Until You Don’t Know the Difference between Esther and Sarah (Tonight is Purim)


I know, I know, it’s very weird, but one my favorite details in the Book of Esther is how all the women brought to King Ahasuerus spent “a twelve months’ treatment (for that was the period spent on beautifying them: six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and women’s cosmetics” (Esther 2:12).

That’s the JPS (1985) translation. It’s pretty tame. A more gross and literal translation would inform us that this was the law (dat) of women, that the twelve months fulfilled the days of their rubbing (tamrukeihen), and that was six months in oil, perfumes, and cosmetics.

Also, the word for rubbing is closely associated with the word marak (juice stewed out of meat, or broth; or “soup” in modern Hebrew). These translations were suggested by A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, with an appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic based on the lexicaon of William Gesenius’ Handwörterbuch über das Alte Testament, Oxford University Press, 1906…including an appendix containing the Biblical Aramaic).

I find it best, sometimes, not to moralize too much about the Bible.

For those unfamiliar with the story. The holiday of Purim combines carnival with the threat of genocide. It recalls the story of Esther and Mordechai in the Persian capital of Shushan, the foolish King Ahasuerus, and wicked Haman, the viceroy who wants to kill all the Jews. Mordechai is the Jewish courtier who sets all the action into play. Esther marries the king after he murders his first wife. She masks her true identity as a Jewess and then she intervenes. King Ahasuerus lets it happen. And then he doesn’t. Haman who plots to kill the Jews because he hates Mordechai is hung from a tree. Not a bad story. It’s a violent world full of subterfuge. The rabbis recommend that on Purim one drink until one doesn’t know the difference between Mordechai and Haman.

But only online can Esther turn into Sarah.

Happy Purim!

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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