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The Assault on Purim

March 1, 2010

Now that Purim is over, I’m back in the “Tweeting” mood! So here goes:

My sermon from this past Shabbat, which was a pretty good one, spoke of the threats we face.

SHABBAT SERMON – FEBRUARY 27, 2010

The Assault on Purim

There is a war going on and I’m not afraid to take sides. The festival of Purim is under attack and I refuse to remain silent!

Tonight we usher in the festival of Purim. Purim is one of the happiest days in the Jewish calendar. It’s a day on which we eat and drink and celebrate the story of Queen Esther – the hidden Jew who, under the guidance of Mordechai, turns the tables on Haman who seeks to destroy the Jewish people. While the story took place in Persia in the 4th century BCE, it is one that has resonated and been celebrated through the ages, with Haman, a descendant of Amalek, representing all those over the centuries who sought to destroy the Jews. Esther and Mordechai were the heroes of the Jewish people then – and ever since.

But not anymore! There is an article in this month’s issue of Commentary Magazine entitled, “The Problem with Purim.” Purim has become a problem for many Jews who are trying to re-write or reinterpret the story. As the author of the article points out, Esther has become a problem for feminists who see her as simply going along with what Mordechai had told her … the typical subservient woman. Who is the real heroine of the story? From the perspective of these feminists it is Vashti, the Queen who refused to display herself at the banquet her husband, King Ahasuerus, was holding. One Jewish feminist writer says, “Why aren’t we insisting that our synagogue community cheer and stomp their feet at the mention of Vashti’s name? She is the foremother in the best sense of the word – assertive, appropriate, courageous.” Why don’t we? Because our rabbis tell us that Vashti was the great-granddaughter of the man who destroyed Jerusalem. Our rabbis tell us that Vashti was not only a licentious person but she also used to beat her Jewish handmaidens. That’s why! But then again, what did the rabbis know? Margorie Garber, teaching at Harvard, sees the Purim story as a parallel of the Clinton/Lewinsky affair. In her words: “Hilary is Vashti, the headstrong proto-feminist queen and Monica, needless to say, is Esther, the beautiful Jewess.” Vashti is Hilary? Esther is Monica? For that you have to go to Harvard? READ MORE

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