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Malka Zeiger Simkovich

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Ahasuerus and Vashti: The Story Megillat Esther Does Not Tell You

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Ahasuerus and Vashti: The Story Megillat Esther Does Not Tell You

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Ahasuerus and Vashti: The Story Megillat Esther Does Not Tell You

How the rabbis came to imagine Ahasuerus as a usurper who halted the rebuilding of the Temple and his wife Vashti as a wicked and grotesque Babylonian princess, who lived as a libertine and persecuted Jews.

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Ahasuerus and Vashti: The Story Megillat Esther Does Not Tell You

The Megillah unrolled and folded (in a manner similar to a letter), before the reading at Matan, Jerusalem, 2008. Rahel Jaskow 2.0 cc Flickr

Introduction

The Stories We are Told

In popular Jewish imagination, Ahasuerus is an illegitimate usurper king, and his royal wife, Vashti, is a grotesque Jew-hating villain, who gets what she deserves.  Neither of these portraits appears anywhere in the book of Esther, however. The megillah makes no mention of either Ahasuerus’ or Vashti’s lineage, nor are we told that Vashti persecuted Jews, or, for that matter, grew a tail, and had one hundred and three pimples (contrary to the children’s song popular in some circles).

These widely-held images of Ahasuerus and Vashti originate with rabbinic midrash, but this only raises the question: Why did the rabbis assume that Ahasuerus was a usurper, why did they believe Vashti to be of royal blood, and why did they disparage Vashti at the expense of going against the text? (“Beautiful” [Esther 1:11] and “pimply with a tail” do not jibe well together.)

Part 1

Ahasuerus: The King Who Would Not Rebuild the Temple

The megillah discusses the years of Ahasuerus but doesn’t clarify when this king ruled. From historical records, as well as some archaeological evidence, we know that Ahasuerus (Khshayarsha in Persian, Xerxes in Greek)[1] ruled from 486-465 B.C.E., well after the rebuilding of the Temple in 516 under his father, Darius. The Rabbis, however,[2] believe that Ahasuerus ruled in the period before the Temple was rebuilt, and this for a number of reasons.

First, the rabbis read a passage in Ezra, which describes the problems the Judeans encountered rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple to have transpired during the time of Ahasuerus’s reign (Ezra 4:5-6) :

עזרא ד:ד וַיְהִי עַם הָאָרֶץ מְרַפִּים יְדֵי עַם יְהוּדָה ומבלהים [וּמְבַהֲלִים] אוֹתָם לִבְנוֹת. ד:ה וְסֹכְרִים עֲלֵיהֶם יוֹעֲצִים לְהָפֵר עֲצָתָם כָּל יְמֵי כּוֹרֶשׁ מֶלֶךְ פָּרַס וְעַד מַלְכוּת דָּרְיָוֶשׁ מֶלֶךְ פָּרָסד:ו וּבְמַלְכוּת אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ בִּתְחִלַּת מַלְכוּתוֹ כָּתְבוּ שִׂטְנָה עַל יֹשְׁבֵי יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלָ‍ִם.
Ezra 4:5 Thereupon the people of the land undermined the resolve of the people of Judah, and made them afraid to build. They bribed ministers in order to thwart their plans all the years of King Cyrus of Persia and until the reign of King Darius of Persia4:6 And in the reign of Ahasuerus, at the start of his reign, they drew up an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

Reading this passage as a survey or synopsis of the Judean experience, with the kings listed in chronological order, yields an Ahasuerus who rules after Darius—which is historically correct—and after the Temple was rebuilt. In this reading, the “accusation” has nothing to do with the earlier attempts to stop the Temple from being rebuilt and is simply a new persecution.

The rabbis, however, assume that v. 6 expands on what happened between the reigns of Cyrus and Darius (v. 5):  the “accusation” was part of the attempt by the inhabitants of the land to stop the returning Judeans from rebuilding the Temple. If so, Ahasuerus must have ruled between these two kings and it was he who, having received an accusation against the Judeans, stopped the construction of the Temple that had begun during the reign of Cyrus. Consequently, the rabbis believed that Darius, who built the Temple, was the son of Ahasuerus’ and Esther (Leviticus Rabbah 13:5):

אמר רבי יהודה ברבי סימון דריוש האחרון בנה של אסתר היה, טהור מאמו וטמא מאביו.
Rabbi Yehudah said in the name of Rabbi Simon: “Darius the latter[3] was the son of Esther. He was pure from his mother’s side but impure from his father’s.”[4]

This too disagrees with the historical record, which depicts Ahasuerus as the son of King Darius; he was of royal blood and not a usurper (unlike his father, Darius, who was, in fact, a usurper).[5]

Mordechai and the Jehoiachin Exile

Another reason for reading the story of the megillah as having occurred before the rebuilding of the Temple comes from the verse that introduces Mordechai:

אסתר ב:ה אִישׁ יְהוּדִי הָיָה בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה וּשְׁמוֹ מָרְדֳּכַי בֶּן יָאִיר בֶּן שִׁמְעִי בֶּן קִישׁ אִישׁ יְמִינִי. ב:ו אֲשֶׁר הָגְלָה מִירוּשָׁלַיִם עִם הַגֹּלָה אֲשֶׁר הָגְלְתָה עִם יְכָנְיָה מֶלֶךְ יְהוּדָה אֲשֶׁר הֶגְלָה נְבוּכַדְנֶאצַּר מֶלֶךְ בָּבֶל.
Esth. 2:5 In the fortress Shushan lived a Jew by the name of Mordecai, son of Jair son of Shimei son of Kish, a Benjaminite. 2:6 who had been exiled from Jerusalem in the group that was carried into exile along with King Jeconiah of Judah, which had been driven into exile by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

Grammatically speaking, the clause “who had been exiled” can refer to Kish or to Mordecai. The rabbis assume the latter, which means that Mordechai was alive during the first exile, eleven years before the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. According to Daniel 9:2, Jerusalem lay desolate for 70 years before the Temple was rebuilt, which would be 81 years after Mordechai had been exiled. Now, it is hard to imagine Mordechai as a 90 or 100 year old man in the story, and thus the rabbis would have little choice but to assume that the story of the megillah occurred before the Temple was rebuilt. This comports with their reading of Ezra, and reinforces their depiction of Ahasuerus as the king that stopped the rebuilding of the Temple.

Ahasuerus Celebrates a Destroyed Temple

A number of midrashim expand on the idea of Ahasuerus as the king who blocked the rebuilding of the Temple:

  • R. Nehemiah suggests that the party on the third year refers to the third year from when Ahasuerus cancelled the rebuilding of the Temple (Esther Rabbah 1:15).[6]
  • Among the “goblets of different kinds” (כלים מכלים שונים) that Ahasuerus served the wine in were goblets from the Temple (Esther Rabbah 2:11).[7] This tradition explains why Ashkenazim read these verses in the melody of Lamentations, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple. This image was inspired the account of Belshazzar’s final feast in Daniel 5:2-4:
דניאל ה:ב בֵּלְשַׁאצַּר אֲמַר בִּטְעֵם חַמְרָא לְהַיְתָיָה לְמָאנֵי דַּהֲבָא וְכַסְפָּא דִּי הַנְפֵּק נְבוּכַדְנֶצַּר אֲבוּהִי מִן הֵיכְלָא דִּי בִירוּשְׁלֶם וְיִשְׁתּוֹן בְּהוֹן מַלְכָּא וְרַבְרְבָנוֹהִי שֵׁגְלָתֵהּ וּלְחֵנָתֵהּ. ה:ג בֵּאדַיִן הַיְתִיו מָאנֵי דַהֲבָא דִּי הַנְפִּקוּ מִן הֵיכְלָא דִּי בֵית אֱלָהָא דִּי בִירוּשְׁלֶם וְאִשְׁתִּיו בְּהוֹן מַלְכָּא וְרַבְרְבָנוֹהִי שֵׁגְלָתֵהּ וּלְחֵנָתֵהּ. ה:ד אִשְׁתִּיו חַמְרָא וְשַׁבַּחוּ לֵאלָהֵי דַּהֲבָא וְכַסְפָּא נְחָשָׁא פַרְזְלָא אָעָא וְאַבְנָא.
Daniel 5:2 Under the influence of the wine, Belshazzar commanded that they bring in the vessels of gold and silver that his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the Temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. 5:3 So they brought in the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken out of the Temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. 5:4 They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. (NRSV)
  • The Talmud (b. Megillah 15b) suggests that when Ahasuerus promises Esther “up to half of the kingdom” (עד חצי המלכות), he meant to exclude the rebuilding of the Temple.[8]

Painting Ahasuerus as the person responsible for stopping the Temple from being rebuilt reinserts Israel and God into the story, and adds theological weight to it by making him an enemy of God. Moreover, it anchors the story within the context of the exile and the events leading up to the rebuilding of the Temple.

Ahasuerus as a Usurper

Ahasuerus’ predecessor (in the rabbinic chronology), Cyrus, was considered to be a good king. He is praised in the book of Isaiah as the anointed (“messiah”) of God (Isa. 45:1) and is credited in Chronicles and Ezra with allowing the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Rabbis make the point explicitly (b. Rosh Hashanah 3b):

כורש מלך כשר היה, לפיכך מנו לו כמלכי ישראל.
Cyrus was a worthy king, therefore, they (Haggai) counted years for him as they did for Israelite kings.[9]

And yet, the book of Ezra states (in the Rabbis’ understanding) that Ahasuerus, his successor, cancelled Cyrus’ permission to rebuild the Temple. This discontinuity between the righteous Cyrus and the iniquitous Ahasuerus may have been one contributing factor to the rabbis belief that Ahasuerus was not Cyrus’ son but a usurper.

In the Babylonian Talmud, Rav bases this description of Ahasuerus on his reading of the opening verse of the Megillah (b. Megillah 11a):

המולך אמר רב שמלך מעצמו.[10]
“Who reigned” – Rav said: “This comes to teach that he reigned on his own.”

Rav is likely picking up on the unusual phrasing of the opening verse of the megillah, “in the days of Ahasuerus… who reigned from India to Ethiopia.” In the Bible, when a king is introduced with “in the days of…,” it follows with “king of ____”. For example:

בראשית יד:א וַיְהִי בִּימֵי אַמְרָפֶל מֶלֶךְ־שִׁנְעָר…
Gen. 14:1 And it was in the days of Amraphel, king of Shinar…[11]

Thus, Rav understands the use of the verb form הַמֹּלֵךְ (“who reigned”) instead of the noun form מֶלֶךְ (“king of”) to imply that Ahasuerus did something active to become king, i.e., a coup.[12]

Part 2

Giving Vashti a Royal Babylonian Origin

The biblical text does not tell us anything about Vashti’s identity other than her name, which many scholars suggest is Old Persian for “the best” (vahišta).[13] Nevertheless, a staple of virtually all midrashic depictions of Vashti is the claim that she descended from the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, who exiled the Judeans in 586 BCE. Her father was believed to be the Babylonian king Belshazzar, who ruled the Babylonians while they were in exile (Esther RabbahPetichta 12):

רב אמר כל מה שאמר הקדוש ברוך הוא בו אמר, הה”ד (ישעיה י”ד) והכרתי לבבל שם ושאר ונין ונכד, שם זה נבוכדנצר, ושאר זה אויל מרודך, ונין זה בלשצר, ונכד זה ושתי.
Rav said: “Everything God promised [to do to Babylon] happened through him (=Ahasuerus). For it is written (Isa. 14:22): ‘and I will cut off from Babylon name and remnant, kith and kin.’ ‘Name’ is Nebuchadnezzar. ‘Remnant’ is Awil-Marduk. ‘Kith’ is Belshazzar. ‘Kin’ is Vashti.”  

The Rabbis’ historical reconstruction is inaccurate. Prince Belshazzar was not Nebuchadnezzar’s descendent, nor was he ever the king of Babylon. Rather, he was the son of the final king of Babylon, the usurper Nabonidus.[14] What motivated this midrashic depiction of Vashti?

The Royal Vashti

In addition to the idea that her husband was a usurper, a number of biblical hooks may have inspired the idea of Vashti is a princess of royal blood. First, in contrast to Ahasuerus, when Vashti is first introduced in the megillah, she is given her royal title, “Vashti, the queen” (1:9):

גַּם וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה עָשְׂתָה מִשְׁתֵּה נָשִׁים בֵּית הַמַּלְכוּת אֲשֶׁר לַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ.
In addition, Vashti, the queen gave a banquet for women, in the royal palace of King Ahasuerus.

Second, Vashti makes her banquet in the royal palace, whereas Ahasuerus only makes his banquet in the palace garden. Eliezer ben Eliyahu HaRofe Ashkenazi (Yosef Lekech, 1513-1586) observed:

כאלו רצתה להורות שבבית המלכות שהוא החדר המיוחד למלך היא עושה בו כרצונה.
It is as if she were trying to show that in the royal palace, which is the space designated for the king, she can do as she pleased.

Third, when Ahasuerus demands that Vashti appear before the crowd, the verse states (1:11):

לְהָבִיא אֶת וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בְּכֶתֶר מַלְכוּת לְהַרְאוֹת הָעַמִּים וְהַשָּׂרִים אֶת יָפְיָהּ כִּי טוֹבַת מַרְאֶה הִיא.
To bring Queen Vashti before the king wearing a royal diadem, to display her beauty to the peoples and the officials; for she was a beautiful woman.

The text emphasizes the need for Vashti to wear the royal crown. In contrast, the megillah never describes Ahasuerus wearing a crown, though, in addition to Vashti, it does have Esther (2:17) and even Ahasuerus’ horse (6:8) wearing one.

Putting the Pieces Together

Once Ahasuerus was depicted as a usurper king, ruling shortly after the fall of the Babylonian kingdom, forbidding the rebuilding of the Temple, married to a princess of royal blood, it is was natural to connect him to the dynasty of the famous king and enemy of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar. The Rabbis thus create a backstory for the marriage of Ahasuerus and Vashti entirely absent from the account in the megillah.

An Insecure Ahasuerus Humiliates Vashti

Although the Talmudic rabbis never say explicitly that they read Esther 1:11 as Ahasuerus’ attempt to mock Vashti’s royalty, this may be inferred from the way the rabbinic reading of the command as meaning that Vashti should wear only the diadem (Midrash Abba Gurion 1):

אמר ר’ אבא שלא יהיה עליה כלום אלא הכתר וערומה.
R. Abba said: “That she should appear with nothing on her but the crown, that is, naked.”

In this view, Ahasuerus’ wishes to publicly establish his dominance over Vashti, by forcing the glaring contrast of “queen wearing a crown” and “subservient strumpet.”[15] Such an aggressive act can be understood as stemming from the king’s insecurity, since she is royalty and he is not, for if it was only her beauty that he wished to show off, why was the royal crown necessary? The early modern rabbinic commentator, Malbim (Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser, 1809-1879), makes this very point:

…תכלית מטרת חפצו להראות העמים והשרים שלא לקחה בעבור יחוסה רק בעבור יפיה כי טובת מראה היא שאם היה לוקחה בעבור יחוסה ובעבור שע”י זכה למלכות לא יתכן שיראה את יפיה, כי הלא בין יפה בין כעורה היה לוקחה אחר שעמה לקח חבל המלוכה… אבל בזה גלה כי אין מחשיב אותה למלכה מצד עצמה, וזכה בהמלכות מצד עצמו בכחו וגבורתו…
…His ultimate goal then was to show the nations and ministers that he did not marry her for her lineage but for her beauty, since she was beautiful. For if he had married her for her lineage, and thus through her royalty came to inherit the kingdom, he would not then show off her beauty, for whether beautiful or ugly he would have married her, since with her comes the kingdom… So this way he reveals that he does not consider her a queen in her own right, and that he rules only because of himself, his strength and his power…[16]  

 In other words, Ahasuerus wishes to express with this outlandish demand that Vashti may be royalty but her value to him is only in her beauty.

Vashti Mocks Ahasuerus for being a Commoner

The rabbis imagine the tension between Ahasuerus and Vashti to cut in both directions. The Babylonian Talmud (Megillah 12b) even presents Vashti as mocking her husband as “unkingly” in comparison with her royal ancestors:

ויקצף המלך מאד, אמאי דלקה ביה כולי האי? אמר רבא: שלחה ליה: בר אהורייריה דאבא! אבא לקבל אלפא חמרא שתי ולא רוי, וההוא גברא אשתטי בחמריה.
“And the king was very angry” – Why was he so angry? Raba answered: “She sent him a message, saying, ‘You son of my father’s stable boy! My father drank wine before a thousand people, and did not get drunk, but you are [lit: he is] senseless with wine.’”

In the rabbis’ picture, Ahasuerus both benefits by marrying royalty, since it solidifies his right to rule, but also resents Vashti who is a constant reminder to him of his humble origins.

Vashti as Responsible for Ahasuerus’ Refusal

Making Vashti Babylonian royalty inexorably led to the rabbis implicating her in her husband’s refusal to rebuild the Temple. In fact, Esther Rabbah blames Vashti almost entirely. The midrash begins by explicitly defending Vashti’s decision to defy Ahasuerus’s demand that she appear before him:

זכר את ושתי,[17]  גזירה זאת שגזר עליה שתכנס לפניו ערומה ולא נכנסה וקצף עליה והרגה, מן דקטלה שרי תהי ביה, (חוזר בו) למה שעשתה כהוגן, ואת אשר נגזר עליה, שלא כהוגן,
“[Ahasuerus] remembered Vashti” – That is, the decree that he had issued against her that she come in naked, and that she had not done so, so he got mad at her and put her to death. But after he had killed her,[18] he began to feel remorse, for “what she had done,” was proper, “and what had been decreed against her,” was improper.

Vashti’s refusal to be humiliated in front of her husband’s drunken subjects is understandable on its own, and even more so according to the rabbis, who assume that she was to appear nude. That said, the rabbis also assume that everything in the megillah was by God’s design and nothing happens by chance. If so, why was she punished for refusing an unreasonable demand?

Picking up on her Babylonian ancestry, a midrash suggests the following:

ולמה עלתה לה כך? לפי שלא היתה מנחת לאחשורוש ליתן רשות לבנות בית המקדש, ואומרת לו מה שהחריבו אבותי אתה מבקש לבנות.
Why did this happen to her? Because she would not allow Ahasuerus to give permission to rebuild the Temple, saying to him, “What my ancestors destroyed you want to rebuild?”[19]

Vashti’s true flaw, according to Esther Rabbah, was not her refusing her husband’s inappropriate command, but her loyalty to her Babylonian royal roots. This makes Vashti the power behind Ahasuerus’ refusal to rebuild the Temple and thus, as a villain, deserving of divine punishment.

Part 3

The Wicked Vashti: Persecutor of Jewish Women

In the simple reading of the megillah text, Vashti is a victim of Ahasuerus’ drunkenness and insecurity. Michael Fox, for instance, describes how her refusal would likely have been understood by the ancient reader:

If Vashti had appeared before the males, including commoners—especially when the king himself “was lightheaded with wine”—she would be behaving like a mere concubine. Therefore, she stands on her dignity and refuses to come.[20]

In fact, Vashti’s refusal to present herself for viewing at the king’s party can be seen as parallel to Joseph’s refusing to sleep with the wife of his master. Both use the same verb form (וַיְמָאֵן/וַתְּמָאֵן) and both paint a picture of a helpless person doing what is right and being squashed for it by the corrupt powers that be.[21] Nevertheless, the rabbis give her no credit at all for her refusal,[22] even though they imagine that Ahasuerus demanded that she appear nude.

Vashti the Libertine

The Talmud (Megillah 12a-b) picks up on the strange description of Vashti’s party as taking place in the royal palace ([1:9] בֵּית הַמַּלְכוּת):

גם ושתי המלכה עשתה משתה נשים בית המלכות, בית הנשים מיבעי ליה! אמר רבא: שניהן לדבר עבירה נתכוונו. היינו דאמר אינשי: איהו בקרי ואתתיה בבוציני.
“Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the palace” – Should the verse not have said, “[Vashti gave a banquet for the women in] the women’s house?” Raba answered, “Both [Ahasuerus and Vashti] had a sinful purpose [that is, they wanted to sleep with the people at their party]. Thus, people say: “He with gourds and his wife with squash.”[23]

Having declared that the parties were orgies, the Talmud must then explain why it is that Vashti objected to appearing in the nude:

ותמאן המלכה ושתי, מכדי פריצתא הואי, דאמר מר: שניהן לדבר עבירה נתכוונו, מאי טעמא לא אתאי? אמר רבי יוסי בר חנינא: מלמד שפרחה בה צרעת, במתניתא תנא: בא גבריאל ועשה לה זנב.
“But Queen Vashti refused” (v. 12) – but she was a libertine, for did not the master say “Both had a sinful purpose”? Why didn’t she come?! Rabbi Yossi bar Chanina said: “This teaches that she got skin lesions.” A tannaitic source teaches: “Gabriel came and made her a tail.”

According to this legend, Vashti would have been happy to show up naked, if not for a sudden onset of physical blights. But why did God give her these blemishes, forcing her to disobey her husband?

Persecutor of Jewish Women

The Babylonian Talmud explains that Ahasuerus’ humiliating command to Vashti to appear naked really came as a punishment for her crude anti-Jewish and anti-Torah abuse of helpless women:

שבמדה שאדם מודד בה מודדין לו. מלמד שהיתה ושתי הרשעה מביאה בנות ישראל ומפשיטן ערומות ועושה בהן מלאכה בשבת….
A person is measured by the same stick with which he measures.[24] This teaches that the wicked Vashti would bring Jewish women [to the palace], strip them naked and make them work on Shabbat….

Vashti’s wickedness is now complete. It is hard to imagine a less sympathetic character than someone who strips innocent Jewish women and makes them violate Shabbat.

The Execution of Vashti: The Coup de Grâce

Having presented Vashti as the epitome of wickedness and corruption, all that was left was for the rabbis to execute her. It is often assumed that Vashti is killed at the behest of her husband Ahasuerus, but this is never explicit in the book of Esther, which says only that Ahasuerus’ advisors suggest that he issue a decree (Esth. 1:19):

…אֲשֶׁר לֹא תָבוֹא וַשְׁתִּי לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ.
…that Vashti shall never enter the presence of King Ahasuerus.

Chapter 2 opens with Ahasuerus remembering what he “decreed” upon Vashti, which leads him to look for someone to take her place as queen, ultimately finding Esther.

Presumably, the text means to communicate that she lived on in the harem—a king’s consort is never afterward free to marry another—but was never allowed to see the king.[25]Nevertheless, the rabbis assume she was executed (Lev. Rab. “Shemini,” 12):

ביקש להכניסה ערומה ולא קיבלה עליה לפיכך קצף עליה והרגה.
He requested to bring her in naked and she would not accede to it, therefore, he became angry at her and killed her.

This final touch makes sense in light of the rabbis’ reading of her as wicked and deserving of the ultimate punishment.

Overcoming “Esther-Guilt” and the Spirit of Purim

Picking up on the humorous style of the megillah, the rabbis lampoon and mock the Jews’ antagonists in the story.[26] Once Vashti ended up on the side of the enemies of the Jews, through her association with Nebuchadnezzar, she naturally became a target for the rabbis’ ridicule.  Nevertheless, why did the rabbis feel the need to paint her in such an extremely terrible light?

Esther is the heroine of the book and Vashti needs to be removed to make room for her. Thus, seeing Vashti as a tragic figure interferes with the Jewish readers’ enjoyment of Vashti’s fall. The image of Vashti as a Jew-shaming libertine justifies the replacement of Vashti by Esther, and allows the reader to root for Esther and enjoy Vashti’s downfall in a “guilt free” reading experience.

Published

March 6, 2017

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Last Updated

November 16, 2019

Footnotes

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Dr. Malka Zeiger Simkovich is a the Crown Royal Chair of Jewish Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and the director of their Catholic-Jewish Studies program. She holds a Ph.D. in Second Temple Judaism from Brandeis University, an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Harvard University, and a B.A. in Bible Studies and Music Theory from Yeshiva University’s Stern College. In addition to her many articles, Malka is the author of The Making of Jewish Universalism: From Exile to Alexandria (2016) and Discovering Second Temple Literature: The Scriptures and Stories that Shaped Early Judaism (2018).

Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber is a fellow at Project TABS and editor of TheTorah.com. He holds a Ph.D. from Emory University in Jewish Religious Cultures (Hebrew Bible focus) and an M.A. from Hebrew University in Jewish History (biblical period focus). In addition to academic training, Zev holds ordination (yoreh yoreh) and advanced ordination (yadin yadin) from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rabbinical School. He is the author of Images of Joshua in the Bible and their Reception (De Gruyter, BZAW 457) and the editor of Halakhic Realities: Collected Essays on Brain Death (Maggid).

Rabbi David D. Steinberg is the co-founder and director of Project TABS. He learned in Manchester Yeshiva, Gateshead Yeshiva, and Mir Yeshiva. Steinberg took the Ner Le’Elef Rabbinical Outreach training course and moved to Huntington, NY to work as an outreach rabbi for the Mesorah Center. In 2007 he joined Aish Hatorah NY as a Programs Director, managing their Yeshiva in Passaic and serving as a rabbi in their Executive Learning program.