Living Under the Reign of Antiochus: A Response to Dr. Aaron Koller

This article originally appeared in Times of Israel.

Dr. Aaron Koller’s essay, Living under the reign of Ahashverosh, is of great interest – not only politically, but religiously as well — for Dr. Koller asserts that the Biblical story of Purim was not a miracle and was instead the product of wise maneuvering through a lucky set of circumstances:

In Esther, no God intervened, and in a sense, none was needed. Through political maneuvering, good fortune, and careful planning, the minority was able to assert its presence and defend its rights. It should be added that the next administration enthusiastically supported minority rights (see Nehemiah 1).

 Coming from someone who identifies himself as Orthodox, these words are clearly quite problematic.

Dr. Koller paints a modern-day Purim picture of Jews living under a government whose foolish and hedonistic leader is swayed toward Jew hatred by an evil adviser, until salvation arrives and a new government of religious tolerance takes over. As we say in Hebrew, “ha’mavin yavin“.

As Jews committed to our tradition and broad thinking, let’s try to imagine an alternative narrative, occurring as a contemporary version of the story of Chanukah, a la Dr. Koller’s presentation:

The Jews, who live in security and many of whom are steadfastly devoted to their faith, practicing it with the blessings of religious freedom, are now physically endangered and are ordered by government decree to compromise their religious principles.

Under this new and oppressive state of affairs, Orthodox rabbis and synagogues must perform and accommodate homosexual weddings upon demand or face lawsuits and legal censure, as the highest court in the land, whose balance of power has just been altered, stripped religious functionaries and institutions of protections to maintain faith-based policies that may be perceived by non-practitioners as discriminatory. Such protections were already ruled as unconstitutional as regards private businesses, such as bakeries and florists, which decline to accommodate “non-traditional” weddings, and which may thus be harshly penalized or shut down for non-accommodation. Hundreds of thousands of people who may very well be sympathetic to militant Islam and anti-Semitism are now pouring into Jewish population centers around the nation, and Jews with relatives in the Land of Israel are in a state of panic, for a powerful neighboring terrorist country that poses an existential threat to the Holy Land and to surrounding states is intent on rapidly building an arsenal of nuclear weapons as soon as a 10-year period of restraint terminates, with this terrorist country’s leaders having many times articulated their intent to obliterate the Jews of the Land of Israel.

The above perils to Jewish practice, safety and life are wrought at the hands of a political leader who has been implicated in dozens of scandals involving criminal corruption, whose political party has grown increasingly inimical toward Jewish government policies and leadership in the Land of Israel, whose foundation is under current investigation for various illegal dealings, and whose closest confidant/spouse was impeached from office for crimes of perjury and obstruction of justice. (This confidant, who is viewed as a national hero by the leader’s supporters, also committed acts of moral turpitude while in office and is alleged to have done so on numerous other occasions as well, and was disbarred from the practice of law in his own state and fined by his state’s bar association.)

Furthermore, the leader’s primary policy advisor and most powerful and influential aide is said to have family ties and old personal connections with Islamic radicals. And email leaks from the leader’s support team revealed further corruption and deceipt, as well as racist and bigoted private remarks by the leader. 

The leader, who is considered by many to have blood on her hands due to the deaths of four of her own countrymen whom she refused to protect from Islamic militants in Libya, and who has been suspected of involvement in the deaths of numerous former confidants and adversaries, is believed to be wont to sell out her country and her people to the highest bidder, including heads of antagonistic nations who despise her countrymen yet who donated to her foundation and were then granted audiences with the leader. The leader is known to speak out of both sides of her mouth, and she has now again failed to provide the most basic security and meaningful assurances to her subjects, as she lobbies for a massive influx of populations that may cultivate and harbor terrorists.

The country’s Jews looked across the ocean to their brethren in France, who have suffered an untold number of terror attacks by homegrown Islamic militants living among France’s large Middle Eastern populations. The country’s Jews believe that, like their counterparts in France, they will be faced with frequent hostility and will be targeted with threats of physical attack should they wear yarmulkes in public or read from Hebrew Scriptures and prayer books while riding mass transit, as they will soon face an influx of hundreds of thousands of people from cultures known to breed hatred of Jews. Like the Jews of France, the Jews in our story are now terribly fearful for the safety of worshipers at synagogues and students at Jewish schools.

The Jews despaired, for their country’s leader sold out to their enemies for self-enrichment, fame and an ideology of tolerance before safety, and she sacrificed the nation’s religious rights on the great altar of pluralism. Furthermore, and above all, the Jews are not able to trust the leader, whose positions appear to change at a whim based on factors of personal enrichment and special deals.

But God heard the prayers of those Jews who were steadfastly devoted to Him and who proudly upheld their Mosaic traditions in the face of societal pressure and political correctness, and God sent a new leader, who will appoint a judiciary that protects the religious rights of practicing Jews and of all people of faith, and who will prevent a mass influx of large populations that may potentially harbor emissaries of militant Islam, and who will stop the antagonistic neighbor of those in the Holy Land from ever developing weapons of mass destruction. Against all odds – with far less funding and a much smaller staff than the aforementioned political leader, and in the face of government agencies and the mass media vigorously supporting the aforementioned leader and providing her with special protection and preferential treatment – did the new leader nonetheless ascend to power. It was a miracle of “the mightier being defeated by the weaker, the more numerous falling to the less numerous…”

The Jews breathed a sigh of relief, as the new leader pledged to provide security and to take principled stands, rather than pursuing a hazardous social/ideological agenda and following the money, as had been the practice of the now-defeated leader.

*             *           *

There are often many ways to look at something, and for the masses who voted for Donald Trump, the above Chanukah-themed scenario makes just as much sense as the modern-day Purim tale of Dr. Koller.

Although I am not by nature a Trump Republican, and I voted for a different candidate in the Republican primary, I share with so many other Jewish and non-Jewish Americans a sigh of relief and a feeling of satisfaction and thanksgiving that Mr. Trump won the general election.

My vote for Mr. Trump over Mrs. Clinton n the general election was not a reflection of these candidates’ personal merits, dispositions, or “likeability”. I knew that I was not voting for Rosh Yeshiva or Chief Rebbetzin. Rather, I voted solely on the issues: combatting terror, protecting religious rights and traditional values, building the economy, fighting crime, and, for me, the security of the State of Israel.

In a deep, brilliant shiur about Purim, Rav Yosef B. Soloveitchik zt”l addressed the issue of societies that lack religious/moral principles and boundaries:

The hedonic society is, more or less, a democratic Western society, in pursuit of pleasure and happiness. That society’s world philosophy and outlook can be broken into a number of component parts. This democratic society is in pursuit of pleasure, insists on minimum government interference in private life, resents controls, demands unrestricted freedom in matters which do not affect the community, particularly, maters of sexual morality, hates discipline imposed from above, not even by teachers, is opposed to any constriction…

…There is also another society. There is another path which human beings take in order to escape from the finiteness awareness and in order to engage in self-defeat, not only in an illusion but simply in a delusion. The second path, along which frightened man runs in his wild flight from finiteness and death, leads in the opposite direction… Man, traveling along the second path, tries to calm the fear of finiteness through a big lie, through convincing himself that he is more than man. This is done by intentionally magnifying, a hundred fold, and exaggerating and lying about human ability and power to solve both scientific and metaphysical problems of humanity, and by painting, in iridescent colors, the eschatological age which should be brought about by man alone, through his wisdom and creative efforts.

Then something happens… By idolizing man and setting him up as a deity, it inevitably leads to the formation of idolatrous cults, from time to time, like the cult of Stalin… Society, mankind, humanity is idolized, defined and set up as the omnipotent deity… The idol is the class, not the individual… In the name of some man-made doctrine or code, they appeal for sacrifices… Arrogant man becomes a tyrant, and the arrogant society which he establishes turns into a tyrannical society.

As a rule, orgiastic society eventually succumbs to a tyrannical, arrogant society…Orgiastic man overemphasizes the importance of freedom. He simply lacks the courage, the vision, to have the power of anticipation. He lacks the predictive element in history. He does not experience history, since he just lives for the present. Little by little, his power is eroded, and he is replaced by the irrational (tyrannical) man.

The Rav proceeds to explain that Shushan was the seat of orgiastic society, drunken with unbounded enjoyment and self-gratification. Hence does the story of Esther give exceptional attention to the ornate furnishings of the palace of Achashverosh, the detailed cosmetics regimen of the women, the eunuchs of the king’s harem, and so forth, so as to portray Shushan as the apex of indulgence in pleasure and hedone.

I fear to ponder what can eventually happen to American society, originally structured by some sense of Biblical values, yet moving over the past many years toward becoming the embodiment of unbridled permissiveness, along with dire failure to take principled stands. While tyranny does not appear to be on the specter, a collapse of the values that have sustained American society, and their replacement with trends of self-gratification and tolerance of everything, do not portend the positive. Under such a state of affairs, tyranny may be a long-term eventuality, God forbid – be it government-imposed tyranny, or, more likely, tyranny on the part of third parties, such as terrorists, in the face of a weak government that is too fearful to be “judgmental” and act decisively and effectively to protect its people.

 Jews, and all citizens of America, should strive to restore traditional values to society, and should realize the risk to safety and the threat of terror that lurks around the corner and seeks to overtake us, should we not be vigilant and take action, including by electing those who will face the challenges and not hold off due to political correctness. May God protect us all.


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34 Responses

  1. joel rich says:

    1. I wouldn’t count my chickens too soon – as the recently announced Nobel literature laureate said “the wheel is still in spin”



    In Esther, no God intervened, and in a sense, none was needed. Through political maneuvering, good fortune, and careful planning, the minority was able to assert its presence and defend its rights. ….
     Coming from someone who identifies himself as Orthodox, these words are clearly quite problematic.
    not really imho, Rav Soloveitchik described Mordechai as being sensitive to the times and knowing something was up.  HKB”H gave the opportunity but hishtadlut was needed.

    • dr. bill says:

      i wish the president elect success in the many areas he has made commitments – the rate of growth, the inner cities, infrastructure, tax reform, the incentive to repatriate profits kept overseas, national security, conservative justices, veteran benefits, education reform, immigration management, etc. all while managing down the deficit.  if he succeeds it might be the beginning  of a long term shift in the american political scene.  but if another recession occurs and many of his initiatives are stalled, something that is widely assumed, the wheel will certainly continue to spin.

  2. Steve brizel says:

    Excellent essay which explains why Trump did well in many drum neighborhoods and communities.

    • mycroft says:

      Republican candidates at all levels have won the Orthodox Jewish vote for decades-nothing to do with Clinton.

      Blaming Clinton for support of unsavory characters is fair so long as one can blame Trump for support by unsavory people.

      Clinton had some dry respectable Jewish support including R Menachem Genack

      • Steve brizel says:

        See the comments to Dr Schick’s column. The reported results from Lakewood and Boro Park and presumably other from communities speak for themselves-the liberal left appears to be increasingly willing to trample on free of exercise of religion based on gender related theories support a disastrous treaty with a state supporting terrorism and to constantly criticize Israel for refusing to surrender to terror based on the foolhardy notion that appeasement of terror leads to peace in our time.

      • mycroft says:

        Did those districts that you refer to go for Obama, Kerrey?


      • Steve brizel says:

        You claimed that such districts have been voting Republican for years. Please explain yourself.

      • mycroft says:

        Orthodox Jews as opposed to other Jews have voted Or leaned Republican for years. See Pew study. That does not mean that in some local elections they will not vote Democratic – but that is due to non ideological factors. BTW in my legislative district- the more Orthodox Jewish sections vote Republican in local elections while the less religious Jews tend to vote Democratic. Israel is Not an issue in local elections.

      • Steve brizel says:

        In local elections issues revolve around the quality of services and a candidates stance on issues such as religious liberties. A prominent state senator affiliated with and who identified himself as MO lost an election because he supported the LGBT agenda

      • mycroft says:

        If local issues- explain votes for judgeships etc where vast majority have no idea who they are voting for but vote for the party and Israel is not a factor.

      • mycroft says:

        Listen to today’s shmooze by Rabbi Jeremy Wieder in YU Torah On Racism. One can certainly see why some Orthodox Jews voted for Trump,many despite his racism per R Wieder, others…

      • Steve brizel says:

        Ask any member of the bar about judicial elections and you will see that the same have been questioned for decades as to whether the same are reward s for years of toiling for a local political club as opposed to selecting judges of a high legal caliber.

      • Steve brizel says:

        Is the same shmooze in which R Wieder suggested that we should support the purported “victims” of police responses who resist arrest and have demonized police all over the US? If so I would suggest that you read about the sources and causes of inner city crime which are traced to a lack of a strong family structure .  race as well as gender are two issues that deserve a long dose of benign neglect as opposed to a club to blame others who champion a strong family structure education and a job as the elements that formulate being a constructive part of society .

      • Steve brizel says:

        Who says or said that the Orthodox community ever voted for candidates based on their mores or lack thereof? A strong case can be made that our communities support candidates who are strong supporters of Israel and who are strong supporters of religious freedom as opposed to our more liberal brethren who think that the establishment clause supercedes the free exercise clause in all  or most instances

      • mycroft says:

        It is not the difference in how the candidates would treat Israel. So far, since Eisenhower allUS Presients have been more or less supportive of Israel. George Bush 41 is the only one who had a clear negative feelings towards Israel. Carter was atrocious after leaving office, during his presidency more ambiguous. Reagan had many promJewish moments, but also took on Srael successfully on AWACS to Saudi Arabis, he went to Bitburg, he was the one who recognized the PLO.

        it is not clear which parties Presidents have been better for Israel. They all promise during campaigns to move embassy to Jerusalem. None do.

        it is other factors than Israel that determine votes.

      • Steve brizel says:

        Supporting the deal with Iran cannot be rationalized with supporting Israel. I also pointed to other issues such as the danger of the federal courts turning very unsupportive of religious liberty claims and the obvious abandonment of support of Israel among the prominent far left that has assumed a dominant role in the Democratic party

        There is no place for a liberal who believes in a strong national defense or interventionist foreign policy on the national level of that party which is truly a captive of the far left elites

      • Steve brizel says:

        A short history lesson. JFK sold missiles to Israel. LBJ could not and would not gather support in the Senate to break Nasser’s blockade

        Nixon to thwart the Soviet client states of Egypt and Syria resupplied Israel and was far more supportive of Israel than an early far left democrat named threatened a reassessment and carter leaned on begin unduly during the camp David talks. Reagan but for AWACS and bitburg was a great friend of Israel Bush 41 was an open Arabist . Clinton realized that Arafat was a terrorist chieftain . bush 43 but for the retreat from Gaza was a great friend. Obama was and is a post modernist who would jettison any special relationship with Israel as a remant of the past

      • mycroft says:


        I basically agree with your 1030 AM post, slight different nuances on Reagan must list he recognized PLO. Bush 43 must add, after 9/11 in October he and Israel had differences re his statements that US should reevaluate situation, he refused to sell Israel bunker busters when Israel might have had a chance to take care of Iran. His administration was consistent with most US administrations very harsh on any building in the territories . Obama had a different relationship with Israel, he has Muslim cousins which leads to sympathy for the other side, he has more Jewish friends than any prior President, he has supported Israel with military equipment, accepts Israel as a refuge but does not accept the idea of Jewish homeland for biblical/ national reasons. Unlike the Bushes and to a lesser extent Reagan Obama is not influenced by the oil lobby to be anti Israel.

      • mycroft says:

        One can’t make a blanket statement that supporting the Iran deal which is not perfect is incompatble with being pro Israel. Many veterans of the Israeli security establishment were in favor of it.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Bush 43 supported Sharon’s reponse to the second intifada. Obama’s Jewish friends are all of the liberal/LW variety, and monitored the use of weapons supplied by the US as to the purportedly “disproportionate” use of the same during the 2014 incursion into Gaza, and was reluctant to provide a resupply or allow Israel to even think about taking out Iran’s nuclear capacity. Looking at Israel solely as a refuge created as a sop to the survivors of the Holocaust was a classical LW misreading of history and  negation of  the biblical and national bases  advanced by Zionists and even Charedim to the Land of Israel which the UK recognized in the Balfour Declaration. Take a look at the well discussed Jeffrey Goldberg interview with Obama in the Atlantic where Obama described himself as wondering why the US has a special relationship and alliance with Israel-this is a classical post modern POV because it assumes the validity of the so-called “narrative” advanced by Arafat, Hamas, et al. Obama’s reaction to the Paris massacre ignored the fact that the same took place in a kosher store in a well known Jewish neighborhood in Paris.

      • Steve brizel says:

        I stand by my analysis of the movement to the left by the Democratic Party on both domestic and foreign issues. Name one prominent Senator member of Congress or governor who is a Democrat who us strong on issues of national security a fiscal conservative and tough on crime

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Clinton did poorly well in Lakewood, BP and in many frum areas because she faithfully  from the outset executed Obama’s foreign policy especially with respect to Israel, supported ( and defended as enforceable)  the indefensible treaty with Iran , viewed the criminal justice system as “inherently racist” in the same manner as the far left, and was herself an early architect of what became Obamacare-which will destroy medical care as we have known it in the US and replace it with European models that pale by comparison with the high quality care available here, but which is hardly a constitutional right, but simply a dream that liberals have been seeking to impose on the US since the New Deal. An unchecked and unrevamped Obamacare will result in a drastic reduction in the quality of care and the exodus of medical professionals whose training and expertise will no longer entitle them to be paid for the value of their work,  but rather by what a bureaucrat deems an acceptable fee. The end result will result in private hospitals winding up like the NYCHHC, which depends on its arrangements with teaching hospitals to provide the care and surgical expertise that the house staff in NYCHHC facilities simply cannot. That would constitute a terrible reduction in the quality of care that Americans have been accustomed to. Also, Clinton’s POV advocated the radical egalitarian LGBT agenda and many of her loyalists included some individuals who were highly critical of Israel. Those facts alone mitigated against many frum Jews voting for Clinton.

      • mycroft says:

        Response to Steves 634PM.

        Bush 43 is complicated like most re Israel-both positive and negative.

        You state Obamas Jewish friends are all liberal/ lw -even assuming that is true it does not make them automatically self hating Jews.

        Jack Lew identifies Orthodox- one of many decades ago as a young person enjoyed Dr Allen Schicks hospitality. Rahm Emanuel who had volunteered for Israel. Stanley Fischer- vice chairman of  the Fed. He lived in Israel for eight years as The head of the Bank of Israel. He had volunteered for Israel as a young man in the early 60s. Liberal/lw does not equal self hating Jew, as does Right wing does not equal committed to Jewish causes.

        One can be cautious and wary of what Obama will do until January 20 is a reasonable approach. Of course, look at Ronald Reagan and what he did after the election in November 1988 concerning the Mideast.

        There is a lot of falsehoods perpetuated about Reagan by the Conservative revisionists- they try to show how popular he was- BHO has higher polling averages than Reagan had at the end of his presidency.



      • Steve brizel says:

        Read Michael Oren’s book. None of Obamas Jewish friends have been accused of telling him that he leans too hard on Israel. The left oriented portion of the Israeli security establishment that supports any deal with the Arabs supported treaty out over views that can be described as appeasement of terror.

      • Steve brizel says:

        I stand by my 6:34 pm post. It us obvious that Obama views terror as just another fact of life and refuses to even consider its roots and ideology which have spread all over Europe and have made significant cultural and political inroads in the US despite the fact that the FBI stats show far more acts of anti  Semitism than “islamophobia”

  3. Steve brizel says:

    Liberals especially Jewish liberals voice views on Israel and Torah observant Jews that deserve the sobriquet of “self hating Jews” simply because they refuse to hold any other country to the same standards of analysis as Israel. Show me where any liberal critic of Israel ever criticized human rights violations in China North Korea or Iran.

  4. Steve brizel says:

    e Iran deal is far from perfect it is an unmitigated disaster because it legitimizes and provides diplomatic cover and protection from any response whatsoever to acts of terror subsidized and originating from Iran while Iran developes nuclear weapons with RL one and only one destination. We hope that Trump will state that any agreement that was not ratified by the Senate has no binding authority on the US; regardless of the views of our so called “partners” in the “international community”

  5. mycroft says:

    Incentive to repatriate profits kept overseas . It is usually a fake slogan to enable corporations to avoid paying taxes on profits.

    To avoid problem all that US would have to do is adopt JFKs 1962 plan to eliminate deferral on all foreign income- instead of complicated system, Subpart F, PFICs, foreign personal holding companies etc. They all seem good but in reality even used as swords to soak up with small amounts of income a lot Foreign Tax Credits.

    of course, if one eliminates deferral one also eliminates the transfer pricing problem.

  6. Steve Brizel says:

    I spent my afternoon yesterday with a group of relatives and guests most of whom if they voted, voted for Clinton, and view anti Semitism as the exclusive province of origin as the alt right despite the fact that much of the anti Semitism that has been documented since 9-11 is left wing in its origins and POV. Like it or not Al Sharpton, who was on Obama’s speed dial and was a very frequent visitor to the White House, has never been viewed as an Ohev Yisrael, and has a long track record of trafficking in anti Semitic rhetoric since the early 1990s when he was engaging in demagoguery and stereotypes during the riots in Crown Heights.

  7. Steve Brizel says:

    Here is another example of the  lethal effects of the ignorance of history and PC attitudes. The article seemingly ignores the fact that most who supported and fought for the Confederacy lacked the economic wherewithal to own slaves in pre Civil War America and fought for their States in a a war that was originally predicated on reunifying the Union and then segued due to a change of mind by Lincoln into a war to end slavery after the Battle of Antietam, and the subsequent passage of the 13th Amendment in early 1865, which was followed by the passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments after the end of the Civil War.. The Confederate flag, which was a decoration in my first dorm room in YU back in the early 1970s, was  a demonstration of regional pride, as opposed to a flag that supported the peculiar institution known as ante bellum slavery, and it is well known that both RE Lee and Stonewall Jackson, two of the most successful Confederate generals, opposed slavery themselves. One can check Dr Shapiro’s blog and see discussions there about Jewish clergy who supported the Union and Confederacy. The reaction by the YU students demonstrated a profound ignorance  of American history  which is PC au coiurant in viewing the Confederate flag retrospectively as racist in nature.

    • Reb Yid says:

      By the same token, we should understand that for many the Nazi flag symbolized rebelling against the one-sided and humiliating treatment of Germany after WWI by the Allies.

      In other words, that is a portion of the story but hardly the ganze megila.  Clearly you are the one with a short historical memory if you think that the symbolism of the Confederate flag only refers to the areas that you specify, and nothing else.

      • Steve brizel says:

        Read some books about who actually fought for the Confederacy. It is highly inappropriate to compare Americans who did not own slaves and merely fought for regional pride and their flag to Nazis. OTOH the Versailles Treaty which was very unfair especially when compared to how Lincoln and Grant sought a reunifed US, was one of the causes of German political unrest during the Weimar Republics lifetime. The comparison simply does not hold water because most of the south neither owned slaves nor viewed slavery as a cause worth fighting for as opposed to the question of the roles of the federal government and the states that formed the United States a question that is an essential and unique factor in American politics and history.


      • Reb Yid says:

        I have an advanced degree in the subject and agree with the points made about the Civil War.  But that is a red herring because the Confederate flag has taken on a life of its own since that time, and quite often a sinister one regarding race relations and the civil rights of minorities.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        I would agree that the Confederate flag has been used inappropriately by groups as the KKK, but viewing the Stars and Bars as inherently racist is a gross misreading of history.

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