ESTHER


ESTHER
ESTHER (Heb. אֶסְתֵּר), daughter of Abihail, an exile at susa , and heroine of the Book of Esther. The name Esther is probably from Old Persian star (well attested in the later Persian dialects), with the same meaning as English "star." She is once called Hadassah (Esth. 2:7), a testimony to the practice of Jews having double names, as do the heroes in daniel . She was orphaned as a child, and her cousin mordecai adopted her and brought her up. When queen vashti fell into disgrace because of her disobedience to king ahasuerus , Esther was among the beautiful virgins chosen to be presented to the king (1:19–2:8). Ahasuerus was struck by her beauty, and made her queen instead of Vashti (2:17). Esther, however, did not reveal the fact that she was a Jew. Later, when haman , the prime minister, persuaded the king to issue an edict of extermination of all the Jews of the empire, Esther, on Mordecai's advice, endangered her own life by appearing before the king without being invited, in order to intercede for her people (4:16–17). Seeing that the king was well disposed toward her, she invited him and Haman to a private banquet, during which she did not reveal her desire, however, but invited them to another banquet, thus misleading Haman by making him think that he was in the queen's   good graces. Her real intention, however, was to take revenge on him. During the second banquet, Queen Esther revealed her origin to the king, begged for her life and the life of her people, and named her enemy (7:3–6). Angry with Haman, Ahasuerus went into the palace garden. Haman, in great fear, remained to plead for his life from the queen. While imploring, he fell on Esther's couch and was found in this compromising situation on the king's return. He was immediately condemned to be hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. The king complied with Esther's request, and the edict of destruction was changed into permission given to the Jews to avenge themselves on their enemies. See also scroll of Esther. -In the Aggadah Esther was a descendant of King Saul. Her father died soon after her conception and her mother when she was born (Meg. 13a), and she was brought up by Mordecai as his daughter. Her real name was Hadassah, but she was called Esther by non-Jews, this being the Persian name for Venus (ibid.). Esther was one of the four most beautiful women in the world (ibid. 15a), though some say that she was of sallow complexion but endowed with great charm. Like the myrtle (Heb. hadassah) she was of ideal height, neither too short nor too tall (ibid. 13a). All who beheld her were struck by her beauty: she was more beautiful than either Median or Persian women (Esth. R. 6:9). In addition, everyone took her to be one of his own people (Meg. 13a). Before Esther was made queen, Ahasuerus would compare women who entered with a statue of Vashti that stood near his bed. After his marriage the statue was replaced by one of Esther (Midrash Abba Guryon, Parashah 2). When Esther became queen she refused to disclose her lineage to Ahasuerus though she claimed that like him she was of royal descent. She also criticized him for killing Vashti and for following the brutish advice of the Persian and Median nobles, pointing out that the earlier kings (Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar) had followed the counsel of prophets (Daniel). At her suggestion he sought out Mordecai whose advice he requested on how to induce Esther to reveal her ancestry, complaining that neither giving banquets and reducing taxation in her honor nor showering gifts upon her had been of any avail. Mordecai suggested that maidens be again assembled as if the king wished to remarry and that Esther, aroused by jealousy, would comply with his wishes. But this too was in vain (Meg. 13a). Mordecai was appointed to the king's gate, the same appointment that Hananiah and his companions had received from Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2:49). His task was to inform Ahasuerus of any conspiracy against him. Bigthan and Teresh, who had previously kept the gate, became incensed, saying: "The king has removed two officials and replaced them by this single barbarian." To prove the superiority of their guardianship over that of the Jew, they decided to kill the king. Not realizing that Mordecai as a member of the Sanhedrin knew 70 languages, they conversed together in their native Tarsean. In Mordecai's name Esther informed the king, who ordered the two to be hanged. All affairs of state were entered into the king's chronicles and whenever the king wanted to be reminded of past events they would be read out to him. The information given by Mordecai was written in the book, and this was the beginning of Haman's downfall (Esth. 6). This was why the sages said: "whoever repeats something in the name of one who said it brings redemption to the world" (Perek Kinyan Torah = Avot 6:6 in the prayer book version; Esth. R. 6:13; Meg. 15a; PdRE 50). The three days appointed by Esther as fast days (Esth. 4:16) were the 13th, 14th, and 15th of Nisan. Mordecai sent back word complaining that these days included the first day of Passover\! To which she replied: "Jewish elder\! Without an Israel, why should there be Passover?" Mordecai understood and canceled the Passover festivity, replacing it with a fast (Esth. R. 8:6). Esther's motive in inviting Haman to the banquet was that he should not discover that she was Jewish, and that the Jews should not say: "We have a sister in the king's palace," and so neglect to pray for God's mercy. She also thought that by being friendly to Haman she would rouse the king's jealousy to such an extent that he would kill both of them (Meg. 15b). Haman thought that Esther prepared the banquet in his honor, little realizing that she had set a trap for him (Mid. Prov. 9:2). With the revocation of the evil decree, Esther sent to the sages and asked them to perpetuate her name by the reading of the book of Esther and by the institution of a feast. When they answered that this would incite the ill-will of the nations, she replied: "I am already recorded in the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia (Meg. 7a)." (Elimelech Epstein Halevy) -In the Arts Of all the biblical heroines Esther has enjoyed greatest popularity among writers, artists, and musicians, representing feminine modesty, courage, and self-sacrifice. From the Renaissance era onward she figured in a vast array of dramas, including many Jewish plays intended for presentation on the purim festival. Two early works on this theme were La Representatione della Reina Hester (c. 1500), an Italian verse mystery that went through several editions during the 16th century, and the last of the 43 plays of the French Mistére du Viel Testament, a work of the later Middle Ages. These were followed by the German Meistersinger Hans Sachs' Esther (1530) and an English verse play, A New Enterlude of Godly Queene Hester, published anonymously in 1561. The latter, which entirely omitted the character of Vashti and muted the role of Mordecai, contained marked political undertones reflecting popular dissatisfaction with King Henry VIII and his ministers of state. A work of the same period was solomon usque 's Esther, first staged in Venice in 1558. This Portuguese play, later revised by leone modena , was remarkably successful and attracted many non-Jews to its performances. The subject gave rise to a series of dramatic interpretations in France, beginning with the Huguenot playwright Antoine de Montchrétien's three verse tragedies, Esther (1585), Vashti (1589), and Aman (1601). During the 17th century a   drama, Esther (1644), was written by Pierre Du Ryer and a long epic poem of the same name (1673) by Jean Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin, both in the austere religious manner of the period. The major French literary treatment of the theme was racine 's epic tragedy Esther (1689), written for presentation at the Saint-Cyr girls' school supervised by Madame de Maintenon, the morganatic wife of Louis XIV, and first performed with choruses by J.-B. Moreau. Esther herself, a model of Christian womanly virtues, evidently represented the sponsor, while Vasthi (Vashti) represented the king's former mistress, Madame de Montespan, heightening the political implications of the play. Other 17th-century works on the subject include Aman y Mardoqueo o la reina Ester, a play by the Spanish New Christian Felipe Godínez ; the refugee Portuguese Marrano João Pinto Delgado 's Poema de la Reyna Ester (Rouen, 1627), part of a volume dedicated to Cardinal Richelieu; Mardochée Astruc's Judeo-Provençal Tragediou de la Reine Esther; and isaac cohen de lara 's Comedia famosa de Aman y Mordochay (1699). Interest in the theme was maintained during the 18th-20th centuries, beginning with Manuel Joseph Martin's La Soberbia castigada. Historia … de Esther y Mardocheo (1781). A Yiddish play, Esther, oder di belonte Tugend (1827, 18543), was written by J. Herz, and Hebrew adaptations of Racine's classic drama made by S.J.L. Rapoport (in She'erit Judah, 1827) and, in complete form, by meir ha-levi letteris (Shelom Esther, 1843). The virtues of the Jewish heroine were emphasized in the Austrian dramatist Franz Grillparzer's unfinished play Esther (1848), and other treatments included J.A. Vaillant's Romanian Legenda lui Aman ṣi Mardoheu (1868), Joseph Shabbetai Farḥi's Italian Alegria di Purim (1875), and the U.S. writer Frank C. Bliss' verse drama Queen Esther (1881). Almost the only biblical play to escape censorship in 19th-century England was Esther the Royal Jewess: or the Death of Haman, a lavishly produced melodrama by Elisabeth Polack, which was staged in London in 1835. There have been numerous plays about Esther from the early 20th century onward: Esther, princesse d'Israël (1912) by André Dumas and S.C. Leconte; H. Pereira Mendes ' Esther and Harbonah (1917); max brod 's Esther (1918); John Masefield's Esther (1922), a pastiche of Racine; and other works of the same name by felix braun (1925), sammy gronemann (1926), and the U.S. dramatist Sonia V. Daugherty (1929). Three other modern treatments are izak goller 's fantasy A Purim-Night's Dream (1931) and James Bridie's What Say They? (1939); and a rare biblical novel on the subject, Maria Poggel-Degenhardt's Koenigin Vasthi; Roman aus der Zeit Esthers (1928). Most successful were the satiric Megilla-Lieder of the Yiddish poet itzik manger adapted for the stage in Israel in 1965. In art the Book of Esther is represented in the cycle of paintings from the third-century synagogue at dura-europos and also in the ninth-century mural in the basilica of San Clemente in Rome. The scenes depicted at Dura-Europos were Esther and Ahasuerus enthroned and Mordecai riding in triumph on a regal white horse. They could be seen clearly from the women's benches, and it has been suggested that they were placed there because women normally came to synagogue to attend the reading of the Scroll of Esther which, according to joshua bar levi (Meg. 4a), they were obliged to hear. In medieval Christian iconography, Esther was associated with the cult of the Virgin Mary. Her intercession with Ahasuerus on behalf of the Jews was interpreted as a prefiguration of the Virgin's mediation on behalf of mankind. After the Middle Ages the story of Esther was treated in a less symbolic manner and was used instead as a storehouse of picturesque episodes. The story was sometimes presented in a narrative cycle of varying length or in individual episodes. Examples of the cycle form may be found on an arch over the north portal of the Chartres Cathedral (13th century), a 17th-century Belgian tapestry in the cathedral of Saragosa, and an 18th-century set of Gobelin tapestries. Popular single subjects were the toilet of Esther, the triumph of Mordecai, and the punishment of Haman. Renaissance artists such as Botticelli, Filippino Lippi, Mantegna, Tintoretto, and Paolo Veronese painted subjects from the Book of Esther. Botticelli (or Filippino Lippi) decorated two marriage-caskets (1428) with scenes from the biblical story, including the long misinterpreted figure La Derelitta, now supposed to represent Mordecai lamenting before the palace at Shushan. The Venetian painters Tintoretto and Veronese treated the Esther story as an occasion for pomp and pageantry, Tintoretto painting the Swooning of Esther (1545), a subject later treated by Poussin. The Book of Esther was also popular with 17th-century artists in the Netherlands. Rubens and Jan Steen painted Esther Before Ahasuerus, and Jan Steen also executed a spirited, almost farcical, Wrath of Ahasuerus (1660). Rembrandt painted Mordecai pleading with Esther (1655), Ahasuerus and Haman at Esther's Feast (1660), and Haman in Disgrace (1660). A charming Toilet of Esther was executed by Théodore Chassériau in 1841. An early musical treatment of the subject is a 14th-century motet for three voices, Quoniam novi probatur, in which Haman, or someone whose fate he symbolizes, voices his complaint (see C. Parrish, The Notation of Mediaeval Music (1957), 138–40). Palestrina wrote a five-voiced motet, Quid habes Hester? (publ. 1575), the text of which is the dialogue between Esther and Ahasuerus in the apocryphal additions to Esther (15:9–14). From the late 17th century onward the Esther story attracted the attention of many serious composers. Some 17th- and early 18th-century works were A. Stradella's oratorio Ester, liberatrice dell' popolo ebreo (c. 1670); M.-A. Charpentier's quasi-oratorio Historia Esther (date unknown); G. Legrenzi's oratorio Gli sponsali d'Ester (1676); J.-B. Moreau's choruses for Racine's Esther; A. Lotti's oratorio L 'umilità coronata in Esther (1712); and A. Caldara's oratorio Ester (1723). Handel's masque Haman and Mordecai, with a text by John Arbuthnot and (probably) Alexander Pope based on Racine's drama, was first performed at the Duke of Chandos' palace near Edgware in 1720, and was Handel's first English composition in oratorio form. Worked into a full oratorio 12 years later, with additional words by Samuel Humphreys, it had a triumphant reception   at the King's Theater in London in 1732. The libretto was translated into Hebrew by the Venetian rabbi Jacob Raphael Saraval (1707–1782), and two copies of it – with the scenic indications in English and Italian respectively – are in the Ets Haim Library, Amsterdam; no evidence of a performance has yet been discovered (see adler , Prat Mus, 1 (1966), 123–4, 212). One of the few works on the subject in the second half of the 18th century was K. Ditters von Dittersdorf's oratorio La liberatrice del popolo giudaico nella Persia o sia l'Esther (1773). The 19th century saw a few operatic variants of the story, such as Guidi's Ester d'Engaddi, set by A. Peri (1843) and G. Pacini (1847), while Eugen d'Albert wrote an overture to Grill-parzer's Esther (1888). For performances of Racine's play at the Comédie Française during this period the choruses were composed by several undistinguished musicians; later contributions include those by reynaldo hahn (1905) and Marcel Samuel-Rousseau (1912). The most notable modern work on the subject is darius milhaud 's opera Esther de Carpentras, which dramatized the staging of an old Provençal Purim play with the threat posed by a conversionist bishop of Carpentras. Esther, an opera by Jan Meyerowitz with text by Langston Hughes, was written in 1956. Meyerowitz also wrote a choral work, Midrash Esther (premiere, 1957). The music of the Jewish Purim plays has not survived in notation, except for a few songs collected by 20th-century folklorists from surviving practitioners. Some Yiddish and Hebrew poems of the early 18th century were published with the indication "to be sung to the tune of Haman in the Ahashverosh play" (see idelsohn , Music, 437), but this tune has not yet been recovered. However, the tradition is evident in Isaac Offenbach's play Koenigin Esther (manuscript dated 1833, at the Jewish Institute of Religion, New York), which includes some "couplets" and in which the court jester seems a more important figure than the biblical personages. Hermann Cohn's five-act parody Der Barbier von Schuschan (1894) was an imitation of P. Cornelius' Barbier von Bagdad; abraham goldfaden 's Kenig Akhashverosh (c. 1885) produced no memorable tune; and M. Gelbart wrote Akhashverosh, a Purim play in New York (1916). For the production of K.J. Silman 's Megillat Esther by the ohel theater, the music was written by Y. Admon (Gorochow) . The music for the production of Itzik Manger's Di Megille was written by Dov Seltzer in a "revival style" reminiscent of the East European Jewish song tradition in general and of the Yiddish theater tradition in particular. nahum nardi 's songs to levin kipnis ' kindergarten Purim play Misḥak Purim, written in the early 1930s, have become Israel folksongs. See also purim-shpil . -BIBLIOGRAPHY: BIBLE: See bibliography to scroll of Esther. IN THE AGGADAH: Ginzberg, Legends, index. IN THE ARTS: R. Schwartz, Esther im deutschen und neulateinischen Drama des Reformations-Zeitalters (1894); E. Wind, in: Journal of the Warburg Institute, 4 (1940), 114–7; M. Roston, Biblical Drama in England From the Middle Ages to the Present Day (1968), 72–74; L. Réau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien, 2, pt. 1 (1956), 335–42, includes bibliography; E. Kirschbaum (ed.), Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie, 1 (1968), 683–7; F. Rosenberg, in: Festschrift… Adolf Tobler (1905), 335–54; P. Goodman, Purim Anthology (1960).

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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