How the Book of Esther Contrasts Persian and Jewish Law

March 7 2023

According to rabbinic tradition, the holiday of Purim, which began yesterday evening, is a celebration not only of the salvation of Persian Jewry from the wicked designs of the courtier Haman, but also of the contemporaneous Jewish reaffirmation of the Covenant under the leadership of Ezra. With this in mind, Rachel Friedman examines the book of Esther’s frequent use of the word dat—which in modern Hebrew means “religion” but in the Bible is usually translated as “law” or “custom.”

The book of Esther centers on the action and intrigue at the royal court of King Ahasuerus in the Persian capital of Shushan (Susa), repeatedly calling attention to its silliness and eccentricities. Nowhere does the Persian court appear more ridiculous than in its use of dat—a Persian loanword denoting a decree, edict, or commission—to create rules and legalisms that center on frivolity, whim, and individual excess. The opening feast follows the dat that there is no restriction on drinking: “Drinking was by ordinance without restraint, for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired.”

The frivolous nature of Persian dat is also reflected in the royal decree that the king enacts when Queen Vashti refuses to appear before him to display her beauty to the guests at his royal banquet. The author, poking fun at a drunken king who attempts to solve a personal problem through dat—or law of the land—describes how Ahasuerus turns to his legal consultants for advice in dealing with Vashti’s conduct.

To the rabbis, the dat of the royal Persian court—a whimsical and loose system of arbitrary royal decrees—stood in sharp contrast to Torah law—a just, comprehensive, and definitive legal system given by God, the universal King, to the nation of Israel at Sinai. Far from being driven by personal human agendas like the Persian dat, the Torah defined Jewish peoplehood and religion. And far from being manipulable and changeable at the whim of a human king, . . . the Torah is the eternal law of the divine King.

Thus, to the rabbis the essence of the story of Purim was the reacceptance of divine dat.


More about: Ancient Persia, Esther, Jewish law

The U.S. Is Trying to Seduce Israel into Accepting a Bad Deal with Iran. Israel Should Say No

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on the Iranian nuclear program. According to an analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, the Islamic Republic can now produce enough weapons-grade uranium to manufacture “five nuclear weapons in one month, seven in two months, and a total of eight in three months.” The IAEA also has reason to believe that Tehran has further nuclear capabilities that it has successfully hidden from inspectors. David M. Weinberg is concerned about Washington’s response:

Believe it or not, the Biden administration apparently is once again offering the mullahs of Tehran a sweetheart deal: the release of $10 billion or more in frozen Iranian assets and clemency for Iran’s near-breakout nuclear advances of recent years, in exchange for Iranian release of American hostages and warmed-over pious Iranian pledges to freeze the Shiite atomic-bomb program.

This month, intelligence photos showed Iran again digging tunnels at its Natanz nuclear site—supposedly deep enough to withstand an American or Israeli military strike. This tells us that Iran has something to hide, a clear sign that it has not given up on its quest for a nuclear bomb.

Meanwhile, Antony Blinken today completes a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he is reportedly pressing the kingdom to enter the Abraham Accords. This is no coincidence, for reasons Weinberg explains:

Washington expects Israeli acquiescence in the emerging U.S. surrender to Iran in exchange for a series of other things important to Israel. These include U.S. backing for Israel against escalated Palestinian assaults expected this fall in UN forums, toning down U.S. criticism regarding settlement and security matters (at a time when the IDF is going to have to intensify its anti-terrorist operations in Judea and Samaria), an easing of U.S. pressures on Israel in connection with domestic matters (like judicial reform), a warm Washington visit for Prime Minister Netanyahu (which is not just a political concession but is rather critical to Israel’s overall deterrent posture), and most of all, significant American moves towards reconciliation with Saudi Arabia (which is critical to driving a breakthrough in Israeli-Saudi ties).

[But] even an expensive package of U.S. “concessions” to Saudi Arabia will not truly compensate for U.S. capitulation to Iran (something we know from experience will only embolden the hegemonic ambitions of the mullahs). And this capitulation will make it more difficult for the Saudis to embrace Israel publicly.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Antony Blinken, Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship