How the Books of Exodus and Esther Use Humor to Underscore a Message of Hope

April 17 2019

Since the holiday of Purim occurs exactly one month and one day before Passover, these two celebrations of redemption are linked in the Jewish imagination. Joel Kaminsky notes many parallels between the biblical stories associated with the two holidays: each revolves around a genocidal plot against the Jews by a powerful empire (Persia and Egypt), each begins with a woman or women disobeying royal decrees (Vashti, who refuses to appear before her drunken husband Ahasuerus, and the midwives who refuse to throw Jewish babies into the Nile), each has as a protagonist a Jew who lives in the royal palace (Esther and Moses), and each ends in a reversal of fortunes between the Jews and their enemies. While many interpreters have pointed to the use of humor and irony in Esther, Kaminsky argues that there is similar comic use of ironic reversals in Exodus as well. He writes:

It is my contention that the writers of the biblical text used humor not only to enhance the aesthetic experience of the reader or listener, but also to make a deeper theological point. One of the major themes in the Hebrew Bible is trusting in God’s promises even though quite often current reality suggests that the fulfillment of these promises is unrealistic, or even impossible. Inasmuch as the Bible asks those who read it as sacred scripture to develop a type of hope that calls into question a commonsense view of the world, one should not be surprised to find humor in these narratives. This is because there is a structural affinity as well as a direct connection between humor and hope in that each proclaims that the reality of everyday life does not necessarily have the final word. As [the late sociologist of religion] Peter Berger notes, humor challenges the dominant tragic worldview that confines humans to a stoic acceptance of the current conditions of existence. . .

Hope, [like humor], presents a . . . challenge to the status quo and also provides, in Berger’s words, a “signal of transcendence.” Humor is part of the language of hope that points to a higher order than the one in which we normally live and thus we should not be surprised to find it purposefully introduced into narratives where Israel’s hopes and in fact her very existence are being called into question. Of interest is that these ancient [texts] deployed humor in situations that many today would see as no laughing matter. However, it is precisely here that humor, by allowing the reader to laugh in the face of potential tragedy, facilitates the ability to continue to trust in God’s promises even when such trust seems rationally unwarranted.

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Read more at Marginalia

More about: Esther, Exodus, Hebrew Bible, Jewish humor, Passover

 

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia