Presbyterians Usher in the Jewish Holiday of Purim

Divestment and the War Against the Jews, Part 2010.

The Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUSA) is about to release a report which denounces Israel as a “racist” nation which has absolutely no historical, covenantal, or theological right to the Holy Land. The report calls for the United States to withhold financial and military aid to Israel and for boycotts and sanctions against Israel. That’s not all. The report also endorses a Palestinian “right of return” and “apologizes to Palestinians for even conceding that Israel has a right to exist.” According to the press release, it also states that Israel’s history begins only with the Holocaust and that Israel is “a nation mistakenly created by Western powers at the expense of the Palestinian people to solve the ‘Jewish problem’.”


In addition, PCUSA has also resolved to divest in companies that supply military equipment to the American Army, e.g. Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, etc.

In 2004, this Church became the first mainline Protestant denomination in America to “approve a policy of divestment from Israel.” This was rescinded, but in 2008 the Church “created a committee dominated by seven activists holding strong anti-Israel beliefs. The lone member sympathetic to Israel, quit in protest when he saw their radical agenda.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center notes that 46 members of the US Congress and Senate are Presbyterians and fears potentially “significant repercussions in the political domain” as well as a negative “impact on interfaith relations.” They urge us all to protest directly to the top leadership of the PCUSA “to stop this dangerous campaign which denies the legitimacy and security of Israel,” and to “reach out to your Presbyterian friends.”

Rembrandt: Assuerus, Haman, and Esther, 1660

Rembrandt: Assuerus, Haman, and Esther, 1660

Amalek (the eternal enemy of the Jews) has arrived, right on time for the Purim festival. The war against the Jews is precisely what Purim is about. We read the classic indictment against the Jews for the first time in full in the haunting story of Esther. Haman, the Persian King’s advisor, tells him this: “There exists a particular people, far-flung, widespread among the peoples in all the colonies of your realm. Their customs differ from those of all peoples, and they do not abide by his majesty’s bylaws; his majesty has nothing to gain by tolerating them.” Haman also points out that the Jews are wealthy and offers the King the lion’s share of the spoils.


The Jews have been looked at suspiciously, murderously before — in Egypt for example, where their prosperity, fertility, and potential of becoming a fifth column greatly worried the new Pharaoh. But even Pharaoh did not propose what Haman (and Hitler after him) proposed: send the same edict everywhere, “to devastate, slaughter, and annihilate all the Jews (Yehudim), from the youngest to the oldest, children, women, in a single day…with their booty to be despoiled.”

Esther, known for her grace and charm, as well as for her beauty, is the Queen. Esther was forcibly “taken,” and the King was “taken” with her; she did not freely choose to compete in the beauty contest to become the new Queen, especially since the King had killed her predecessor, Queen Vashti, for refusing to appear “naked” before her drunken husband and his drunken guests.

The King does not know that Esther is a Jew; she has not told him. Upon hearing of this dreadful edict, her uncle, Mordechai, the leader of the Jews and the man who has raised her, dons sackcloth and ashes, fasts, mourns, and cries out at the King’s gate. At first, Esther does not want to get involved. She is afraid that she, too, might be killed for daring to approach the King when he has not called for her. But Mordechai says: “You had better not fantasize that in the royal palace you will escape the fate of all the other Jews. For, if you keep silent at this time, release and liberation will materialize for the Jews from some other source and you and your father’s lineage will perish.”


Esther more than rises to the occasion. She says: “If I’m lost, I will be lost.” Paradoxically, Esther is lost, and precisely because of what she does. In saving the Jewish people from genocide she herself is lost to Jewish destiny in her own lifetime. She is the wife of a non-Jewish King. She will always live apart from her people in the women’s quarters of the palace. The rabbis do not believe that she had any children — but even if she did, they would not have been raised as Jews.

Esther’s task, her existential choice, is the same one we each face at this time. Each Jew may fantasize that they can escape the genocidal edict — by assimilating, by being the first to criticize the Jewish state, by converting out, hiding out. And, God’s presence is veiled, hidden, in human history. We may never know in advance whether our brave act will succeed or whether we ourselves will be saved or sacrificed.

Esther is sacrificed; she sacrifices herself to save her people. Haman/Amalek is defeated and in fact suffers the very fate he’d planned for Mordechai: death on the gallows.

Scroll of Esther

Of course, Esther’s memory is cherished; she herself insisted that her story be written down and entered into the Canon. The telling of her story each and every year is Esther’s legacy, her earthly immortality, her progeny.

While I am not volunteering to marry the Reverend Bruce Reyes-Chow, the moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America, I am certainly willing to talk with the committee. In Esther’s merit, perhaps I will contact them without being invited to do so. Perhaps we all should. You can find contact information for members of PCUSA’s Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment here.


I believe that both Esther and Mordechai were right. The Jews will never be destroyed — and yet, God will always need human partners, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who are willing to risk everything in order to turn back the tide of genocidal hatred against the Jews.

They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat, drink, and be merry. Happy Purim!


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