The Esther/Vashti Purim Flag
The new tradition of waving a flag when Esther and Vashti's names are mentioned celebrates the triumph of these Purim heroines.
In contrast, the primary purpose of the Purim flag is to call attention to Esther and Vashti and make it fun to listen for their names. But the Purim flag offers us an opportunity to do more than balance our attention to men's names with attention to women's names; it does more than allow us an opportunity for some feminist fun. When we wave our flags at the mention of Vashti and Esther's names we begin to shift the focus of Purim. No longer do we need to accept that the opposition of "blessed Mordecai" and "cursed Haman" encompasses the story of Purim or the story of Jewish experience. By focusing on Vashti and Esther, as well as Haman and Mordecai, we open up the possibility of telling a more complete and complex Purim story, a story that includes the experiences of women and a story that honors the possibility of potential alliances between Jews and non-Jews.
Beyond the Dichotomy
By placing Esther and Vashti on the same flag, we are also challenging ourselves to move beyond the dichotomy of bad queen/good queen (and good feminist/bad feminist) and embrace a wider spectrum of possibility for women's leadership. For much of Jewish interpretive tradition, Vashti was the bad queen and Esther the good one. Then, in the early days of Jewish feminism, Vashti was resurrected and celebrated for her open defiance of the king and her powerful defense of her body and sexuality. Not surprisingly, as Vashti's popularity grew, Esther fell out of favor. Feminists were not sure they could accept two different models of powerful women. For some, Esther suddenly became a negative symbol for all women who use their sexuality, enjoy their beauty, fear confrontation, and remain married to power. These interpretations of Esther minimized her courage in directly confronting both Ahasuerus and Haman, and in "coming out" as a Jew after years of hiding her identity. They also ignore Esther's powerful role as an innovator of communal ritual action in her calling for a public fast.
Artist: Susan Fischer Weiss (Ma'ayan: The Jewish Women's Project)
With these Purim flags we hope to move away from the paradigms of good 'girl'/bad 'girl' and good feminist/bad feminist to explore--through art and our experience of it--the relationship between Esther and Vashti and all that they have come to symbolize. Celebrating Vashti along with Esther also gives us a ritual-means to balance the antagonism inspired by Haman with a celebration of how much we have to gain by listening and not simply blotting out.
Vashti is not evil like Haman or a fool like Ahasuerus. She is a non-Jewish woman who because of her own suffering at the hands of the more powerful has much in common with both Mordecai and Esther and can therefore serve, on a narrative and symbolic level as a teacher, model and ally.
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