Tonight we Jews read the Book of Esther, and we celebrate the battle our ancestors won against the antisemites in Persia more than two thousand years ago. It could not come at a more appropriate time, as Benjamin Netanyahu organizes an Israeli Government whose main task is the protection of the Jews against antisemites in Persia. Again.
Anyone who wants to learn more about the Book of Esther–and its signal importance in the history of political thought–should read Yoram Hazony’s The Dawn. It is one of those stories that is generally recounted in a slightly abridged version. That version goes like this: King Ahashverosh (probably Xerxes I), “who ruled from Ethiopea to India,” ditched his wife, Vashti, for refusing to show off her natural beauty to the court. In the ensuing competition, Esther became queen.
At the time, the Emperor’s chief consigliere, Haman (hard not to type ‘Hamas’) was lobbying to get the Emperor to approve the destruction of the Jews of the Empire, and he got Ahashverosh to sign a decree to that end. Esther’s uncle, Mordechai–who was in considerable trouble because of his hardheaded independence, and refusal to bow before Haman–convinced Esther to appeal to her husband. She did, and convinced Ahashverosh to protect the Jews. Haman was hanged, ironically on the very gallows he and his sons had constructed for Mordechai, and Mordechai was elevated to the consigliere post.
And that is where most people think the story ends, but there is more, much more. For although Haman was gone, the decree–which had authorized a day of slaughter of the Jews–was still on the books, and could not be revoked. So Mordechai travels all over the Empire, organizing and rallying the Jews to fight. When the dreaded day comes, the Jews prevail, killing more than 76,000 antisemites. That is indeed cause for celebration.
The Book of Esther is remarkably modern. The Almighty does not make an appearance. Everything is done by men and women, without Divine assistance. The Jews themselves must fight for their survival, against the usual overwhelming odds. Today’s antisemites will no doubt recognize the fingerprints of the Jewish Lobby, convincing the Emperor to act against what they might ‘realistically’ define as his own best interests. And then the surprising ferocity of Jewish fighters, against steep odds, wiping out those who had planned their doom.