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Purim: A Wacky Tribute to Life


In the Purim story, the genocidal threat to the Jews comes from the Persian imperial regime, and specifically from Haman, the Jew-hating grand vizier. Israelis are aware of a striking parallel with today’s situation, in which the current Persian—or Iranian—regime has been waging a campaign to destroy Israel since taking power in 1979.

There are some significant differences as well. Haman’s boss, King Ahasuerus (probably the historical Xerxes I), has no particular beef against the Jews. He is, though, a mercurial, impressionable sort, and it’s Haman who talks him into ordering the killing of all the Jews in the empire. The current Iranian regime is, by contrast, ideologically committed to antisemitism. And whereas, in the Purim story, the Jews are dispersed throughout the empire and have not yet consolidated the Second Jewish Commonwealth in the Land of Israel, today’s Iranian regime has its sights set on what has been called the Third Jewish Commonwealth—a powerful, sovereign state that Iran knows it cannot hope to eradicate without intensive military efforts.

And yet, again, certain common features are striking. What stokes Haman’s ire at the Jews is the refusal of Mordechai—adoptive cousin of Esther, the king’s wife—to bow down to him. As Haman darkly complains to King Ahasuerus in Esther 3:8:

There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them.

For the current Iranian regime, the intolerable affront is simply the Jewish state’s sovereign existence in what is supposed to be an exclusively Muslim (preferably Shiite) domain. The intended sentence for the transgression is the same—death.