The Exuberance of Purim Stands in Stark Contrast to the Book of Esther’s Dark Undertones

The holiday of Purim, which began last night and continues today, is one of the most joyous days of the Jewish calendar, traditionally celebrated with carnival-like merriment. Yet, notes Meir Soloveichik, the story behind the holiday—recorded in the book of Esther—is an ominous one, in which a king cavalierly assents to a proposal of genocide on the part of his chief adviser and then, on the turn of a dime, changes his mind and has the adviser hanged:

The disquieting conclusion of Esther’s tale was eloquently described by my great-uncle, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. “If a prime minister who just yesterday enjoyed the full confidence and trust of the king was suddenly convicted and executed,” he reflected, “then who is wise and clairvoyant enough to assure us that the same unreasonable, absurd, neurotic change of mood and mind will not repeat itself?” The Purim tale reminds us that a government, and the society it oversees, can turn against its most vulnerable in a matter of moments. This is why, he argued, Esther’s story is no triumphal tale; on the contrary, it is “the book of the vulnerability of man in general and specifically of the vulnerability of the Jew.”

Why, then, all the joy?

Here we must understand how different the book of Esther is from every other book in the Hebrew Bible. In this tale no mention is made of the divine; the Jews inhabit a world devoid of revelation. Whereas in every other scriptural tale political engagements take place under prophetic instruction, in the Persian court God gives no guidance to the Jews facing a terrible danger. Esther, Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote, faced an unprecedented question: “How can the Jew triumph over his adversaries and enemies if God has stopped speaking to him, if the cryptic messages he receives remain unintelligible and incomprehensible?”

In this sense, Esther is the first biblical figure, male or female, to engage in statesmanship. Previous heroes—Moses and Elijah, Samuel and Deborah—are prophets who are guided and guarded by the Divine, but Esther operates on instinct, reflecting a mastery of realpolitik.

Purim thus marks the fragility of Jewish security, but also the possibility of heroism in the face of this vulnerability. It is therefore a holiday for our time. Around the world, and especially in a Europe that should know better, anti-Semitism has made itself manifest once again. As Esther’s example is celebrated, and Jews gather in synagogue to study her terrifying tale, we are reminded why, in the face of hate, we remain vigilant—and why we continue to celebrate joyously all the same.

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Read more at New York Times

More about: Biblical Politics, Diaspora, Esther, Jewish political tradition, Purim

 

As Vladimir Putin Sidles Up to the Mullahs, the Threat to the U.S. and Israel Grows

On Tuesday, Russia launched an Iranian surveillance satellite into space, which the Islamic Republic will undoubtedly use to increase the precision of its military operations against its enemies. The launch is one of many indications that the longstanding alliance between Moscow and Tehran has been growing stronger and deeper since the Kremlin’s escalation in Ukraine in February. Nicholas Carl, Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, and Katherine Lawlor write:

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi have spoken at least four times since the invasion began—more than either individual has engaged most other world leaders. Putin visited Tehran in July 2022, marking his first foreign travel outside the territory of the former Soviet Union since the war began. These interactions reflect a deepening and potentially more balanced relationship wherein Russia is no longer the dominant party. This partnership will likely challenge U.S. and allied interests in Europe, the Middle East, and around the globe.

Tehran has traditionally sought to purchase military technologies from Moscow rather than the inverse. The Kremlin fielding Iranian drones in Ukraine will showcase these platforms to other potential international buyers, further benefitting Iran. Furthermore, Russia has previously tried to limit Iranian influence in Syria but is now enabling its expansion.

Deepening Russo-Iranian ties will almost certainly threaten U.S. and allied interests in Europe, the Middle East, and around the globe. Iranian material support to Russia may help the Kremlin achieve some of its military objectives in Ukraine and eastern Europe. Russian support of Iran’s nascent military space program and air force could improve Iranian targeting and increase the threat it poses to the U.S. and its partners in the Middle East. Growing Iranian control and influence in Syria will enable the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [to use its forces in that country] to threaten U.S. military bases in the Middle East and our regional partners, such as Israel and Turkey, more effectively. Finally, Moscow and Tehran will likely leverage their deepening economic ties to mitigate U.S. sanctions.

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Read more at Critical Threats

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Russia, U.S. Security, Vladimir Putin