Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Purim: Anti-Women?

The straightforward answer is a laughable "no".

Via a comment on this blog , the blog call 'BBC watch' and from the BBC itself, it seems that The BBC education on Purim wants to tell the world that  :

"There are a number of negative messages for women in the Book of Esther:

  1. Women are property: King Xerxes believes he has the right to parade his wife before the diners at an all-male feast that he has organised.
  2. Male authority must be preserved: when Queen Vashti disobeys the King, who wants her to display her beauty before his male guests, this is seen as an attack on male authority in every sphere.
  3. The Queen is deposed (and probably done away with) to ensure that the tradition of male superiority is not damaged, and that wives are reminded that they must obey their husbands.
  4. Women are no more than animals: the search for a new queen to replace Vashti is conducted with as much humanity as might have gone into selecting a new mare for the King's stables. Character, intellect and wisdom count for nothing, only the physical matters.
  5. What the King wants is a beautiful virgin. The whole search is conducted like a beauty contest; even down to the contestants having to spend a year in a beauty parlour first.
  6. The chosen women then each have to spend a night with the King, to see if he enjoys them.
  7. Women's wishes are secondary: nor are the wishes of the women given any respect - taking part in the selection process is compulsory for the women concerned.
  8. Women are unimportant: even as Queen it's clear that Esther lives entirely on the King's terms.
  9. She goes to him when he calls her - but if she goes uninvited, he can have her put to death.
  10. The King ignores her needs: he doesn't want her all that often, perhaps once a month; her own needs are unconsidered.
  11. On a political level women are downgraded since at the end of the Book of Esther, the author ignores the Queen's achievements, and concentrates on praising Xerxes and Mordecai."
6 thoughts here : 

1 OK it is sexist and awful ....Except the story of Esther is set within the Persian Empire and Royal Court. some 2,500 to 3,000 years ago, should any really be surprised that there are such 'negative' views toward women???!  

2. The book itself isn't reflecting Judaism's attitude toward women, the context is the Persian Empire's attitude toward women. The story is merely being historically accurate, the author here could have providing clarification on that point, noting that Judaism has always given women 3 minimum (not a maximum) 'basic rights', such as owning property in her own right, the right to demand of her husband frequent and quality sex (oh don't I know!) and the right to provision of  food & shelter .

3. Points 8 & 9. If you look again at my earlier note, when Esther confronts the King, we will note that Esther approached the King, not the other way around, ergo, it was Esther who showed the courage to defy the culture and customs of ancient Persia , in order to save her people, so quite why this makes the book of Esther 'negative' toward women is beyond me.
3. Should therefore the Book of Esther be redacted to appease modern day feminism ? No is the simple answer here. 

4. Today Esther is held as one of the Biblical role models for Jewish women (along with Rachel, Hannah, Rebbecca, Leah, Deborah), so to use the book as a way of weaving feminism into the dialogue, is frankly laughable , but typical of the BBC. 

5. If  Purim is so anti-women,  I do wonder why my 10 daughters, 4 sisters and numerous nieces, to name but a few, actually enjoy the festival and use it as an example of what they call 'Jewish girl power'.

6. The BBC article concludes :

"Women - the positives    

Women are brave: both Vashti and Esther display considerable courage in difficult and oppressive situations         
Women can exercise power: in Chapter 9 of the Book of Esther, the Queen is referred to as 'writing with full authority' to confirm a decree, and it also says 'Esther's decree confirmed these regulations about Purim', thus indicating that she had considerable authority."

Yes Purim certainly shows Esther as a woman of courage and a woman of power. But that contrasts the important place of women in Jewish society- which has always existed- as opposed to pagan setups like the Persian Empire. It is a pity that this isn't drawn out of these points & in any case these 'positives' clearly contradiction the author's point 11 about the downgrading of Esther as a political force (you can't have it both ways, even in BBC land).

So to conclude don't always rely on the BBC for the 'full facts' and a non biased interpretation of religion.


  1. Hi David

    Thanks for giving us a frisking of this article. I have no idea why the author put those things in about the negative portrayal of women? Seems totally daft-the story is 2,500 plus years old, so for the chief person in the story and heroine to be a woman means something by the standards of the day?!?

  2. Atheist Shrugged18 March 2014 at 14:44

    Only within your absurd masculinist worldview. One only has to research Haredi Judaism to understand how ridiculous your claim is (like, for example, the gender segregation on Haredi buses in Israel, where women literally have to sit in the back of the buses).

    1. Re the article and Atheist :

      Heavens no. Orthodox Jewish women are treated very well. Orthodox married women have to cover their hair, but Orthodox men, married or not, have to wear a hat/yarmulke even before they marry. So if you think having to cover your head is infringing on a right, then that would be men's rights that are being abused. Jewish women have a right to sex in marriage, Jewish women initiate sex in marriage, and Jewish women have every right to refuse sex, though they are not allowed to with hold sex from their husbands for manipulation/punishment purposes. So again, that would be infringing on men's rights if you consider this sort of rule to be an infringment on rights at all. In Orthodox Judaism women have it pretty darn good.
      Husbands have to buy their wives clothes and food before they buy themselves anything. .

      In Islam, if a woman decides to not cover her hair she can be murdered. This even happens muslim communities in western countries. In Judaism, if a woman decides to wear a short skirt the other people in her community will probably tell her it's not right and encourage her to dress modestly, but ultimately it is her decision and they will lay off. If a muslim girl did that, she would be killed for sure. In Judaism women (and men) have the right to not be religious. Violence against Jews is prohibited in Judaism. Secular Jews are encouraged to be more religious, but violence is not used to persuade.

      Jews are actually encouraged to think about the difficult aspects of their religion. To wrestle with it and come to their own conclusions. Rabbis will say that if they find a single error in the Torah then the whole thing is false and should be discarded. But not a single error has been found yet.

      Women's rights are NOT infringed on in Orthodox Judaism. Yes, there are few bad people that don't respect women. But you give me an example of any religion that doesn't have a few crazy people in it.

  3. David

    Thanks for this article


    I'm an orthodox Jewish woman and there is nothing barbaric about how we are treated.
    In Jewish law a man is expected to give his wife more honour then he gives himself; if he needs a new shirt and she needs a new dress then he is obliged to buy her dress before his shirt.
    A woman is the one who initiates sex in the marriage and she has every right to refuse her husbands advances. Contrary to what some people think no woman is expected to be a baby making machine,if pregnancy would likely cause problems either physically or emotionally contraception is allowed.

  4. Atheist Shrugged18 March 2014 at 16:17

    The fact is that all religions are certifiable crazy! No of you clearly has an education and have been brainwashed by your religion! Oh for an atheist secular state!

  5. Mancurian Womble18 March 2014 at 17:05

    How can Vashti considered to be a positive role model? The text doesn't explain why she refused- she could have been a nagging mow or something?


Comments aren't pre-moderated. Try and keep things civil. See our comments section for further details.