like, for mortal enemies of the Jewish people that arise in every generation.
The villain in the book of Esther, Haman, is identified as a descendant of Amalek. But the sages also refer to Shimon and Levi has “having the seed of Amalek in them”, making it clear this is not a matter of biological descent.
And the Talmud (TB Gittin 57b) indeed gives a long list of descendants of evildoers who have now embraced the Torah, including “the descendants of Haman [and hence of Amalek] are now students of Torah in Bnei Brak” (see also TB Sanhedrin 96b). They have made full teshuvah, have fully rejected the poisonous doctrine and practices of Amalek, and hence are cleansed of his guilt.
Summing up: Judaism rejects the concept of intergenerational guilt in the narrow sense. In a broader sense, it does extend the guilt to descendants who continue walking in their ancestors’ ways, but once the descendants make a clean break with those behaviors and attitudes, they also make a clean break with the guilt.

Amalek: the first terrorist

Tonight at nightfall Jews will celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim, observed by reading of the Book of Esther, general merrymaking (celebrating the thwarting of the plans of the evildoer Haman [y”sh] to exterminate the Jews of ancient Persia), and mishloach manot (giving of sweet gifts). (Also, in Israel and in Jewish news media, there is something of a tradition of “Purim jokes” that take the place of “April Fools jokes”.)

The Sabbath before Purim is known in Hebrew as Shabbat Zachor (the Sabbath of “Remember!”), when the following verses of the Torah are read (Deut. 25:17-19, my somewhat modernized translation):

Remember what Amalek  did to you, on the way as you came out of Egypt; how he lay in ambush for you, and struck the ones marching in back of you, all the weak ones [i.e., women, children, and the elderly] in your rear, when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear G-d. Therefore it shall be, when the L-RD your G-d will have given you relief from all your enemies around you — in the land that the L-RD your G-d is giving you as an inheritance to possess — that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven: do not forget!

Amalek was, arguably, the world’s first terrorist. The sages teach that he arises in every generation in a different guise: be it [may their names be erased] Haman, Hitler, Arafish, Sodamn Insane, Mahmutt Ahmadinnerjacket,… Unlike ordinary tyrants, who merely seek to oppress and exploit, Amalek’s agenda is nothing less than the destruction of the Jewish people. No compromise of any kind is possible with Amalek.

Remember: and Happy Purim!