Little girls don’t usually dress up as Vashti for Purim. Esther is the heroine, after all, and those poofy princess dresses that went on sale after Easter last year make the perfect Esther costume. But we shouldn’t be writing off Vashti so quickly—she’s just as much of a hero as Esther is, albeit for different reasons.
The set-up for the Purim story is a familiar one: Queen Vashti’s expulsion from the palace that creates the demand for a new queen and ultimately puts Esther in a place to be able to save the Jewish people from annihilation at the hands of the king’s evil adviser, Haman.
But that’s not why Vashti is a hero. It’s the details of the set-up—the downfall of Queen Vashti—that are too often overlooked that make her a hero. By skimming through the first chapter of Meglilat Esther (the Scroll of Esther) so we can get to the grogger-inducing, Haman-filled chapters later in the scroll, we miss a valuable opportunity to see an unprecedentedly early example of feminism. This idea has picked up some traction, and I tend to agree with where these ideas land.
So let’s take a look.
We meet King Ahashveros just as he’s finishing up a 180-day long party and beginning another “feast,” this time for all the citizens of Shushan, the capital. By the seventh day of this second round of parties, the king’s heart is “merry with wine”; in this drunk state, he sends for his wife Vashti, wanting to show off her beauty to all those in attendance. Vashti refuses. The king is furious– so furious he gets rid of her and seeks a new queen.
And that’s where the heroism begins, right there when Vashti says “no.” Rejecting the king’s request was a big deal—so big, in fact, that one of Ahashveros’ councilmen warned that it would have ripple effects across the entire kingdom. Vashti’s refusal was a stain upon the perceived control of the king over his kingdom. What was worse, the king’s adviser noted, was that other women would follow by example and use Vashti’s refusal as authorization to disobey their own husbands.
As a woman in a position of power, Vashti did exactly what she should have: she used her public status to lead by example, empowering citizens against abuse. It’s not just that Vashti took a stand against the objectification of her own body. Vashti served as a role model for the entirety of the female population of the kingdom… and for girls today looking for strong female role models. Two thousand years later, women’s rights advocate and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe called Vashti’s radical refusal the “first stand for women’s rights.”
So maybe it’s time to re-think our costume choices. When we dress up as Vashti, we should do so with pride and not derision—after all, while Esther nobly stood up on behalf of Jewish people, Vashti stood up just as nobly for womankind.
I never thought of the traditional Southern dishes eaten for luck at the New Year as particularly Jewish– certainly not “Jewish-traditionally” speaking, since the greens and black-eyed peas often have big ol’ pieces of pig floating around.
So I was surprised to recently learn in a Serious Eats article that the origin stories behind these lucky foods are pretty diverse… and there are even Talmudic connections to the black-eyed peas. The fortune-fused dish may be Sephardic as well as Southern, African, marinated in more lore and cultural-cooking-connections than we would have guessed.
This year, I let New Year’s Day get by me without being home long enough to cook up any of the traditional luck-bringing dishes I’ve made in years past. Now that I know a little bit more about them, I think I’ll make some of those lucky peas… and just chalk it up to ringing the New Year in on “Jewish time.”
In case you want to do the same, try your luck with this this vegetarian/kosher-friendly recipe for delicious black eyed peas. Happy New Year, y’all!
Happy 2015! This year starts on a Thursday, which means the first Shabbat of 2015 is only a day away! Start the new year off on a sweet note with our Sweet Potato Challah recipe. It sets just the right tone for a year of sweet Sabbaths.
1 package (7g) yeast
2/3 c. warm water
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsps. ground cardamom
3¾ c. unbleached white flour (substitute up to 1¾ c. whole wheat flour)
1/3 c. sugar
½ c. mashed sweet potato
¼ c. canola oil
2 eggs (1 is for glaze)
1½ tsps. salt
½ tbsp. honey
Sprinkle yeast into small bowl and pour in warm water. Let stand for 10 min; stir to dissolve.
Mix flour, ½ tsp. cinnamon, & cardamom in large bowl.
Make a well in the center, pour in yeast/water mixture.
In a separate bowl, whisk together sugar, sweet potato, oil, egg, & salt. Add to the flour mixture. Combine thoroughly.
Turn dough out on lightly floured surface. Knead for 5- 10 minutes until dough is pliable. Let dough rest 2-3 minutes; lightly oil bowl, place dough in bowl, cover with towel.
Let dough rise until it has tripled in size (2- 3 hours).
Punch down dough, knead; cut into 2 equal pieces. Cut the 2 pieces into 3 equal pieces (6 total); braid two even loaves. Line baking sheets with foil or parchment paper.
In a small cup, mix 1/2 an egg with ½ tsp cinnamon and honey to make the glaze. Coat challot with the glaze.
Place loaves on sheets, cover, and let rise until doubled in size; remove cover and bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees.