Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Misreading Purim - Not Celebrating Genocide

Rabbis for Human Rights, a rather extreme left wing NGO in Israel, is asking people how they can celebrate the "mass killing" performed by the Jews against their enemies as told in the Megilah (book of Esther)?

Rabbi Sherlow responded to their question (on his website), with an answer that is not only convincing but I believe is actually the pshat (literal meaning) of the biblical text.  The correct reading of the Megillah isn't that the Jews were allowed to murder whomever they wanted. Rather Ahasuerus first edict - allowing the Jews to be killed, was never rescinded. It couldn't be rescinded, as famously the decrees of the Persian kings could never be reversed. In this reading the second edict was limited to granting the Jews the right to self defense:

וַיִּכְתֹּב, בְּשֵׁם הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרֹשׁ, וַיַּחְתֹּם, בְּטַבַּעַת הַמֶּלֶךְ; וַיִּשְׁלַח סְפָרִים בְּיַד הָרָצִים בַּסּוּסִים רֹכְבֵי הָרֶכֶשׁ, הָאֲחַשְׁתְּרָנִים--בְּנֵי, הָרַמָּכִים.10 And they wrote in the name of king Ahasuerus, and sealed it with the king's ring, and sent letters by posts on horseback, riding on swift steeds that were used in the king's service, bred of the stud;
יא  אֲשֶׁר נָתַן הַמֶּלֶךְ לַיְּהוּדִים אֲשֶׁר בְּכָל-עִיר-וָעִיר, לְהִקָּהֵל וְלַעֲמֹד עַל-נַפְשָׁם--לְהַשְׁמִיד וְלַהֲרֹג וּלְאַבֵּד אֶת-כָּל-חֵיל עַם וּמְדִינָה הַצָּרִים אֹתָם, טַף וְנָשִׁים; וּשְׁלָלָם, לָבוֹז.11 that the king had granted the Jews that were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, and to slay, and to cause to perish, all the forces of the people and province that would assault them, their little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey,

Of course the words "their little ones and women" slightly spoils the picture of innocent self defense. However it should be pointed out that this is the word of the edict - i.e it does not reflect what actually happened. The Megillah has this account of what actually occurred:

ה  וַיַּכּוּ הַיְּהוּדִים בְּכָל-אֹיְבֵיהֶם, מַכַּת-חֶרֶב וְהֶרֶג וְאַבְדָן; וַיַּעֲשׂוּ בְשֹׂנְאֵיהֶם, כִּרְצוֹנָם.5 And the Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, and with slaughter and destruction, and did what they would unto them that hated them.
ו  וּבְשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה, הָרְגוּ הַיְּהוּדִים וְאַבֵּד--חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת,  {ר}  אִישׁ.  {ס}6 And in Shushan the castle the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men. {S}
י  עֲשֶׂרֶת  {ר}  בְּנֵי הָמָן בֶּן-הַמְּדָתָא, צֹרֵר הַיְּהוּדִים--הָרָגוּ; וּבַבִּזָּה--לֹא שָׁלְחוּ, אֶת-יָדָם.10 the ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Jews' enemy, slew they; but on the spoil they laid not their hand.

As you can see there is no mention of the women and children - barring those of Haman.

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