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.
This 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?
Continue reading “Esther’s Choice — And Ours by Joyce Zonana”
I watched this short video on facebook about Sisa, an Egyptian woman who spent forty years a man in order provide for her family. There is a longer version on YouTube. Sisa, a widow, decided to work to feed her children, and consequently grandchildren. In Egypt, a woman can only do unpaid jobs within a home. So Sisa had to pretend to be a man by wearing male clothing and head wear. She takes casual jobs, such as shoe shining or brick laying.
Then Sisa made the news and was honoured by governmental officials. There is footage in the report of Egyptian men watching that footage. Apparently, the men were impressed by Sisa’s efforts and they developed respect for her. One man, who knows Sisa personally, says for camera: “I treat her like a man, because she works like a man”.
The implication being, I assume, that Sisa is only worthy of respect because she acts like a man is expected to act. And another implication is that Sisa is an exception. He only prepared to treat her differently, as all the rest of the women in Egypt apparently cannot work as men.
Continue reading “Householders’ Superstitions and the Higher Truth by Oxana Poberejnaia”