Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Megillat Esther

Not surprisingly, our guide to political involvement in a non-Jewish government is Megillat Esther. It teaches us when to include ourselves and when to steer clear.

Steer Clear

The first perek of Megillat Esther is an example of when to flee from government doings. Megillah 12b explains Esther 1:13 as teaching that Achashveirosh consulted the chachamim (the Chachamim Yode’ei HaItim) about whether he should remove Vashti for refusing to appear at the party.

The Gemara informs us that the chachamim feared answering. They were concerned that either answer would doom them. If they said to execute her, when Achashveirosh recovered from his alcohol-induced fury, he would blame the Jews for killing the queen. On the other hand, if they would advocate restraint, Achashveirosh would feel disrespected. So the chachamim diplomatically disengaged, saying since the Beit Hamikdash’s destruction and subsequent exile, we do not judge capital cases.

How the chachamim considered the long-term consequences before acting stands in sharp contrast to Achashveirosh and Haman, who operated in the moment and lurched from crisis to crisis. Rabbis today should, similarly, stay out of most political discussions. The question of deposing Vashti was frivolous and explosive, making it wise to avoid it. Politics today—although often discussing weighty and serious matters of domestic and foreign policies—has been reduced to shallow debate. Politicians and commentators rarely seek sincere dialogue and truth, but instead, look to humiliate and ridicule the other side.

Vashti and Politics Today

Politics was never an endeavor where truth was a top priority. Power, rather than Emet, is typically the primary goal. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the author of the Beit HaLevi, told his son, Rav Chaim, that politics are “sheker—falsehood.” If so, the sharp-witted Rav Chaim responded, “Why not call politics ‘sheker?’” To this question, the Beit HaLevi brilliantly responded, “Then, there would be something truthful to politics.” Unfortunately, however, politics has recently deteriorated to “ultra-sheker.”

As with the discussions surrounding Vashti’s removal, there is little to gain and much to lose from rabbis inserting themselves into political discussions. Moreover, it is undignified and demeaning for rabbis, whose mission is the pursuit of “Torat Emet,” to involve themselves in political debate. The Vashti situation was sordid and repulsive, and it was degrading for the rabbis to involve themselves. The same applies to entering the fray of today’s political “food-fight.”

Mordechai and Esther

Years ago, I tried encouraging a prominent rabbi to become involved in NORPAC, but he responded that he does not involve himself in politics. I respectfully reject this stance since Megillat Esther leads us to a more nuanced approach.

From the beginning of perek two until the end of Megillat Esther, Mordechai and Esther are heavily involved in Persian politics. No longer were the stakes over Vashti’s behavior, but Jewish survival. Building the American-Israeli alliance through organizations such as NORPAC and AIPAC similarly addresses serious implications for the United States and Israel. Strengthening the Israel Defense Forces with three-to-four billion dollars of congressional aid is not trivial, to say the least!

Mordechai rightfully demanded that Esther appear before the king and even risk her life. Sometimes, political activism is absolutely necessary. It saved our people in Megillat Esther, and today, it furthers vital American and Israeli security needs, when both countries face increasingly dangerous threats. “Staying out of politics” is a very serious mistake. Esther and Mordechai did not say, “We stay out of politics,” in our hour of greatest need, and we dare not do so in today’s dangerous environment.


Megillat Esther teaches us when and when not to embroil ourselves with politics. Recusing ourselves from the Vashti affair proved ingenious. The chachamim’s opinion on the Vashti matter would have undermined Mordechai and Esther’s credibility. Thus, the chachamim’s deflection—in the end—saved us!

Thus, rabbis and all serious Jews should avoid petty political bickering. Current political discourse is deeply divisive and toxic. However, it is the call of the day to be strong advocates for vital Jewish concerns, such as building and ensuring a deep American-Israeli alliance. Following Megillat Esther’s model of refraining from entering the fray for frivolous matters preserves our credibility when needed most.

Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth. Rabbi Jachter has authored 15 books available on Amazon.

Sign up now!