Happy Purim!


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Purim merriment with a twist

Posted: 28 Feb 2010 09:51 AM PST

Today marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday Purim (observing Jews will have started celebrating last night at sundown). This joyous festival marks the deliverance of the Jewish people of ancient Persia from a plot to annihilate them, as recorded in the Bible in the Book of Esther.

Esther was the Queen of Persia. Her cousin (or uncle), a Jew, informed her of a plot to massacre the Jews. He asked Esther to implore her husband, the King, to save the Jews. Esther decided instead to reveal her Jewish identity and ask that King save her and her people. The King complied and hanged his chief adviser, who had planned the massacre. Jews then rose up and killed other Persians who had intended to murder them.

As I understand it, the Book of Esther is one of only two books in the Hebrew Bible that does not mention God. It is the straightforward story of how Jews were threatened with genocide but were able to turn the tables and kill those who would kill them.

The Jews prevailed because of the shrewd and courageous actions of Esther, who risked her life to save the lives of her people. No wonder Esther has been lionized by Jews for ages.

As Abby Wisse Schachter reports in the February issue of Commentary, however, Esther's status may not survive the age of modern feminism. For Jewish feminists, or at least the professionals among them, Esther's shortcomings are manifold. For one thing, she is too nationalistic. Thus, although some feminists make note of her bravery, they are troubled that she used it only to make the world better a better place for Jews. And the fact that her actions led to the killing of those who were out to kill the Jews is seen as especially problematic.

But the heart of the problem is that Esther, in effect, slept with the enemy - that symbol of male domination, the King. And it is here that the Jewish feminists have pulled off a tour de force of literary criticism that leaves me wondering whether to laugh or cry.

According to Schachter, the feminists have found a new hero in the Book of Esther. She is Queen Vashti, Esther's predecessor. Vashti appears only briefly, at the beginning of the Book, by way of establishing how Esther came to be the Queen. Vashti was deposed because she refused the King's summons to appear at a banquet and display her beauty. Although some feminists interpret this as a refusal to appear naked, the Bible does not say this. Moreover, it seems that the most exhaustive collection of ancient Hebrew writings from the era of Esther contains no instances in which the Hebrew word that is used in the Biblical story to connote beauty is associated with nudity or indecency.

Whatever the precise nature of Vashti's defiance, it has been enough to propel her to iconic status at the expense of Esther. One Jewish feminist writes that "Vashti fights for her modesty and her honor while. . .Esther is willing to work through the bedroom." A female rabbi salutes Vashti as "the first woman in the Bible who refused to be objectified as a sex object, instead naming such behavior as inappropriate." But the best instance of Vashti worship comes from a Harvard professor who compares her to Hillary Clinton, with Bill Clinton as the King, and "Monica [Lewinsky], needless to say [as] Esther, the beautiful Jewess."

It is not necessarily unreasonable to put in a good word for Vashti. But the Jewish feminists have taken things way too far. As Schachter puts it, they have chosen to exalt "the non-Jew over the Jew and the failure over the success." Most importantly, they have exalted a self-centered act of courage (if courage is what Vashti displayed) over an unambiguous act of courage in defense of an entire people. Even if "the personal is the political," as feminists insist, not all politics is equal.

The modern treatment of Esther and Vashti is not an isolated event. Rather, it is an instance of what all too often passes for "literary criticism" at America's institutions of higher learning. The same kind of analysis is performed routinely on all works of literature, whether by feminists, race theorists, "queer" theorists, etc.

If one can take Vashti as far as the feminists have, there are no limits. And, based on my conversations with college students who are subjected to the stunts of modern English and other literature departments, indeed there aren't.

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Actually, in the context of the full narrative, Vashti as proto feminist is rather accurate. The advisors of the King want him to punish her not because she disobeyed his order, but because she gave an example to the rest of the women of Persia and thereby encouraged them to disobey their husbands in their turn; and therefore punishing her would be a means of keeping women everywhere in their proper place.

One should also remember that Vashti was a resident of a harem, and for her to appear in public, even fully clothed, would be be seen as an indecent act, almost as bad as appearing naked.

Two further notes: the book of Esther is actually the only book of the Bible in which God is not mentioned, which rabbinic tradition has taken to mean that the book is a demonstration of how God guides human history from behind the scenes.

And Haman was a descendant of Amalek, and is seen as continuing his ancestor's attempt to destroy the Jewish people.

Jeffrey S.

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Jeff:

See, I told you I found it interesting!

It must be goy's night out!

And thanks for the information, a biblical scholar or even student, I am not.

Adam

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Monica Lewinsky beautiful!?

Reidy:

I know!

If I could pick any number of words to describe her, but none of them would be "beautiful."

Adam

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It is also interesting that G Smith used the phrase "Mordecai at the gates" on another thread just yesterday or the day before...I had to look it up and I found out that he was the one that informed Esther of the plot.

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Actually, in the context of the full narrative, Vashti as proto feminist is rather accurate. The advisors of the King want him to punish her not because she disobeyed his order, but because she gave an example to the rest of the women of Persia and thereby encouraged them to disobey their husbands in their turn; and therefore punishing her would be a means of keeping women everywhere in their proper place.

One should also remember that Vashti was a resident of a harem, and for her to appear in public, even fully clothed, would be be seen as an indecent act, almost as bad as appearing naked.

Two further notes: the book of Esther is actually the only book of the Bible in which God is not mentioned, which rabbinic tradition has taken to mean that the book is a demonstration of how God guides human history from behind the scenes.

And Haman was a descendant of Amalek, and is seen as continuing his ancestor's attempt to destroy the Jewish people.

Jeffrey S.

Do the feminists have it wrong when they equate "disobeying his order" with a self-admitted dismissal of "attraction-as-asset"? I don't know that part of the Bible, and the only quotes Selene provides are from feminist commentators. If she was motivated to defy a view of herself as a sexual object, and as jeffrysmith suggests, refused the "order" to display her "beauty", then the one and only virtuous thing about her refusal to follow the order to display her beauty, was that it was an order. But Esther is the one who asserted her personal values by trading the "objectifiable" (to borrow that dumb feminist-politico phrase) aspect of herself (her body) for her own risky self-defense, and succeeded. She is the hero cause she acted in her own self-defense, albeit riskily. And she did it through an act of trade. Vashti may praiseworthy because she "made a statement" against institutionalized authority, but to praise her at the expense of a hero whose actions caused life to be protected from killers, and who did so through an act of trade at that, is indeed wrong. The fems want to stress the "on the part of men" in the phrase "authoritarianism on the part of men," when addressing Vashti's heroism. Come on! Just what we have come to expect from them.

--John

Edited by ValueChaser
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John:

I draw an absolute distinction between feminists and gender feminists. I know that gender feminists are basically insane.

I excerpted that material from a political e-mail I get with certain items.

So those are not my statements, but I found it interesting.

Here is another interesting developing group:

PRINCIPLES we recognize and affirm:

  1. The existence of natural differences between the
    genders.
  2. The extreme immorality of certain social forces, and at
    the same time, the very real opportunity that these forces
    have to deny, ignore, compromise, and repress these
    differences and any expression of them.
  3. The necessity of cooperation between the genders, and
    at the same time the inevitability of opposition between
    them.
  4. The scientific inconsistency and dubious morality of
    any claim by one gender to describe the state, condition,
    needs, experiences, or the value of the other gender.

http://mensnewsdaily.com/principles-and-goals-the-mens-movement/

Adam

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If I could pick any number of words to describe her, but none of them would be "beautiful."

http://www.neilroger...bonr1999/11.mp3hysterical.gif

9th:

Hilarious.

Yes, humidor. She is supposed to be a very smart young lady. This new book about Clinton and Starr is really interesting.

Who is that singing?

Adam

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Value Chaser--

The Bible doesn't actually say what Vashti's own motivation was. She may have simply been angry at him for getting a new concubine or not buying her the newest fashion in crown jewels for all we know. It was (according to the Scriptural narrative) the Persian men who saw her action as an incipient feminist rebellion against the social order and felt the need to punish her because of that.

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Value Chaser--

The Bible doesn't actually say what Vashti's own motivation was. She may have simply been angry at him for getting a new concubine or not buying her the newest fashion in crown jewels for all we know. It was (according to the Scriptural narrative) the Persian men who saw her action as an incipient feminist rebellion against the social order and felt the need to punish her because of that.

I take what you say in very good faith. In that case, the feminists who are interpreting her as anti-male are taking too much liberty in their factual interpretation. It is one thing to invent her unknown motivation. It is another to praise that very same motivation (anti-masculinity) which moves her or anyone else.

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John:

I draw an absolute distinction between feminists and gender feminists. I know that gender feminists are basically insane.

I excerpted that material from a political e-mail I get with certain items.

So those are not my statements, but I found it interesting.

Here is another interesting developing group:

PRINCIPLES we recognize and affirm:

  1. The existence of natural differences between the
    genders.
  2. The extreme immorality of certain social forces, and at
    the same time, the very real opportunity that these forces
    have to deny, ignore, compromise, and repress these
    differences and any expression of them.
  3. The necessity of cooperation between the genders, and
    at the same time the inevitability of opposition between
    them.
  4. The scientific inconsistency and dubious morality of
    any claim by one gender to describe the state, condition,
    needs, experiences, or the value of the other gender.

http://mensnewsdaily.com/principles-and-goals-the-mens-movement/

Adam

I did check your link, and discovered that someone else wrote what I thought were your original words. It's no problem for me at this time. I know it was not done intentionally. It would be helpful to me if you could place punctuation marks, or use the inbuilt quotation format, to separate your words from those of other writers. But now, I have no quarrel with you.

You may find the quotes I posted from Camille Paglia to be interesting. She would seem to agree with the principles of this new feminist movement you refer to. I myself am in basic agreement of these principles, but to what extent does this new movement regard the aforementioned differences as natural? Are common psychological differences between men and women "natural", or are they "chosen", or are they natural "inclinations" that are easily broken? (Interesting questions.)

Camille Paglia (just now I posted some quotes by her in the Quotes Forum) would not ask this last question. She is a biological determinist when it comes to what nature gives us regarding sexual impulse and spiritual gender styles, yet in male homosexuality, and male art, she thinks the man can properly defy and surmount nature, so the determinism can be overcome by men. But she is less liberated in this way when it comes to women.

Regards,

John

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