Reprinted from Ritualwell.org, a web resource sponsored by Kolot, The Center for Jewish Women’s and Gender Studies at RRC. Used by permission of the author.
Megillat Esther has been understood as a fantasy of Jewish power written in a time of Jewish powerlessness. But the megillah actually tells two parallel stories. The primary story is about how Jews in the Diaspora became victims to the whims of power, and then, in the “happy” conclusion, the victors. The secondary story, a story about women and men, follows a similar course, beginning with a wife who is banished when she refuses to obey her husband and concluding with a wife who is listened to and given a significant amount of power. In both stories edicts are issued that threaten the rights of an entire group–Jews and women. Both edicts are eventually subverted through the cunning and courage of Esther and Mordecai. Yet, only one of these subversions is celebrated in our communal observance of Purim.
A New Ritual
With the new ritual of waving Esther/Vashti Purim flags, we encourage our communities to celebrate and more deeply explore both of Purim’s stories. Purim thus becomes both a celebration of and reflection on Jewish pride and perseverance and an opportunity to honor women’s power in the face of those who fear it.
The central ritual of Purim is the reading of the megillah. During the megillah reading we call attention to Haman, the story’s villain, through the spinning of gragers intended to drown out his name. We highlight the role of Mordecai by joining with the entire congregation in reciting four verses of the megillah out loud. These verses introduce Mordecai (Esther 2:5), accentuate the moment of his parading before the king in royal apparel (8:15-16) and tell of his new role as deputy to the king at the conclusion of the story (10:3). These two customs–the gragger and the recitation of the four verses–serve to ritually emphasize the characters of Haman and Mordecai as the central actors of the story.