Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Queen Esther the Vegetarian?

In this week’s Jerusalem Post, Dr. Richard Schwartz writes: “Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim story, was a vegetarian while she lived in the palace of King Achashverosh. She was thus able to avoid violating the kosher dietary laws while keeping her Jewish identity secret.”

Well, sort of. As a vegetarian and a woman, I find Dr. Schwartz’s line of logic tempting. Hooray! Queen Esther, the sassy savior of the Jewish people, loved tofu! But he has the midrash backwards. There are actually conflicting opinions about what Esther chose to eat and refuse in the palace (one commentator suggests that she was actually served pork!). But the midrash that stuck is that she ate beans and legumes. If this was the case, then Queen Esther avoided meat so as to not violate the kosher laws in her non-Jewish surroundings. Her intention would not have been to eschew all flesh, as Dr. Schwartz suggests, just the non-kosher kind.

Esther’s diet gives us a glimpse into the strength of her character. She maintained her sense of self, even within a palace that was undoubtedly
filled with temptations. The lesson to take away from Esther’s diaspora diet, then, is not that all Jews should be vegetarians (though many could benefit from eating less meat!), but that defending one’s core values is the deepest form of heroism.

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