The Book of Esther and the Pew Study

Posted: March 6th, 2014

By Rabbi Phil Warmflash, Executive Director

This past Sunday was the first day of the Hebrew month of Adar Bet, the second Adar. This means: (1) it is a leap year on the Jewish calendar, (2) the holiday of Purim is coming in 15 days, and (3) we will see the first signs of spring as Pesah (Passover) holiday foods appear on the shelves of our grocery stores.

Let’s focus on number 2 – the fifteenth of Adar, which this year coincides with the night of March 15th – when Jews around the world will celebrate Purim, one of the strangest holidays on our calendar.  Purim is our only holiday that celebrates Jewish life in the Diaspora, outside of the land of Israel!  We read the Megillah, known as the Scroll of Esther, a book that demonstrates how comfortable the life of Jews can be in the Diaspora. How, you ask?

The Megillah tells us nothing about what traditional Jewish life was like in Persia, but it does tell us that Jews were so comfortable that Mordechai could live close enough to the court to learn that the king was looking for a new wife.  And knowing that, Mordechai thought it was a good idea to enter his niece, Esther, in the Shushan version of The Bachelor, which she went on to win!

It is interesting to note that while we know there are other Jews in the kingdom, we hear nothing about them, that is, until Mordechai demands that Esther go to the king to thwart Haman’s plan to kill the Jews. Esther responds that she will go to the king, but only after Mordechai would ask all of the Persian Jews to fast for three days.  Apparently, they do comply, because Esther is accepted into the king’s presence and Haman’s plot becomes his own undoing.  And the rest of the Jews, well, when the story ends they have a great celebration and kill 75,000 Persians.

So what does the Megillah have to do with the Pew Study?  While it may be a broad reading of the relationship between them, a lesson that I take from it is that even when a community is not readily visible and whose members may not want to be recognized as Jews in a “traditional” ways, there are moments when they can become engaged and choose to act.  Maybe there were Jews in Shushan who, in the language of the Pew Study, were “nones”; but even they responded to Esther’s request to fast for three days.  That was a moment that certainly brought meaning to their lives.

While we are not in Persia, and our community is not threatened by external forces, in all of the work of Jewish Learning Venture, we seek to find ways to engage Jews meaningfully in Jewish life and to empower our Jewish institutions to join us in these efforts.

Wishing you all a joyous and meaningful Purim!

Join the conversation… What new lesson can you find in the Book of Esther and the holiday of Purim that brings you a new meaning in being part of our Jewish community? 

 

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