The Holiday of Purim Emphasizes the Durability of Jewish Identity That Shakespeare Denied

March 5 2020

Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and the biblical book of Esther share a few notable similarities, writes Meir Soloveichik: both feature a disguised heroine, an anti-Semite, and a Jew who tries to take revenge on him. Shakespeare’s play concludes with the erasure of identity: Portia, dressed as a man, persuades the Jew Shylock to convert to Christianity, enacting the apostle Paul’s declaration that “there is neither Jew nor Greek; . . . there is neither male nor female.” Esther, by contrast, is a story of Jewish identity’s abiding persistence and its emergence in life’s most consequential moments. Esther is about Judaism’s endurance:

In Esther, [an] extraordinary phrase appears toward the beginning of the book: “There was a Jew, in the capital of Shushan, and his name was Mordecai.” The modern reader breezes past these words, but the ancient one would have known how shocking they are. For Mordecai was not a Jewish name, nor was Esther. Each is derived from the appellation of a Babylonian god—Esther comes from “Ishtar,” and Mordecai from “Marduk.” These names are a sign of the acculturation of the Jews of Persia.

The very name demands that we ask: what is Mordecai’s true identity? What is Esther’s? Being forced to answer this question openly sets the stage for Esther to embrace her true self and to plead for her people. Esther and Mordecai [eventually] emerge as embodiments of the endurance of Jewish identity and solidarity.

Though marked by levity, Purim is deadly serious: we are reminded that Haman exists in every generation and that we Jews dare not ignore our own identity. Strikingly, it was in the Venice of Shakespeare’s time that history records some of the earliest instances of Jews wearing costumes to commemorate Purim. To this day, you will find Jewish children dressed as Gentiles, taking the trappings of another identity but still reading the book of Esther in Hebrew in the synagogue and distributing Purim gifts to their co-religionists.

It is often said that the reason Jews costume themselves on Purim is to remember Esther’s initial hiding of her own identity. The truth is very nearly the opposite. We wear costumes not to disguise our identity, but rather to emphasize that no superficial sartorial selection can alter our identity—for ultimately, the central defining aspect of ourselves will shine through. On Purim, Jews don costumes and ask Portia’s question: who is the Merchant, and who is the Jew? To this we give a ready answer, as Esther once did: Jews we are, and Jews we still remain.

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Read more at Commentary

More about: Esther, Judaism, Paul of Tarsus, Purim, The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare

 

Why Is Iran Acquiring Property in Venezuela?

In June Tehran and Caracas concluded a major twenty-year cooperation treaty. One of its many provisions—kept secret until recently—was the transfer of 4,000 square miles of Venezuelan land to Iranian control. Although the territory is ostensibly for agricultural use, Lawrence Franklin suspects the Islamic Republic might have other plans:

Hizballah already runs paramilitary training centers in restricted sections of Venezuela’s Margarita Island, a tourist area northeast of the country’s mainland. The terrorist group has considerable support from some of Venezuela’s prominent Lebanese clans such as the Nasr al-Din family, who reportedly facilitated Iran’s penetration of Margarita Island. . . . The Maduro regime has apparently been so welcoming to Iranian intelligence agents that some of Hizballah’s long-established Latin American network at the tri-border nexus of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay has been overtaken by Hizballah activities on Venezuela’s Margarita Island.

Iran’s alliance with Venezuela most importantly provides Tehran with opportunities to target U.S. interests in Latin America and potentially the southern United States. Iran, along with the Chinese Communist Party, is in the process of strengthening Venezuela’s military against the U.S., for instance by deliveries of military drones, which are also considered a threat by Colombia.

While air and seaborne arms deliveries are high-profile evidence of Iran’s ties with Venezuela, Tehran’s cooperation with Venezuelan intelligence agencies, although less visible, is also intense. The Islamic Republic’s support for Hizballah terrorist operations is pervasive throughout Latin America. Hizballah recruits from Venezuela’s ten-million-strong Lebanese diaspora. Iran and Hizballah cooperate in training of intelligence agents and in developing sources who reside in Venezuela and Colombia, as well as in the tri-border region of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

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Read more at Gatestone

More about: Iran, Latin America, Venezuela