Esther’s intersectionality

This week I was struck by a new reading of a text I have read a gazillion times: the book of Esther, about the Jewish holiday of Purim. The one with the dressing up and over-eating of the triangular Hamantaschen – or, what I like to refer to as the vagina-cookies. It is all about intersectionality as it turns out. 

There is something about collective studying of jewish texts that gets me excited. Be it the havruta-style cooperative learning or the obsession not with an answer to something but rather with the question itself in a dialectic frenzy. Who is Esther? What oppressed groups does she belong to? Rabbi Daniel Landes guides us during this week’s session of the Kreuzberg kollel to sift through the stack of possible answers, challenging any answer by new ‘but what does that mean?’ questions. And then I realize: Esther is an intersectional Jew! 

Esther is portrayed as a Jew who changed her name from Hadassah (Jewish) into Esther (Persian). She is a woman, an orphan and – in some feminist readings of the story – a sexworker. Esther is the quintessential intersectional Jew. And in the Purim story she uses all of these intersections (and not in the last place her Jewishness) to fight against the powers that be and save the Jews from the evil Haman. She ends up also writing down her story, in an uncommon twist of female agency. 

This is big. This means that the Purim story can be read not only as a straightforward rebellion, but as an archetype story of Jewish intersectional activism. The learning continues and we hold the traditional sending of gifts –mishloach manot– to a similar line of questioning. Rabbi Landes suggests reading it in line with Esther’s oppressed groups: to use this tradition in order to give to the oppressed groups in our society. And my mind goes: In the intersectional activist dubbing of the Purim story, the gift we can give is solidarity with the oppressed groups of our time. This year on Purim I will be celebrating my intersectionality and expressing my solidarity. Thank you, Esther, for being our inspiration.

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