Queen Esther: How to be a Strong Jewish Woman in a Man’s World

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15 Responses

  1. micha says:

    Queen Esther martyrs herself to spend the rest of her so-called-life married to a drunken boor who doesn’t share her values or religion and only wants her for her body. (The truth is, thinking about Esther’s life saddens me. I don’t think “martyrs herself” is an exaggeration.) “She doesn’t allow herself to be valued for her physical appearance”? Of course she did! Achashveirosh didn’t have the women spend a year refining their minds, and they didn’t spend the night in the king’s chamber answering interview questions to prove their counseling ability. The only way a woman had power in the Persian and Median Empire was to be a manipulative femme fatale. AND, the Megillah is quite clear that Mordechai prodded her every step of the way. She doesn’t reveal her royal lineage, which would have gotten her off the hook — at Mordechai’s behest. (Recall, this was to replace Vashti, who felt her own royal blood gave her a right to say “no”.) Esther goes to the king to invite him to the first party — at Mordechai’s pushing. “Perhaps it was for a time like this that you were brought to the throne.” As yourself write, she “she takes orders from her own religious authority”. So her power is in choosing to listen to her adoptive father over her drunk boor of a husband. That’s a model for feminine autonomy and strength?

    The truth is, of all the lessons one can draw from the book of Esther or from her life as Chazal capture it, I don’t think the one you’re drawing really works.

    What we see in Esther is a general growth toward strength and autonomy. The number of decisions she makes after the two parties, that lead to fighting on the next day in Shushan, the enactment of Purim as a holiday, etc…

    • “She doesn’t allow herself to be valued for her physical appearance”? Of course she did! Achashveirosh didn’t have the women spend a year refining their minds,

      You misunderstood. She didn’t allow herself to be valued by HERSELF in terms of her physical appearance. How others looked at her and valued her was not her concern and that was her strength.

      So her power is in choosing to listen to her adoptive father over her drunk boor of a husband. That’s a model for feminine autonomy and strength?

      This drunk boor of a husband happens to be the emperor of Persia and has tremendous power. Resisting that power successfully is certainly a model of strength.

      What we see in Esther is a general growth toward strength and autonomy. The number of decisions she makes after the two parties, that lead to fighting on the next day in Shushan, the enactment of Purim as a holiday, etc…

      Absolutely right. Couldn’t agree more.
      Thank you for your insights.

    • tzippi says:

      Though she goes to Achashverosh after three days of fasting and needs to be physically supported by her maidservants.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Wasn’t Vashti called in from her own raucous party? In her own way, she was as gross as her husband.

  3. Ralph Suiskind says:

    You mean to say that Open Orthodox Rabbis got it wrong ! One of their biblical heroines is Esther who was the one in the Purim Story! Where would Open Orthodox be without her !!!!

  4. Truth says:

    Excellent Article!

  5. dr. bill says:

    i am not thrilled with u.s. open orthodoxy. but us moderns learn valuable lessons from the megillah. daat mikre teaches us about the shivat tzion that is not discussed in the talmud. yoram hazony teaches us of the political wisdom Esther displayed. no one living today who retrojects our notions of modernity into a persian court text is credible, chareidi or open orthodox. every generation brings new strengths that can extract new insights. it is critical that we leave our biases at the door while trying to mine the insights of an ancient text.

  6. Marc says:

    According to the gemora she also devised the scheme of inviting Achashvairosh and Homan to the party. It lists an astonishing number of diverse reasons for her doing so. Amongst them, she did so both to protect herself by misdirecting Homan as well as to use both physical and spiritual means to cause his death. She was a genius, an extremely dangerous and ruthless opponent. She accepted Mordechai’s psak but then turned it into warfare on multiple dimensions. Next to her Vashti was a joke, a spoiled stubborn drama queen. Imagine, Homon probably barely noticed her, she was just this meek little thing, the King’s new toy, but all the while she’s plotting how to kill him. I’m very happy for my girl’s to dress up as Esther! Down with Homon!

  7. Chochom b'mahnishtaneh says:

    Ralph,

    By the OO and the rest off the non orthodox and radical feminists, it is Vashti who is the heroine.

    Just shows absolutely backwards they all are.

    • dr. bill says:

      vashti is not the heroine, though the rabbis drash on be’keser malchut, may paint her as most aggrieved. I applaud you for adding another accurate assessment of open orthodoxy to this site’s growing list.

    • mb says:

      Not THE heroine, but a heroine, and I agree I’m neither OO, non-O, or a feminist, but I thank you for calling me backward.

  8. Shades of Gray says:

    The new feminist reading on Esther/Vashti is in the spirit of “v’nahapoch hu”, as noted in the Washington Post article (” A recent feminist response has been to flip the paradigm…”), though its author justifies Esther’s submission as “a victim of abuse”. If she would have praised Vashti as a “protofeminist” for standing up to Achashveirosh who was also a “proto-Nazi” according to Chazal(see R. Dov Fischer’s response in Arutz Sheva), and not mentioned her in the same breath as Esther, it would be more accurate.

  9. Steve Brizel says:

    R Rimon in his wonderful sefer on Purim contrasts the fact that Yosef HaTzadik was privileged to be buried in RY but Moshe Rabbeinu was not based on the fact that Yosef never shirked from identifying himself as a Jew and Moshe Rabbeinu when he rescues Yisro’s daughters is described by them to Yisro as an Egyptian man. ( if you look in Ramban’s commentary on the Torah, you will see that Moshe Rabbeinu lived like a fugitive from the Egyptian authorities after he killed an Egyptian ( i.e. ala the lead character in The Searchers or like the scenes in the bar in Casablanca or Star Wars ] until his encounter in the desert with Yisro’s daughters , his rescue of them and the encounter with HaShem at the burning bush. Esther also hid her Jewish identity until the critical moment when urged by Mordechai she reveals herself as a Jewish woman to Achashverrush. Despite her critical role she lived as a married Persian princess to Achashverush and her actions and call for unity led to a reafffirmation of loyalty to the Torah. The Nesivos asks why so many mitzvos of Purim are Bein Adam LChavero,. THe CS suggests based on the Targum Sheni to Esther that Mordechhai voluntarily left EY and moved to Persia to aid and assist Esther through the entire chronology of Megilas Esther.

  10. David F says:

    Vashti and Achashverosh were cut from the same cloth. She only rebelled against Achashverosh’s demand to parade in the flesh because she had a bad case of pimples that day – not out of a sense of modesty, repulsion, or anything else of virtue.
    She was a tyrant who mistreated all who came into her domain. Perish the thought that she be painted as a hapless victim or a strong and liberated woman. May he evil name be blotted out.

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