Esther's Religious Identity

Introduction

Absence of Religiosity

Megillat Esther, like most stories in Tanakh, does not explicitly speak of the religious observance of its heroes and heroines.  However, in contrast to many other Biblical texts, overt religiosity is completely absent from the story, and its main protagonist, Esther, even engages in halakhically questionable activity.  Nowhere do she or Mordechai pray to Hashem,1 or even mention Hashem's name.2  In addition, Esther neither protests being taken to the king nor express discomfort about sleeping with a non-Jew.  How should these facts be interpreted?

Contrasting Stories

Esther's conduct can be contrasted to the actions of other Biblical characters in exile who attain similar positions of prominence.3  Daniel, in stark comparison to Esther, explicitly refuses to eat of the king's foods and risks his life to pray to Hashem. Yosef not only rejects Mrs. Potiphar's advances, but also constantly points to Hashem's guiding hand.4

The Septuagint's recounting of the Esther tale may serve as the sharpest foil, for it interpolates into the narrative these missing elements of religious observance.5 It presents Mordechai as warning Esther to remain loyal to her faith before going to the palace, and it also includes the prayers to Hashem of both Mordechai and Esther following Haman's decree.  Do these foils demonstrate that Esther was not a religiously observant Jew, or are these arguments from silence inconclusive?

Ramifications

Esther's religious identity impacts on our understanding of various aspects of the Megillah:

×