Rabbi Anna Gerrard of Gloucestershire Liberal Jewish community selects Queen Esther as her icon…
Esther is not my Jewish hero because she saved her people from Haman, although she did play an important role in that feat.
Esther is not my Jewish hero because she championed an early prototype of feminism, although she was an impressive woman in a patriarchal world.
Esther is my Jewish hero because she and her story survived.
Esther’s is the kind of story that predominantly male purveyors of historical records and religious writings prefer to avoid.
It is the story of a woman forced by societal norms, political tensions and individual men into a situation where her body is no longer her own.
Esther’s body is used as a pawn in a tawdry political affair. I believe Esther is a survivor of institutionalised sexual exploitation. Such exploitation has taken many forms throughout history – royal harems, childhood betrothals, human trafficking, forced marriage and rape as a weapon of war or oppression.
In every case, a social structure exists that allows women to be abused by men who are vindicated by the system.
The stories of the women abused by these structures are nearly always brushed under the carpet of history. So it is significant that Esther’s survival story survived the test of time.
The issue of culturally condoned exploitation is usually kept behind the closed doors of polite society.
So it is invaluable that Esther’s experiences made it into the normalised cannon of Judeo-Christian scripture.
It is our responsibility to use the story of this remarkable queen wisely. Esther can inspire us to speak up and speak out about the institutionalised exploitation of thousands of women in today’s world.
The accepted nature of her story could inspire victims and supporters to lift up the carpets and open the closed doors to share the stories that must be heard.