Why Religious Jews See a Parallel Between the Netanyahu-Obama Rift on Iran and the Bible’s Book of Esther

Religious Jews are drawing parallels between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address next week to Congress, which has earned the ire of the Obama administration, and the experiences of the biblical Esther who made the case to Persia’s king on behalf of the Jewish people to halt the designs of a hate-consumed official to annihilate the Jews.

The faithful have been sharing their thoughts on social media and have pointed to the the timing of Netanyahu’s speech, March 3, which happens to fall of the eve of the Fast of Esther, when Jews commemorate the three-day fast Queen Esther asked the Jews to undertake while they repented and prayed she would succeed in her mission to convince King Ahasuerus to scuttle the evil Haman’s genocidal plans.

President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since a rash of civilian casualties during Israel's summer war with Hamas heightened tensions between two leaders who have long had a prickly relationship. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The Obama administration has lambasted Israel over Netanyahu’s accepting an invitation from House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) to speak to Congress, which it described as a break in diplomatic protocol.

Some religious leaders have noted that the same kind of break in protocol was key to the Jews’ redemption in the Book of Esther. The Jewish holiday of Purim, which this year is celebrated March 5, marks Esther’s success in her mission to thwart Haman’s destructive plan.

“Remarkably, this is not the first time the issue of protocol lies at the heart of an Iranian threat to destroy the Jewish people,” Yeshiva University Professor Rabbi Benjamin Blech wrote in an article for the Jewish educational organization Aish Hatorah. “There is biblical precedent. Eerily echoing today’s story, the Book of Esther recounts the first recorded instance of attempted genocide against Jews in the ancient empire of Persia, today known as Iran.”

In the Book of Esther, Mordechai learns of Haman’s plot to exterminate all the Jews “in a single day.” Mordechai urges his adopted daughter Esther to intercede with her husband, the king.

“But Esther is afraid. If she were to approach her husband to appeal Haman’s decree, she would be breaking royal protocol” by approaching the king when she had not been summoned, which could lead to a death penalty for her, Blech explained.

After begging the Jews to fast and pray, “Esther chose to disregard protocol in the face of possible extermination of her people. Esther succeeded in averting the evil decree. As a result, Jews to this day around the world celebrate the Festival of Purim,” Blech wrote.

Photo: Shutterstock/Joe Fallico
Photo credit: Shutterstock/Joe Fallico

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg of the Boca Raton Synagogue in Florida also likened Mordechai and Esther to Netanyahu.

“Why did we ultimately triumph over Haman such that we are here today and he is a distant memory? The answer is simple: Mordechai and Esther, two heroes stood up and, like an alarm, rang and rang until they woke up our people from their practically comatose sleep,” Goldberg wrote. “Like Mordechai and Esther before him, on the eve of Ta’anis Esther [Fast of Esther] this year, the Prime Minister of Israel will speak before a joint a session of Congress and seek to sound the alarm, to awaken from their sleep the decision-makers who can stop the wicked plans of modern day Persia.”

Goldberg recalled a lesson shared by the late Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, considered one of the leading rabbinical figures of Orthodox Judaism.

Purim is often celebrated as commemorating a miracle, but Soloveitchik offered a unique view on what the real miracle was.

“A madman rose and articulated his intentions to destroy the Jewish people. The miracle was that we didn’t ignore him, we didn’t excuse him, and we didn’t seek to reinterpret him. The miracle was that we actually believed him and sought to do something about it,” Goldberg wrote, citing Soloveitchik’s lesson.

Rabbi Benzion “Benny” Hershcovich, an emissary of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement who directs the Cabo Jewish Center, pointed out that the redemption of the Jews as told in the Book of Esther was described as occurring by natural means, with no overt divine miracle recounted.

Indeed, God is never mentioned in the Book of Esther, though religious Jews note the improbable string of coincidences that led to the Jews’ salvation, suggesting God’s invisible hand was at work.

Hershcovich told TheBlaze Wednesday that like Esther, “here Netanyahu is trying to go about ensuring Israel’s survival through political means” and is not “depending on a miracle.”

The rabbi explained that the current Jewish month of Adar in which Purim is celebrated is considered to be a joyous month.

“Adar is the month where the Jewish people are victorious against Persia so the timing of Netanyahu’s speech – not only in political sense – but from a religious point of view, there’s probabaly no better time for him to speak out against the modern day Haman than in the proximity to Purim,” Hershcovich said.

He noted that the 1991 Gulf War even ended on the Purim holiday.

“So in general, Purim is a good day for Jews,” Hershcovich said.