What the Book of Esther’s Critics Get Wrong

The holiday of Purim starts in a little less than two weeks. At the end of the book of Esther that is read during it, the wicked Haman’s plan to slaughter all the Jews of Persia—including “small children and women, in a single day”—is foiled and, with permission from King Ahasuerus, the Jews instead rise up and kill those who wished to take part of in their extermination. The scriptural account of the Jews slaughtering over 75,000 of their enemies has disturbed the moral sensibilities of some modern readers.

Haim Jachter, by contrast, puts the events of the book in proper context. He points out that the text states that Ahasuerus gave the Jews of Persia permission “to stand up for their lives” against “those that would assault them” (8:11) and also “to avenge themselves on their enemies” (8:13). Yet, the next chapter, which describes the events themselves, does not say that the Jews took revenge, only that they “lay hand on such as sought to hurt them” and killed “their enemies.” Moreover, Jachter explains, the text emphasizes that the Jews were granted royal permission to kill women and children and to take their property—but refrained from doing either. The Jew, in short, were not engaged in massacre but in self-defense.

Read more at Jewish Link

More about: Esther, Purim


Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship