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

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

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