CHAG PURIM SAME’ACH & CELEBRATING INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY! BY RABBI LEVI KELMAN
EDITOR’S NOTE: Even though Purim and International Women’s Day were celebrated last Monday, this is still good food for thought.
This blog is written by Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman for the IMPJ. Rabbi Weiman-Kelman is the founder of the IMPJ’s Kehilat “Kol HaNeshama” in Jerusalem and in June 2018 was appointed to the position of President of the Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) organization.
Purim is a crazy, topsy-turvy holiday that, in most congregations, is oriented towards children. Here in Israel, the air is filled with pressure as parents rush and struggle to find the right costumes for their children. But Purim is not just a holiday for children to receive candy. It is also possible to look at the holiday through adult eyes and see what it can teach us. This year, the proximity of International Women’s Day and Purim feels fortuitous! Purim is a holiday with strong women.
The story of Esther provides a model of female leadership that is based on Esther’s beauty and wisdom. This is actually part of a Biblical tradition of stories where the survival of the Jewish people is dependent on women – thanks to their beauty, they are able to covertly insert themselves into positions of power with non-Jewish kings. In all such cases, there is a severe famine (Jewish survival is at stake) that leads to emigration out of Israel.
In the first case (Genesis 13) Abram (not yet Abraham) goes to Egypt. He instructs Sarai (not yet Sarah) to say she is his sister. Otherwise, he claims, they will kill me. “Let me live,” he says, “that I might live thanks to you.” All ends well for Abram and Sarah – crisis averted.
The scenario repeats itself when Abraham moved to Gerar (Genesis 20). In Genesis 26, Isaac (like father, like son as the saying goes) goes to Gerar and Abimelek (the king of the Philistines), who wants Rebecca on account of her beauty. Jewish men don’t come off very well in these stories, hiding behind their wives. This model comes to full glory in the Purim story where Esther’s proximity to power and her wisdom prevail to rescue the Jewish people.
Today we are blessed with women in positions of power and leadership that have higher status, are more influential and not dependent on physical beauty. What a great opportunity to celebrate women’s leadership in the Jewish world – especially in our Movement in Israel. We are blessed with learned, charismatic, dedicated women, as rabbis, educators and more.
Wishing you a Chag Purim Same’ach!
Rabbi Levi Weiman Kelman
Israel Movement for Reform & Progressive Judaism
13 King David St.