Esther’s Choice — And Ours by Joyce Zonana

The Book of Esther tells a story in which women’s power is not so much repressed as asserted. The king who banishes one queen finds himself submitting to the will of another. Numerous women writers of various ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries have found inspiration in the stories of both Esther and Vashti’s disobedience to an autocratic king.

jz-headshotThis year, February 28th, the 14th of Adar on the Jewish calendar, is the first night of Purim, a holiday the orthodox Chabad organization blithely calls the “most fun-filled, action-packed day of the Jewish year.” Purim is celebrated with two full readings of the Megillah–the Book of Esther–in synagogues; whenever the tale’s villain Haman is mentioned, congregants drown out his name with noisemakers and foot-stomping. Children and adults masquerade and often cross-dress. Plays are performed; Haman is burned in effigy. After a daylong fast, everyone shares a festive meal, where drinking is encouraged, even mandated:

A person should drink on Purim until the point where he can’t tell the difference between “Blessed is Mordechai” and “Cursed is Haman. (Talmud – Megillah 7b; Code of Jewish Law 695:2)

It all sounds like great fun. But what exactly are we celebrating when we celebrate Purim?

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