Virtual Talmud

Virtual Talmud

Of Purim and Power

Rabbi Stern’s reference to the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance is right on the mark in our discussion of the place of women in today’s Jewish power structure. This week’s Jewish Week contains a front-page story on how that organization has been thwarted in its efforts to bring together mainstream (male) rabbis to even consider discussing the issue of agunot–women whose husbands refuse to grant them ritual divorces and so, by traditional Jewish law, are unable to remarry. According to the article, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Amar, was going to convene a series of meetings to discuss this rank injustice–until threats from right-wing Orthodox leaders knocked out even the possibility of discussing the issue, let alone working toward a resolution.


Sounds a lot like the words of Ahasuerus’ advisors in squashing Queen Vashti’s attempts at self-assertion: “For this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come’” (Est. 1:17). How do you fight the existing power structure when its guardians–be they the buffoonish advisors of Ahasuerus or the equally buffoonish Haredi rabbis who support the status quo–see even talking about the problem as an admission of weakness?

Perhaps that’s why Purim is our holiday of farce, where Vashti is divorced against her will, standing up to the existing patriarchal power structure and being squashed by it. And Esther, who plays along with a system of marriage that only celebrates beauty and objectifies women, ultimately uses it to her advantage and the advantage of the Jewish people. For women who wish to take the system on, there isn’t a lot to dance about this Purim.

Comments read comments(5)
post a comment
Doug from PA

posted February 22, 2007 at 9:19 pm

It sounds to me like feminism is more important to Rabbi Waxman than Judaism. Esther used the means available to save millions of lives and that isn’t good enough for you because she worked within the system? “Fighting the system” is more important to you than results?

report abuse


posted February 24, 2007 at 6:15 pm

Doug: “Fighting the system is more important …than results?” Please go back and read Torah…there are many stories of women, beginning with Eve, who “fought the system” and either lost (again, think of Eve) or had marginal “wins” (think of Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca and Leah)…Women are at least 50% of the population at any given time in history and have less money, less status, less power (however that is defined), etc etc etc in almost every environment possible. Judaism is an ever-changing culture that begins with Torah and Halacha. We no longer make sacrifices at the Temple, do we? Some movements within Judaism are stuck in past eras and want the rest of us Jews to stay there with them. The “good old days” really weren’t all that good. The 21st Century is here and there is no turning back. You can’t just ignore half of the population and expect them to shut up, stay home and obey the male decision-making authorities.

report abuse


posted February 25, 2007 at 7:10 pm

The idea that Vashti refused to be a sex symbol is nonsense. To be the wife of an Eastern potentate at the time meant being a ‘sex symbol’. Both Vashti and Esther accepted their situations, its just that Vashti got it into her head that she was more than that (like a lot of modern airheaded Hollywood bimbos m/f who think they are great political (or even Kabbalah thinkers)). Esther had greater wisdom than Vashti since she understood her situation better than Vashti did and used her position for the greater good.

report abuse

Grethel Jane Rickman

posted February 26, 2007 at 4:24 am

Myra, I clearly do not see what you are seeing in the Torah! Compare the women to the men within the Torah. What do you see after you do? Have you taken the time to read through some women’s commentaries of the Torah? If not, I suggest two commentaries: The Five Books of Miriam by Ellen Frankel and The Women’s Torah Commentary: New Insights from Women Rabbis on the 54 Weekly Torah Portions, edited by Elyse Goldstein. More about these books: I have heard that this is good, but I haven’t had time to read this particular book, yet: Shalom! PS Esther listened to advice from a trusted source. Deborah is a woman from the Torah who didn’t “stay home and shut up.” Yael? Well, her actions speak louder than words too. She gave a man more than a headache!

report abuse


posted February 27, 2007 at 10:45 pm

B”H What no one has said up to this point is, that Vashti, the daughter of the infamous Nevuchadnezzer of Babylonia who destroyed Jerusalem, the Temple, and exiled the remnants of Judah to Babylonia as slaves, was just as evil and Jew-hating as her father. She was known to abuse her Jewish slaves, forcing them to work on the Sabbath, and forbidding them from following any of their religious beliefs. She was a prime influencer of Achasverosh’s anti-Jewish policies, every bit as much as Haman was. According to the Midrash, G-d punished her because of her evil deeds, by causing her to get ugly skin lesions. She refused to appear before the King with this condition, feeling (correctly) that she would embarrass both herself and her husband. Before we make a heroine out of Vashti, let’s understand the whole story. I’d put her in the same class as Suha Arafat, who, while kissing Hillary Clinton, spoke lies about how Jews were killing innocent Palestinian children in all types of evil ways, while her husband in his followers were slaughtering innocent Jewish children…Yossel

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

The Task Is Never Finished
It has been heartwarming to read the warm responses to Rabbi Waxman's post asking Beliefnet to reconsider its decision to cancel Virtual Talmud. Virtual Talmud offered an alternative model for internet communications: civil discourse pursued in ...

posted 12:31:46pm Apr. 03, 2008 | read full post »

Some Parting Reflections
Well, loyal readers, all good things must come to an end and we’ve been informed that this particular experiment in blogging as a forum for creating wide-ranging discussion on topics of interest to contemporary Jews has run its course. Maybe ...

posted 1:00:29pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

Obama's Lesson and The Jewish Community
There are few times in this blog’s history when I have felt that Rabbi Grossman was one hundred percent correct in her criticisms of my ideas. However, a few weeks ago she called me out for citing a few crack websites on Barak Obama’s ...

posted 12:09:08pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

The Future of Race Relations
As a post-baby boomer, it is interesting to me to see how much of today’s conversation about racial relations is still rooted in the 1960s experience and rhetoric of the civil rights struggle, and the disenchantment that followed. Many in the ...

posted 4:04:41pm Mar. 25, 2008 | read full post »

Wright and Wrong of Race and Jews
Years ago, as a rabbinical student, I was one of a group of rabbinical students who visited an African American seminary in Atlanta. My fellow rabbinical students and I expected an uplifting weekend of interfaith sharing like we had experienced ...

posted 12:50:11pm Mar. 24, 2008 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.