We planned the Purim party, then my partner actually read the Book of Esther…
This Sunday Jews all over the world will celebrate the holiday of Purim, which commemorates the escape of a Jewish community in ancient Persia from a genocide planned for them by an evil official named Haman – the story told in the Old Testament’s Book of Esther.
The book has no particular religious content (it’s the only one in the Old Testament that doesn’t even mention God), and apparently most Bible scholars (even the Jewish Encyclopedia) doubt its historicity – it’s generally considered a “historical novella.” But on the surface it’s an uplifting story, a seemingly innocent expression of ethnic pride and a celebration of courage and resilience in the face of persecution. And the holiday itself, at least as American Jews typically observe it, is a festive, even raucous occasion, featuring foot-stamping, play-acting, noisemakers, and lots of hamantaschen, a special-for-the-day kind of pastry filled with prunes or poppy seeds.
That’s why, a couple of decades back, my partner Jean, who’s half Jewish and half Irish Catholic by background and thoroughly pagan by inclination, decided to add a Purim celebration to a St. Patrick’s Day-spring solstice party she was planning for our then-young daughters; she figured it would be a fun way to give them a taste of their Jewish heritage. Then she dug out a Bible and actually read the Book of Esther….
For those who’ve never read the book or don’t recall it, the heroine is a young woman who was raised by her cousin, Mordecai, in the Persian city of Shusan, then the capital of a large multiethnic empire, supposedly extending from India to Ethiopia. The king, Ahasuerus, ditches his queen, Vashti, because she refuses his command to “show the peoples and the officials her beauty” at a drunken banquet. (His aides argue that he has to get rid of her or else “this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands.” Lest anyone miss the point, the king follows up with letters “to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, declaring that every man should be master in his own house.” In 1877 Harriet Beecher Stowe called Vashti’s disobedience the “first stand for woman’s rights.”)
In search of a new queen, officials gather beautiful young virgins from throughout the kingdom. Esther is among the chosen. On Mordecai’s advice, she doesn’t disclose her ethnicity. After the women complete a year-long course of cosmetic treatments under the supervision of a royal eunuch, Ahasuerus tries them out, one by one, in bed, and ends up choosing Esther to be his queen.
Shortly after she was crowned, Ahasuerus appoints an official named Haman his prime minister and orders that everyone bow down before him. Mordecai, hanging around the gate of the palace, refuses to do so. Haman is infuriated, and upon learning that Mordecai is a Jew (but apparently ignorant of his connection to the new queen), he decides to retaliate by convincing the king that his Jewish subjects are disloyal and all of them must be killed.
The king dutifully issues a decree to that effect, but before it is carried out, Mordecai persuades Esther to approach the king – a dangerous move, even for the queen – disclose her background, and plead for mercy for herself and her community. Ahasuerus sides with his queen, orders Haman hanged, and appoints Mordecai to replace him. The Jews are spared, and there’s great rejoicing among them. Ever since, Jews have commemorated their deliverance and celebrated the heroism of Esther and Mordecai.
That’s the Purim story as I learned it in my Conservative Sunday school back in the 1950s (except that I don’t suppose anyone highlighted the patriarchal message associated with Vashti’s fate). But when Jean read the biblical text, we discovered that the story didn’t end just with rejoicing. Although Esther had actually asked Ahasuerus simply to issue an order revoking Haman’s genocidal decree, the king, according to the Bible, didn’t actually do so. Instead, he told his queen and her uncle to “write as you please about the Jews, in the name of the king.” The order they composed didn’t merely call off the planned genocide – it turned the tables, authorizing the Jews “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them” and to plunder their property, all on the very day Haman had designated for the attack.
In the event, the Jews didn’t bother to loot anything, the Bible tells us, but they killed Haman’s 10 sons and 500 other people in Shusan alone. At the end of the day, when all this was reported to Ahasuerus, he asked Esther if she had any further favors to request. In response, she asked not only to have the corpses of Haman’s 10 sons hanged from the gallows, but also for the royal go-ahead for another day of killing. The king granted her wish, the sons’ bodies were strung up, and another 300 people were killed in Shusan. Around the empire, the Jews did in a total of 75,000 of their “enemies”!
In short, the Jews faced real danger, but they managed to survive, and then they lashed out in an orgy of vengeful violence at people they considered enemies, even though, on the evidence, the victims had nothing to do with the original threat. Sound familiar?
Among American Jews, at least among the liberal majority, the bloody denouement of the Purim story is rarely mentioned, but I’m told it’s well known in Israel. In any case, the story – along with other gruesome tales of religiously sanctified tribal violence in Joshua and other books of the Bible – has surely played some role, direct or indirect, in shaping Jewish culture and psychology in both countries. In a book called Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence, historian Elliott Horowitz uncovers a long history, going back at least to the early Middle Ages, of Jewish attacks on their gentile neighbors during Purim (as well as gentile violence against Jews, especially, as is often the case, when Purim coincided with the Christian Holy Week). In the West Bank, especially in Hebron, settlers regularly celebrate the holiday with pogroms against the Palestinians. In 1994, it was on Purim that Brooklyn-born Baruch Goldstein opened fire in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, killing 29 Muslim worshipers and wounding 125.
And, of course, it’s not just Purim – Deir Yassin, Tantura, Qibya, Sabra and Shatila, Operation Cast Lead, and so many more massacres took place on different dates, but the same murderous mindset underlies them all.
Progressive Jews often claim that Zionism, or at least its cruder and more violent expressions, contradict the real essence of Judaism, which they believe lies in the prophets’ cries for justice or in the modern tradition of social activism among some Jews. But Purim is a good occasion to remind ourselves that there’s another, darker side – a history of tribalistic violence – that’s at least as deeply rooted in our traditions.
As for that children’s party, Jean did bake hamantaschen, along with Irish soda bread and half-moon cookies to represent the solstice. But we decided to skip the retelling of the Purim story.
1 Comment »
or go to
From the Archives
By Tim Anderson | teleSUR | March 8, 2015
Reports that US and British aircraft carrying arms to the Islamic State group – better known as ISIS – have been shot down by Iraqi forces have been met with shock and denial in western countries. Few in the Middle East doubt that Washington is playing a ‘double game’ with its proxy armies in Syria, but some key myths remain important amongst the significantly more ignorant Western audiences.
A central myth is that Washington now arms ‘moderate Syrian rebels’, to both overthrow the Syrian Government and supposedly defeat the ‘extremist rebels’. This claim became more important in 2014, when the rationale of US aggression against Syria shifted from ‘humanitarian intervention’ to a renewal of Bush’s ‘war on terror’.
A distinct controversy is whether the al-Qaida-styled groups (especially Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS) have been generated as a sort of organic reaction to the repeated US interventions, or whether they are actually paid agents of Washington.
Certainly, prominent ISIS leaders were held in US prisons. … continue
Aletho News Exclusive Content
This article will examine some of the connections between the US and UK National Security apparatus and the appearance of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory beginning after the accident at Three Mile Island. … continue
Also by Aletho News:
September 19, 2011
March 8, 2011
January 2, 2011
October 10, 2010
July 5, 2010
February 25, 2010
February 7, 2010
January 5, 2010
December 26, 2009
December 19, 2009
December 4, 2009
May 9, 2009
- why we have to say no to war in Syria August 24, 2016
- A Decade of Evidence Demonstrates The Dramatic Failure Of Globalisation August 24, 2016
Tags9/11 Afghanistan Africa AIPAC Al-Manar al-Qaeda American Civil Liberties Union Argentina Benjamin Netanyahu Brazil Canada Central Intelligence Agency China CIA Colombia Cuba Da’esh Egypt EU European Union FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation France Gaza Germany Hamas Hebron Hezbollah Hillary Clinton Honduras Human rights India International Atomic Energy Agency International Solidarity Movement Iran Iraq Iraq War ISIL ISIS Israel Israeli settlement Japan Jerusalem John Kerry Latin America Lebanon Libya Mexico Middle East Military National Security Agency NATO New York Times NSA Obama Pakistan Palestine Police Press TV Qatar Russia Sanctions against Iran Saudi Arabia Syria Turkey UK Ukraine United Nations United States USA Venezuela Washington Post West Bank Yemen Zionism
Brian Harry, Austral… on Sanders’ Dubious Our Revolutio… aletho on Sanders’ Dubious Our Revolutio… Brian Harry, Austral… on Sanders’ Dubious Our Revolutio… hksounds on The alternate reality of Ander… hksounds on “The Awful Clarity” of Israeli… traducteur on “The Awful Clarity” of Israeli… Brian Harry, Austral… on “The Awful Clarity” of Israeli… redracam on “The Awful Clarity” of Israeli… mikem on Peru’s Police Force Harb… Brian Harry, Austral… on Peru’s Police Force Harb… masteradrian on Peru’s Police Force Harb… Brian Harry, Austral… on Clinton Foundation Should Retu… Brian Harry, Austral… on “The Awful Clarity” of Israeli… Brian Harry, Austral… on Are the Clintons Israeli … Brian Harry, Austral… on Clintonites Prepare for War on…
Visits Since December 2009
- 2,677,761 hits
Contact:atheonews (at) gmail.com
- Clinton gets more donations from arms industry: Report August 24, 2016
- Obamacare Supporters Oppose ColoradoCare August 24, 2016
- Sanders’ Dubious Our Revolution Initiative August 24, 2016
- Defiant Celtic fans’ game changer for Palestine August 24, 2016
- The Clinton and Powell War Criminal Charade August 24, 2016
- Erdogan snubs Biden; NATO hits the rocks August 24, 2016
- Washington ‘Galvanized’ Kurds to Attack Syrian Army in Hasakah August 24, 2016
- Armed French Police Force Woman to Strip off Burkini on Beach August 24, 2016
- Dead Children, the Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS) and its Friends August 24, 2016
- Abu Zubaydah makes case for Guantanamo release in first public statement in 14 years August 24, 2016
- CNN Strikes Again: Blames NYT Hack on Russians, Provides Zero Evidence August 24, 2016
- Peru’s Police Force Harbored a Death Squad, Report Reveals August 23, 2016
- “The Awful Clarity” of Israeli Oppression Becomes Murky Spin in the NYT August 23, 2016
- Clinton Foundation Should Return All Foreign Donations – Republican Chairman August 23, 2016
- UK dismisses concerns about arms sale to Saudi Arabia August 23, 2016
- U.S. Renews Calls For Attack On Syria Air Force, U.K. Calls For Safe Zones, Military Action August 23, 2016
- The alternate reality of Anders Fogh Rasmussen August 23, 2016
- Clintonites Prepare for War on Syria August 23, 2016
Looking for something?
Categories"Hope and Change" Aletho News Book Review Civil Liberties Corruption Deception Economics Environmentalism Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism False Flag Terrorism Full Spectrum Dominance Illegal Occupation Islamophobia Mainstream Media, Warmongering Militarism Nuclear Power Science and Pseudo-Science Solidarity and Activism Subjugation - Torture Supremacism, Social Darwinism Timeless or most popular Video War Crimes Wars for Israel
This site is provided as a research and reference tool. Although we make every reasonable effort to ensure that the information and data provided at this site are useful, accurate, and current, we cannot guarantee that the information and data provided here will be error-free. By using this site, you assume all responsibility for and risk arising from your use of and reliance upon the contents of this site.
This site and the information available through it do not, and are not intended to constitute legal advice. Should you require legal advice, you should consult your own attorney.
Nothing within this site or linked to by this site constitutes investment advice or medical advice.
Materials accessible from or added to this site by third parties, such as comments posted, are strictly the responsibility of the third party who added such materials or made them accessible and we neither endorse nor undertake to control, monitor, edit or assume responsibility for any such third-party material.
The posting of stories, commentaries, reports, documents and links (embedded or otherwise) on this site does not in any way, shape or form, implied or otherwise, necessarily express or suggest endorsement or support of any of such posted material or parts therein.
The word "alleged" is deemed to occur before the word "fraud." Since the rule of law still applies. To peasants, at least.
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more info go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
This is information for anyone that wishes to challenge our “fair use” of copyrighted material.
If you are a legal copyright holder or a designated agent for such and you believe that content residing on or accessible through our website infringes a copyright and falls outside the boundaries of “Fair Use”, please send a notice of infringement by contacting email@example.com.
We will respond and take necessary action immediately.
If notice is given of an alleged copyright violation we will act expeditiously to remove or disable access to the material(s) in question.
All 3rd party material posted on this website is copyright the respective owners / authors. Aletho News makes no claim of copyright on such material.
Site infoAletho News
Blog at WordPress.com.