Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!"

An Israeli Blog, has called for the book of Esther to be censored so that all the joy over the killing of the persian should be removed - and more specifically the killing of the persian women and children. The book of Esther make a joyful point of the fact that not only were the men intending of killing the jews killed - but also their wives and children (Esther 8:11)

 11In them the king granted the Jews who were in each and every city the right (A)to assemble and to defend their lives, (B)to destroy, to kill and to annihilate the entire army of any people or province which might attack them, including children and women, and (C)to plunder their spoil,

This is a sensitive week to be talking about the topic. We have just spent a week of outrage over the muder of a family including children in Itamar, and yet we find Esther asking for the same thing.
This reminded me of a similar point made to me by a famous Jewish educator, regarding the psalm "on the rivers of Babylon". Its final verse regarding the Babylonians reads "Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!".  Yikes. 

The question is not one of whether their actions are moral. I'm willing to accept that morality is an evolving and relative concept. By the standards of their times I'm sure both Esther and the Jewish population in Babylon were Tzadikkim. However the educational question remains. What are we teaching our own children? Purim is a very child oriented Hag. They are hearing us rejoicing over the revenge the Jews wrought over their Persian enemies - including their families (hey were the 10 children of Haman really responsible for their father's actions?).  How do we handle biblical verses that are so far from our current beliefs of moral actions? Especially when there isn't a rabbinic tradition condemning those actions?

Regarding the "Rivers of Babylon" wish to smash children on rocks, I think any sensible reading sees it as a literary symbol of the depth of the hurt of the Jewish people, and not a wish to be translated into reality. However, the Megillah is read as an historical account. I would hazard that the answer is simply that in perspective the Megillah as whole is a story of redemption. We may not agree with 100% of it, but it is a minor part in a major story - and as such we have to put our trust in our children's intelligence and in our own education, that when they grow up, their reading of Esther will be the same as ours, and not as a source for unspeakable acts.   

No comments: