Mordechai's Religious Identity
Assumptions of Religiosity
Many readers of Tanakh tend to assume that its heroes and heroines were halakhically observant Jews. The text, though, generally provides little information about any individual character's observance of the commandments. Tanakh's silence may be due to the fact that the issue is often irrelevant to a story's larger message, or because the observance is simply assumed. Either way, it leaves room to wonder about the religiosity of individual figures, especially when the story line might actually imply non-observance, as in the case of Megillat Esther.
Where is Hashem?
Overt religious messages are conspicuously absent from the Megillah. The lack of Hashem's name from the scroll is well known; neither the narrator nor any of the protagonists ever mention it or attribute any events to the hand of Hashem. There is also no indication that either Esther or Mordechai even pray to Hashem after hearing of Haman's edict.1 Moreover, nowhere do either Mordechai or Esther protest Esther's being taken to the king or express reservations about her sleeping with a non-Jew.2 How should this omission of religious practice and ideals be interpreted?
- Mordechai's title – Mordechai is introduced specifically as an "אִישׁ יְהוּדִי". Does this suggest that his Jewish observance was conspicuous and evident to all, or is the phrase merely noting that he hailed from the province of Judah?
- Mordechai's name – Mordechai's name recalls that of Marduk, a Babylonian God, and seems an odd choice for an observant Jew. Is this evidence of assimilation?
- Position at the king's gate – The Megillah shares that Mordechai "sat at the king's gate", normally a position of power in Tanakh. If Mordechai was a political leader, how did that impact on his Torah lifestyle? Did he purposefully position himself so as to abet his brethren, or was he interested solely in Persian affairs and career advancement?
- Mordechai's Refusal to Bow – Why did Mordechai refuse to bow down to Haman? Was he motivated by religious concerns or personal ones?
- Concealing Esther's Identity – What led Mordechai to instruct Esther to hide her identity? Was this intended to help or hinder her observance?