Purim: The Deeply Anti-Progressive Jewish Holiday

“The Banquet of Esther and Ahasuerus” by Jan Victors, 1640s.

“The Banquet of Esther and Ahasuerus” by Jan Victors, 1640s.

Today is the holiday of Purim.

It is no accident that in 2015, Benjamin Netanyahu referenced Purim when delivering his powerful address to the U.S. Senate in an unsuccessful bid to curb Obama’s legitimization of a nuclear Iran.

Purim is an old ( 5th century B.C.E.) but painfully familiar story: A Jew-hater named Haman hatches a plan to annihilate the Jewish people in the ancient kingdom of Persia.

In a speech that Jews recognize all too well, Haman tells the king, “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm. Their laws are different from those of every other people’s, and they do not observe the king’s laws; therefore it is not befitting the king to tolerate them.” (Esther 3:8.)

The king places the fate of the Jews into the hands of Grand Vizier Haman.

That Genocide Thing — Again.

Most of the Jews in this multicultural Persian kingdom have been enlightened to the point where they enthusiastically attend royal feasts and gorge themselves off the golden plates and cups looted from the holy Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

These court Jews have evolved past that old, tired Judaism. They’re all new-agey, progressive. They know with arrogant certainty that Jewish history has moved beyond the old paradigms. It’s kumbaya time, Persian style.

These liberal Jews figure that Haman, a descendant of the old Jew-hating tribe of Amalek, is just an annoying blip on the historical screen. They don’t take him seriously. They view him as just another blowhard who can be appeased. They figure some clever negotiations will make this nut-job go away. They want to give peace a chance.

But there’s a Jew named Mordechai, a descendant of King Saul and King David. He’s old school; so pious and proud that unlike the compliant, liberal Jews of the kingdom, he refuses to bow down to the Grand Vizier Haman. Mordechai understands that the cult of personality is idolatry, paganism designed to replace G-d.

Mordechai only bows down to G-d.

And to the contempt and derision of the liberal Persian Jews, Mordechai actually takes Haman seriously.

Because Mordechai knows Jewish history. He knows the primary rule of Jewish history: when someone announces they plan on killing the Jews—believe them.

Mordechai did not graduate from an elite Persian university with a degree in Conflict Resolution. He studies Torah. He has common sense.

He knows that history is frequently a simple calculation: kill or be killed.

Illuminated Megillat Esther (Scroll of Esther), Northern Italy, Mid-18th Century

Illuminated Megillat Esther (Scroll of Esther), Northern Italy, Mid-18th Century

Enter Leading Lady Esther

Mordechai maneuvers his niece, Esther—a Persian name that means hidden—into the royal court where she becomes the king’s favorite wife. She is a secret Jew in a corrupt court where Jew-hatred is the latest fashion.

There, in the belly of the beast, Esther lays a trap for Haman, for Haman’s clan, and for the fanatics who thirst for Jewish blood.

Esther proclaims a fast for the Jewish people, because that’s what Jews do: we fast and sprinkle ashes on our head to let G-d know that we know we count on him, that we are humble in the face of his greatness.

Hey, The Second Amendment Appears

And after the fast, the courageous Esther springs her trap on Haman. Like all tyrants King Ahasuerus counts on strict weapons control to maintain tyranny over his subjects. But under wise Esther’s influence Ahasuerus extends to the Jewish people in the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces in which they dwell, the right to bear arms, the right to defend themselves against their enemies.

Thus, the story of Purim ends in war. The Jews do not sit down and enlighten their enemies about how we must all live together in peace. They do not form reconciliation committees. They do not call for a national conversation about Jew-hatred. They do not consider it a virtue to be tolerant of the intolerant. And they do not forgive their genocidal enemies.

Haman is hung on the gallows he built for Mordechai. Haman’s ten sons who were all in for the annihilation of the Jews are also hung alongside their father.

And then the Jews who follow Mordechai and Esther take up their swords and kill their enemies.

Because only a good man with a sword can defeat a bad man with a sword.

And even as the victorious Jews wade through the blood of the Jew-haters they have killed, even as they celebrate their victory, and even as they give food baskets and charity to the poor, they know that this is not the end of Jewish history, it’s just another chapter that is fated to repeat itself over and over again — until the coming of the Messiah.


Maayan Ariel wishes all our friends and relatives a happy Purim.

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