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How One Interfaith Marriage Saved the Jewish Community

Tonight, the Jewish community will come together to celebrate Purim by listening to a reading of the Megillah - the Book of Esther. It’s a joyous affair where children dress up as characters from the story to celebrate the courage and heroic deeds of Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai, and many adults drink until they can’t tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman (Boo! Hiss!). Some synagogues and Jewish community centers will also stage carnivals, and everyone will have a good time.

But the holiday is about more than carnivals and costumes. It’s also a story about a successful interfaith marriage. The Jewish community was on the brink of annihilation, but when Ahasuerus, the King of Persia, found out his wife was Jewish, he cast his lot with the Jewish people and we were saved from destruction. Today’s edition of Metro New York features our own Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and his thoughts on the subject.

Purim reminds us of the importance of embracing our Jewish heritage, and it also offers an opportunity to reflect on the state of inclusion for the thousands of interfaith families around the world. Many institutions still put up barriers, treating intermarriage like treason. This is counter-productive to Jewish growth – we need to engage these families, not keep them away. It’s time we welcome interfaith families into the Jewish community, where their presence will add to the strength and diversity of the Jewish people.



9 Comments

  1. It is certainly true that the book of Esther honors an intermarriage.

    But it is also true that the Book of Esther is the ONLY book in the Bible where G-d is not mentioned.

    My understanding of this is that mentioning G-d and speaking favorably about intermarriage means taking His name in vain, but there may be another explanation.

    (Of course the secular explanation is that the book of Esther is just a Persian folk tale, adjusted, since neither the names ‘Esther’ or ‘Mordechai’ are of Hebrew origin-’Ishtar’ means ’star’ in Persian)

    Comment by Dave — March 23, 2008 @ 9:05 am

  2. Dave, c’mon. There is no indication in any of the rabbinic literature that the reason that Gd’s name is not mentioned in Megillat Esther is because of the intermarriage that is described in it. And there are plenty of mystical sources that explain the “hidden Gd” there and elsewhere.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — March 24, 2008 @ 12:46 pm

  3. I’d hardly call it a “succesful interfaith marriage” when the rabbinic literature tells us Esther was taken against her will, meaning that she was raped. If you take into account the commentary that explains Esther as Mordechai’s wife, we also have an act of adultery by Achashveroush. The Megillah is no more condoning intermarriage than it is adultery.

    Moreover, Achashveroush didn’t “cast his lot with the Jewish people” which is a euphamism for conversion. Esther did, however, manage to trick him through alcohol into upending Haman’s plan to destroy us. Moreover, the commentaries tell us that those who converted to Judaism out of fear of the Jews on Purim were not accepted as Jews b/c their intentions were not correct.

    One of the great miracles of the Megilla is that through this crime of Achashveroush, the Jews were saved. It was not because of a “successful” intermarriage, though. Rather, it was in spite of a Jewess being taken against her will by a non-Jewish king. To credit Achashveroush as a hero (indeed the rabbinic literature is quite clear that he is a villain) is a distortion of the text and the tradition.

    Comment by marc — March 24, 2008 @ 2:52 pm

  4. You can choose from a variety of commentators to make your case, but the interpretation on its basic level is quite clear.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — March 30, 2008 @ 2:31 pm

  5. It is clear even on a basic level that Esther was taken against her will and that her nonJewish captor had no problem with an edict of genocide against the Jews, until he was tricked by her using alcohol.

    It strains the imagination to read the Megillah and come out thinking Achashverosh was some friend of the Jews.

    Comment by marc — March 31, 2008 @ 10:42 am

  6. I never said that he was a friend. But it was his poewer over the kingdom that allowed for things to change–and he did so because of his marriage to Esther.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — April 7, 2008 @ 10:16 pm

  7. Article above says Achashveroush “cast his lot with the Jewish people.” I think we both know that’s a ridiculous statement. If he had liked the Jews, he would not have endorsed Haman’s edict to annihilate them in the first place.

    It was a combination of the revelation that Mordechai the Jew saved his life, along with a lot of wine in a moving scene set up by Esther to make him jealous of Haman, and then angry at Haman, that led to Achashveroush allow us Mordechai to issue a new edict.

    If he wouldn’t have been such an antisemite in the first place so inclined to allow the Jews in his kingdom to be murdered, G-d would not have needed to set the stage in such a dramatic way, with the kidnapping and rape of a Jewish woman, in order to save us…certainly you are not advancing the proposition that Jewish women should marry rabid antisemites in order to assuage their antisemitism, are you?

    Comment by marc — April 8, 2008 @ 12:18 pm

  8. Of course I am not advocating such a position and I understand the role of Ahashuerus. I still believe that his role was important in the plan to save the Jewish people of ancient Persia.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — April 9, 2008 @ 10:04 pm

  9. Agreed, but it does not seem honest for the article on this post to bill it as a “successful interfaith marriage” when Esther was taken against her will and when Achashveroush was no fan of the Jews. Perhaps the author could soften the language somewhat so as not to be misleading.

    Comment by marc — April 11, 2008 @ 11:21 am

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