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Rabbi Stiefel's Monthly Article

Queen Vashti Tweets #MeToo

As we approach the upcoming holiday of Purim, I cannot help but think what Queen Vashti and Queen Esther would be saying about the current #MeToo movement. Would they share, “I can’t believe that after two thousand years, we still haven’t figured out how to thwart the King’s (or anyone else’s) unwanted sexual advances?” Or would they be remarking: “Vashti said no to the King and it ruined her career. Of course, Esther isn’t going to come forward after that. That’s the way the fear of backlash works”?

We can be pretty sure that King Ahasuerus was not relegated to sensitivity training. In fact, the Book of Esther seems set on outlawing any sort of mechanism for women to continue to speak out. Chapter 1:22 states that letters were sent out far and wide to say that “every man shall rule in his own home.” Sadly, Vashti’s act of resistance made matters even worse for women.

 It is easy to rationalize, when examining the Purim story, “Well, they were just a product of their times.” The problem is that we are still a product of those times. Women are coming forward like never before and some are saying that we are seeing a sea change. And others are saying, that’s what we said after the Clarence Thomas hearings. And still others are saying, that’s what we said after Vashti was kicked out of the palace . . . .  We have come so far and yet we still have so far to go.

Vashti was the first objectified woman in the Bible to say, “No.” Had Vashti been alive when actor Alyssa Milano started her Twitter/Facebook campaign and asked women who had ever been sexually harassed or assaulted to post “me too” as a way of highlighting the prevalence of violence against women and girls, she would have tweeted #MeToo.

Sadly, the story of Vashti still resonates with us today. I wish this weren’t so but elements of Purim reflect our current reality. A few chapters later in the Book of Esther, Mordechai tells Esther, “If you persist in keeping silent at a time like this … you and yours will perish. And who knows whether it was just for such a time as this that you attained your elevated position?”(4:14)