Rabbi Ron Symons on March 8, 2018
As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, and Women’s History Month during March, we understand the phrase #PRESSFORPROGRESS is needed more than ever. We live in a world in which women’s voices have been suppressed when it comes to reporting sexual harassment, domestic violence and sexual assault in all areas of society. Our contemporary conversations are a mirror of conversations and attitudes that have been going on for centuries.
Just one week ago, when we celebrated the joyous holiday of Purim, our focus was on the main characters of the story: Esther, Mordechai, Achashverus and Haman. Even among the joy of Purim, I spent some time digging deeper. All I had to do was open the first chapter of the Scroll of Esther to read:
Then king’s advisor, Memukan, replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, “Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Achashverus. For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, ‘King Achashverus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.’ This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord.
Amazing! Vashti refused to dance naked in front of the drunken king and all his buddies, and the men in charge were concerned that she would start an uprising of all the women of the country against the men. Even though Vashti plays a major role in the Purim story, she is often overlooked. Dare I say, her voice is not heard. If Vashti lived today, she would post #PRESSFORPROGRESS: women are no longer going to be viewed exclusively as objects of male desire.
In just a few weeks, Jews around the world are going to celebrate Passover, the story of redemption that has become the freedom song for people of all faiths throughout history. All throughout our storytelling at the seder meals, we witness the wills of God and Pharaoh going head to head against each other like two prize fighters in the ring. But long before the first plague struck, we read in the first chapter of Exodus:
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.
Amazing! These midwives stood up to the greatest male power of the day. They put their morality in front of their own safety. Without these two brave women, Moses and so many others in his generation would have never had the opportunity to live and lead. Even though they are quietly overlooked, they are pivotal to Ancient Israelite history. If they lived today, they would post #PRESSFORPROGRESS: women are no longer going to allow men with political power to define the morality of our day.
There is something amazing going on today. Not only are women (and their allies) pressing for change, but the men in power are changing the system so that change can happen and voices are heard.
Rabbi Ron Symons is the JCC Senior Director of Jewish Life. Questions? Fill out this Contact Form and he will get back to you shortly.