Hadassah and the King

The Queen Esther daughter of Abihail wrote, along with Mordechai the Jew, with full authority to ratify this second letter of Purim. Dispatches were sent to all the Jews, to the hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahashuerus – [with] words of peace and truth – to establish these days of Purim on their [proper] dates just as Mordechai the Jew and Queen Esther had enjoined them, and as they had confirmed upon themselves and their posterity the matter of the fasts and their lamentations. Esther’s ordinance confirmed these regulations for Purim; and it was recorded in the book.Esther 9:29-32

I love a happy ending, don’t you? With Purim only a few days away, Jews all over the world are getting ready to celebrate one of the most joyous occasions on their annual calendar. As with many Jewish celebrations, there will be plenty of good and sweet things to eat, lots of laughter and happiness and, on this particular occasion, practical jokes, dressing up in costumes, and generally acting silly. What better way to announce to the world your happiness at not being exterminated as a people?

However, there’s another aspect to Purim that isn’t generally mentioned, although it should be obvious to anyone familiar with the story of Queen Esther, or rather Hadassah, and King Ahashuerus. This wonderful victory was accomplished because they were an intermarried couple, a Jew married to a Gentile.

In today’s world there are still plenty of Hamans. Iran is threatening Israel with nuclear attack and Islamic Jihad sends suicide bombers. Skinheads still tattoo themselves with swastikas and synagogues around the world are defaced. Jews are still killed because they are Jews.

Perhaps we now have a glimmer of hope coming from an unlikely place. Intermarriages, which until now have been so troubling, now offer us opportunities and new realities.

Perhaps in all the intermarriages that are happening today, we are acquiring allies for the Jewish people. Perhaps we now have hundreds of thousands of non-Jews who are also committed to the survival of the Jewish people, its customs and teachings, and to raising Jewish children. Perhaps we have fellow travelers who appreciate the richness of our heritage and will step forward to help us combat the hatred that exists. Perhaps we will find it safer to live as Jews.

-Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael
“Purim and Intermarriage”
Originally published March 14, 2006 and reprinted February 27, 2012

In Judaism, intermarriages are usually thought to contribute to the destruction of the Jewish people, largely through secularization and assimilation, if not downright conversion of the Jewish partner to Christianity. The non-Jewish partner, if not seen as “the enemy” when accompanying his or her Jewish spouse to the synagogue, is often considered with suspicion or maybe just a little anxiety, particularly if the non-Jew is actively Christian. Today, many Evangelical Christian congregations have completely embraced the right of Israel to exist and are strongly attempting to influence American politics in supporting Israel, but that doesn’t mean intermarriage would be welcomed by most Jews because of this.

intermarriageHowever, as Rabbi Raphael pointed out, the Gentile member of an intermarriage can also be seen as an especially close ally because he or she is married to a Jew. To the Gentile spouse, the Jew is no longer an “other” or “outsider.” Jews are family. Up until a few days ago, as an intermarried husband, I hadn’t really considered celebrating Purim in any way except as a remembrance of the victory of the Jews over a moral enemy and against total annihilation. But now there’s something new to commemorate as well. Purim, for me, has become the time of year when it’s OK to celebrate the victories that can be attained through Jewish/Gentile intermarriage, even if this aspect of Purim is never mentioned in the synagogue.

Perhaps the rabbis are afraid that such an admission would amount to implied acquiescence with those who choose to intermarry today — as if an ancient historical precedent affects the decisions individuals make about love, life, and Jewish continuity in today’s secular society.

The Purim story is timeless. That is its strength.

But this timelessness is not a result of a lachrymose approach to Jewish history, in which we see enemies rise up against us time and again, regardless of where we live.

Rather, it is Esther’s relationship to Ahashuerus that catapults the story through the portals of Jewish history.

Esther and Mordechai were heroes, but so was Ahashuerus. The Purim story shows that in the face of Jewish destruction — whether it comes from the outside, as in ancient Persia, or from inside the American Jewish community — intermarriage has the potential to help us rather than destroy us, if we are willing to bring the intermarried into our Jewish family and invite them to cast their lot with our own.

-Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky
“Purim – story of intermarriage gone right?
Jewish Outreach Institute

This isn’t to say that intermarriage has gained any greater approval in Jewish society lately or that there aren’t about a million trap doors that intermarried/interfaith families can’t fall through, but I’d also like to encourage Jews and Judaism to stop thinking of intermarriage as a road that automatically leads to disaster for the Jewish people. I’d also like to encourage Christians and the church to stop seeing intermarriage as a means of converting the Jewish spouse and children to Christianity and eliminating their Jewish identity, which can be a danger as great as any represented by Haman, may his name be blotted out. Purim is the victory of the successful joining of a Jewish wife and a Gentile husband against the forces that would eliminate all Jews from the face of the earth, a destruction I believe God would never allow.

Hadassah called herself “Esther,” hiding her Jewish heritage for a time, but when it was important, she revealed herself to her husband, the King, risking everything to save all Jews everywhere. By the time of our happy ending, Hadassah didn’t have to stop being a Jew because her husband wasn’t, and her uncle Mordechai the Jew, was elevated to the position of viceroy to King Ahashuerus. For that time in that place, Jews and Gentiles lived together in peace.

May there be peace in all the intermarried families and peace between all of God’s children, Jews and Gentiles. And may the Messiah come soon and in our days.

Purim Sameach.

2 thoughts on “Hadassah and the King”

  1. Very beautiful story. Especially this last statement: May there be peace in all the intermarried families and peace between all of God’s children, Jews and Gentiles. And may the Messiah come soon and in our days. –Amen.

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