Hanging a Black Man In Effigy, Claiming Anti-Semitism… What a Way to Ruin a Good Story…
by LostMessiah, March 24, 2016
For the News 12 report on the Hanging Black Man click, here
Purim… Today’s holiday commemorates the Jewish peoples survival despite a local hostile government.
Legislator Wieder seems to have found anti-Semitism in the justified criticism of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who found it appropriate to hang a black man in effigy in Spring Valley, New York. Spring Valley is in large part, black and Hispanic.
If Haman was a black man in Persia at the time, then that would mean the other characters in the story were also black, Esther, Mordechai, Achashveros, Vashti, etc. a possibility given the history of the Persian empire. But…. that’s a debate for another day, under another empire, without Wieder and Hikind as our elected leaders in one form or another.
A little sensitivity to their neighbors for Rockland County’s Legislator Wieder, and Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind, would go a long way toward making it possible for non-Jews, well…. and secular Jews… to not feel a bit of hatred toward them and the communities in which they live. It is not a religious thing… It’s a lack of sensitivity, a non-existent sense of decorum, a sense of entitlement and a completely skewed moral compass. It’s a pity, really…
To read about Dov Hikind and his blackface costume, in a story in the New York Times from 2013, click here.
Perhaps if ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders were all women, there would be far less crass insensitivity, victimization and sheer stupidity. There is certainly something important to be learned from Esther.
Now… onto the Megillah…. Where did Effigy Come From? Social custom?
Every year on Purim, the Book of Esther (the Megilat Esther) is read in synagogues. By tradition, children dressed in costume, come and listen to the story and, pay careful attention so that they can spin noisy groggors (noisemakers) during the reciting of Haman’s name. So that his name may not be heard. It is one of the few holidays in Jewish practice which is boisterous in the synagogue. The custom of masquerading and acting out the story, appears to be derived from social teachings, rather than religious ones. Tradition has it that Jews are supposed to drink so much that they cannot distinguish their enemies from their friends. The custom of hanging/burning Haman in effigy is a one only practiced amongst ultra-Orthodox Jews (and even then not everywhere) and one that originates, well… we don’t know from where it originates.
The practices of Purim are supposed to bring people together, celebrate differences and similarities (enemy and friend). The story is one of a Jewish victory fought and nearly singlehandedly won by a beautiful Jewish woman.
The Book of Esther, interestingly, is not a part of the original Torah; but was added as a canon after the fact as part of the Purim tradition. It is one of the most highly debated of the readings. It is as controversial a story as it is a beautiful tale of a Heroine saving her people.
The strength of the story rests in the strength of the Heroine, Esther, who saves the Jewish people from certain death. The uniqueness of the story, is that it is one of few in which the woman is the central character. And, from my teachings of the story, there is much to be learned, and many questions to be asked. G-d is not mentioned once in the story, not by commandment or by implication. Esther marries a non-Jew, does not keep the dietary laws of the Jews at the time, and assimilates, as do those she saves, into the Kingdom of Persia, where the story takes place.
According to Jewish Women’s Archive:
“the Book of Esther is unique in two important respects. First, the protagonist of the book, and the one with whom the audience should identify, is a woman, Esther (Mordecai is, of course, the other leading character and finishes the story at a very high rank, but this is basically because of his relationship to, and through the efforts of, Esther). This choice of a female hero serves an important function in the story. Women were, in the world of the Persian diaspora, as in many other cultures, essentially powerless and marginalized members of society. Even if they belonged to the dominant culture, they could not simply reach out and grasp power, as a man could; whatever power they could obtain was earned through the manipulation of the public holders of power, men. In this sense the exiled Jew could identify with the woman: he or she too was essentially powerless and marginalized, and power could be obtained only through one’s wits and talents. But, as the actions of Esther demonstrate, this can be done. By astutely using her beauty, charm, and political intelligence, and by taking one well-placed risk, Esther saves her people, brings about the downfall of their enemy, and elevates her kinsman to the highest position in the kingdom. Esther becomes the model for the Jew living in exile.
The summary of the story, revised 3.25.16, corrections made…
The story, like many good tales, starts with a party. The King, Achashveros (the puppet in the story), made a banquet for everyone great and small, lasting for seven days. On the seventh day, when the King is quite drunk with all of the men. He summons his wife, Queen Vashti who is in another room with all of her friends, so that he can show off her beauty and the riches of her crown. When she refuses to come, the king has her killed and decrees throughout the land that all women must obey their husbands.
As the story goes, King Achashveros after killing his Queen Vashti for disobeying him, must find a new queen and sends out orders through all of Persia for all of the beautiful maidens in the land to be summoned to him so he can choose his new queen.
Esther, the protagonist in the story, raised by her cousin Mordechai, is brought before the king to win favor with the king without divulging her Jewish identity. Everyday Mordecai would walk in front of the court of the house where Esther lived with the king to check on her.
On the twelfth month after the marriage, the new maiden of the king would go to him and get a wish granted. Esther only wanted the King to say that she took favor with him.
In celebration of his love for her, King Achashveros held a banquet for his princes and servants and granted a release to the provinces and gave gifts.
At that point in the story, Mordecai discovered that some of the King’s trusted men wanted to have him killed and told Esther who in turn told the King and the men were killed. Additionally, the King feel more deeply in love with her.
Haman, the antagonist in the story, is then advanced by King Achashveros to the highest position in his Kindom. He has his King’s trust. He has his following. And, like all good stories, Haman is arrogant, bombastic puppet-master. He makes people kneel before him, kiss his ring.
However, Mordecai will not do so. Haman, discovering that Mordecai is Jewish and threatened Mordecai’s refusal to kneel, and of course comfortable with the stability of his position, decides to kill all Jews.
As the story goes, Haman convinces his King to send out a decree to kill all Jews.
Esther, the protagonist in the story, hears of the decree to kill all of the Jews in the kingdom and hatches a plan to save the Jews (and destroy Haman), asking first that her handmaid tell Mordechai that all Jews in Shushan fast for 3 days.. [There is a bit more to the story… but this is of course a summary…]
And the story goes… There is a happy ending. Esther does, indeed, save the Jews. She is able to do so because King Achashveros had fallen deeply in love with her. Esther convinces the King that Haman is the bad one. Haman is killed by the king and Mordechai, joins the king and takes over Haman’s position.
For the full text of the Megillat Esther, click here.