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Esther: Ornament Fit for a King

One thing societies have in common is those who make rules on what is desirable and not are, overwhelmingly, men.
Noam Zion, Steve Israel
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Noam Zion is a Senior Fellow Emeritus of the Kogod Research Center at the Shalom Hartman Institute since 1978. He studied philosophy and holds degrees from Columbia University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He studied bible and rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and the Hartman Beit Midrash. In the past, he led the Tichon program for North American Jewish educators and he teaches in Hartman Institute rabbinic programs: the Be’eri program

Steve Israel

Esther, as representative of women in general is seen by Ahashverosh essentially as an ornament for his courtiers, and for the king himself. She is expected to be passive and compliant, grateful for her good fortune in having “made it” to the top of society.

If she is dissatisfied with her lack of independence, she is certainly expected to hide it. She is meant to be seen as being at the beck and call of the king. By the time that the girl becomes a queen, she has ceased to be herself and has become little more than an object, an appendage to the king’s person, a piece of royal property with which the king can do as he pleases.

If she does not play her role to perfection in the expected way, she is instantly disposable. She has no independent voice. She has ceased to be a real live three-dimensional person, with her own whims and desires and personality. She has been made over into an object.

The whole preparation process has played a large part in this, as well. The candidates for queenship arrived at the royal court as real people and through a carefully crafted process, involving beauty treatments, special foods, oils, perfumes and cosmetics, they were turned into wax dolls according to the royal standards of beauty.

Even a new smell

The girls that finally appeared before the king, had been made over into an image of beauty dictated by male societal standards of the time. On the basis of each girl who appeared initially at court, a whole new persona has been grafted. She cannot even smell like herself!

We know too little of the way that beauty was seen (by men) at that time to know precisely how men liked their women. Did they like their women plump or lean? With long hair or short? Covered up or uncovered? With dark hair or blonde? These are standards that have changed according to time and place.

If Renaissance men liked their women on the plumpish side, 21 st century men, appear to have adopted a taste for a thinner model. We are now obsessed with blonde, but other societies have seen the mystery of dark hair and skin to be alluring.

The one thing that all societies seem to have in common, however, is that those who made the rules, those who decided on what was desirable and what was not, what was in and what should most definitely be out – were, overwhelmingly, men.

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