Gaza War: Hamas is Haman

(Scroll down to see earlier posts starting January 14th.)

We have passed not just the start of Ramadan, but the first and second Fridays, with today’s noon service considered particularly sacred. Forty thousand Israeli Muslim citizens and East Jerusalem Residents have come to the Noble Sanctuary—for Jews, The Temple Mount—each Friday to pray in one of its two great mosques, without a single untoward incident. Aside from a lone gunman in the West Bank, these Ramadan Fridays have been peaceful in the region and throughout the Muslim world. Estimates of Muslims visiting the Old City of Jerusalem today are up to 120,000. An Israeli journalist reporting from the crowded Noble Sanctuary as services let out described the atmosphere as reverent and celebratory.

Meanwhile, the tiny Jewish world—there are 100 Muslims for every Jew—is preparing for Purim, an irreverent, raucous, often drunken celebration of the survival of the Persian Jews, who came under deadly threat some 2,600 years ago. The Book of Esther,  chanted aloud in the evening and following morning in synagogues circling the globe, tells the story.

This year Purim begins tomorrow, Saturday, exactly 24 weeks after the Saturday (both the Sabbath and another Jewish holy day), on which Hamas terrorists committed grotesque mass atrocities against 1200 Jews and others in Israel, deliberately inviting destruction on themselves and the women and children they hide behind. Many say that this was the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust. That it was, but actually the Nazis rarely took the time to rape women with knives or cut off the limbs of children before killing them. The Nazis did torture Jews at times, but mainly aimed at efficient mass murder.

The Book of Esther fits this appalling anniversary. For those who don’t know: King Achashverosh, annoyed with his queen’s disobedience, holds a beauty contest to replace her, and Esther wins. She marries him, becoming his favorite wife, but without revealing her Jewishness. The King’s Viceroy Haman—noisemakers rattle and feet stomp in the congregation at every mention of his name—is even more annoyed at some Jews’ refusal to bow down to him and whispers into the King’s ear a message of mass murder. The King signs his decree but, “the city of Shushan was perplexed.”

Mordechai, Esther’s older cousin and a notable non-bower, whispers in her ear that only she can save the Jews, but she must go to the King unannounced and risk being beheaded by the guard—the usual punishment for surprise visitors. After three days of praying and fasting, sackcloth and ashes, she dresses more suitably and takes her shot. The King stays the guard’s sword and—being a man in love—asks Esther what she wants, “up to half the kingdom.” But she asks only that he and Haman—[noisemaking, foot-stomping]—come to a banquet she has prepared. In that select company Esther reveals to the King that her other guest is planning to kill her and all her people.

The King, more than a little miffed, condemns Haman—[same]—to be hanged on the gallows he prepared for Mordechai. He can’t revoke his stern decree but he issues another allowing the Jews to defend themselves; they do, and they prevail, in perhaps an “over-the-top” way, but “the city of Shushan shouted and was glad. The Jews had light and gladness, and joy, and honor.” This last sentence is part of the prayer said every Saturday night to separate the Sabbath from the workaday, but this year it will inaugurate Purim, commemorating the day after the day that they were supposed to be mass-murdered but, through their own use of deadly force against their enemies, survived and thrived.

Now, all analogies are bad, but please bear with me. Suppose that the city of Shushan represents the people of the world and the King stands in for the secular powers who are indifferent to threats to the Jews. Hamas is Haman, but having announced the decree to kill the Jews, it launches the most vicious surprise attack ever, and follows up with multiple repetitions of the decree.

The city of Shushan—the world—was perplexed for a couple of days, and the King—the secular powers—allowed the Jews to defend themselves for a little longer. But when the Jews’ self-defense took longer and seemed harsher than expected, both the people of Shushan and the King turned against the Jews and decreed that they should stop defending themselves while Haman—who though weakened never climbed the gallows—was openly still plotting genocide against the Jews. Haman thinks: Convince the King and the city of Shushan that the Jews’ self-defense is over-the-top, call them off, and give me a breather to plan my next mass murder.

We even have the equivalent of Esther’s bravery, if not more, in the much greater participation of women. They are the world’s first women tank crews, a group launching and tracking drones at the battlefront, and the crucial defenders of the Nahal Oz army outpost on October 7th. Since that day, women have been flying into Israel from many countries to join or rejoin IDF units and go into battle. Truly, they have not feared the King’s guard and they like facing down the vicious wrath of Haman.

And we can’t forget: the women soldiers who were stationed at the Gaza border to watch Hamas reported in detail what they knew it was going to do, and they were ignored by their male superior officers, right up to the President of Israel. It’s as if Esther had warned Mordechai about Haman, and Mordechai had just shrugged.

As I looked over the planned Purim events at local synagogues this Saturday night, I felt alienated by the usual array of costumed adults mocking themselves and everything, often in ways too vulgar for children. I decided to stay home and read the Book of Esther alone. Then I felt confirmed by a Times of Israel broadcast quoting some Israelis who think there should be no Purim at all this year.

How about this for a compromise? Read the Book of Esther in public as usual, but in a mood that is reverent as well as celebratory, keeping in mind the striking—and ominous—parallels with our own experience right now.

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