The Forgotten “Religious” Version of the Book of Esther

March 5 2015

Any Catholic edition of the Bible contains a text known as “Additions to Esther.” Based on an ancient version of the Book of Esther, and originally written in Greek, these “additions” differ strikingly from the Hebrew text in more than one way. Aaron Koller writes:

One of the most famous—and significant—features of the Hebrew Book of Esther is the absence of any mention of God. Some of the book’s earliest readers were disturbed enough by that fact that they actually changed it. They changed a lot of other details, as well. . . .

These are six blocks of text, conventionally labeled A through F, found in all known Greek versions of Esther and without any parallel in the Hebrew text. . . . Additions A and F, found at the very beginning and very end of the book, are a dream of Mordecai’s and its interpretation. In his dream, Mordecai sees two dragons fighting, threatening to destroy the world; peace is effected by a spring that bursts forth. At the end of the book, he realizes that the two dragons represented himself and Haman, and that their conflict would have wreaked havoc had it not been for Esther. . . . Addition C contains prayers uttered by Mordecai and Esther for the salvation of the Jews. . . .

Who were the “earliest readers” responsible for this revised and expanded version? Evidence suggests they were Jews living in the land of Israel in the first century BCE, and that they had a clear theological agenda:

[T]heir new and improved version of Esther brought the book and its associated festival back in line with what was, to their minds, normative Jewish ideology and practice: devotion to God, prayer, an abhorrence of intermarriage, . . . and a fealty to Jewish law and practice.

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More about: Apocrypha, Bible, Esther, Purim, Religion & Holidays

The Proper Jewish Response to the Pittsburgh Massacre

Nov. 21 2018

In the Jewish tradition, it is commonplace to add the words zikhronam li-vrakhah (may their memory be for a blessing) after the names of the departed, but when speaking of those who have been murdered because they were Jews, a different phrase is used: Hashem yikom damam—may God avenge their blood. Meir Soloveichik explains:

The saying reflects the fact that when it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin; in the face of egregious evil, we will not say the words ascribed to Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable.

But the mantra for murdered Jews that is Hashem yikom damam bears a deeper message. It is a reminder to us to see the slaughter of eleven Jews in Pennsylvania not only as one terrible, tragic moment in time, but as part of the story of our people, who from the very beginning have had enemies that sought our destruction. There exists an eerie parallel between Amalek, the tribe of desert marauders that assaulted Israel immediately after the Exodus, and the Pittsburgh murderer. The Amalekites are singled out by the Bible from among the enemies of ancient Israel because in their hatred for the chosen people, they attacked the weak, the stragglers, the helpless, those who posed no threat to them in any way.

Similarly, many among the dead in Pittsburgh were elderly or disabled; the murderer smote “all that were enfeebled,” and he “feared not God.” Amalek, for Jewish tradition, embodies evil incarnate in the world; we are commanded to remember Amalek, and the Almighty’s enmity for it, because, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained, the biblical appellation refers not only to one tribe but also to our enemies throughout the ages who will follow the original Amalek’s example. To say “May God avenge their blood” is to remind all who hear us that there is a war against Amalek from generation to generation—and we believe that, in this war, God is not neutral.

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More about: Amalek, Anti-Semitism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays