The Uses of Esther, from Crypto-Jews to Sojourner Truth

Feb. 25 2021

The recent volume Esther and America contains 28 essays by various scholars and writers about the way the book of Esther has been used and understood in an American context. In his review, James Goodman shares some of what he learned from it:

In early America, crypto-Jews living in New Spain under the Inquisition prayed for Saint Esther’s intercession. They figured that she, having kept her own Jewish identity secret in King Ahasuerus’ court, would understand their predicament. Esther also appears in the etiquette guide of New England’s Cotton Mather. In the 1690s, the New England Puritan urged women to behave like the beautiful and brainy queen, obedient and independent, even furtively assertive (particularly, Mather hoped, when their husbands strayed from godliness and prayer). Three-quarters of a century later, colonists petitioning King George feared that he, their Ahasuerus, had fallen under the spell of his Haman-like ministers, intent on depriving them of their liberty.

In antebellum America, abolitionists and feminists, including the Grimké sisters, Frances Harper, and Sojourner Truth, emulated and evoked both Vashti and Esther. When a mob of men tried to disrupt the Women’s Rights Convention in New York City in 1853, Truth stood up to them, speaking of the time, in Persia, when a woman could be killed for approaching the king unbidden. “But Queen Esther come forth, for she was oppressed, and felt there was a great wrong, and she said I will die or I will bring my complaint before the king.”

Amid all this historical information, Goodman also finds openings for more serious reflection, including on the book of Esther’s wisdom about

the experience of Jews in situations where God, whether everywhere or nowhere, is not weighing in. I am not thinking about religious observance. There He left instructions. I am thinking about those dimensions of our lives that lie beyond specific commands and laws. Esther in America allows us to think about community responsibility and personal responsibility, leadership and followership, speaking out and going along, direct action and subterfuge, injustice and reparations, self-care and self-endangerment, vigilance in the face of tyranny, and hope and faith in the dark.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Civil religion, Esther, Hebrew Bible, Latin America, Marranos

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism