Chassidic Sect Removes Esther from Megila Reading

Beit Moshe, Israel – Walking down the rundown street of cluttered shops & sidewalk vendors in the  center of Beit Moshe, a bustling Chassidic village northeast of Tel Aviv, one could easily feel transported to an 18th century European shtetl. Flocks of men in their silk holiday finery and beaver pelt shtreimels dodge one another and gaudily costumed children as they scramble to pick up last minute items before the onset of the festive holiday of Purim.

This evening inside the main synagogue the atmosphere is electric as Rabbi Shloimo Naftoli Gansiger; the Klotsker Rebbe takes his ornate seat to the right of the intricately wood carved Aron. A scene similar to this is taking place in shteiblach and shuls across the Chassidic world, with one notable exception, the name of Esther will not be heard in the Klotsker shul this night. Since an impassioned sermon on modesty delivered by Rabbi Gansiger on Rosh Chodesh Adar some three years ago, the name of Esther, Vashti or any other female personage in the Megilat Esther has been uttered by the chazzan in a barely audible hushed tone.

Although the spokesman for Rabbi Ganisger declined an interview, on condition of anonymity a member of the community told The Jewish Week that “this is not at all unusual” asserting that the whispering of female names while reading the Megila scroll is becoming  more common across the charedi world. “We are trying to teach our children modesty, Esther was a great Jewish woman and would not want to be the center of attention”.

Professor Dan Bar-Lev at Hebrew University disagrees that the practice in the Kotsker Shul is common, “while it is true that there has been a good deal of tampering with the traditional liturgy in more liberal segments of the Jewish community, this has not been the case until recently in the Charedi sector”. Rabbi Simcha Unger, director of the Young Israel Center in Jerusalem was unaware of the practice of omitting Esther’s name from the Megila reading but added that “the Charedi community has become the most dynamic community in the Jewish world as it relates to the modification of both practice and liturgy” giving as examples the increase in the imposed separation of the sexes as well as a ban on the publishing of photos of women or girls in communal publications.

Across the ocean in Northern California the Feminist Jewish Co-Op (FJC) of Alameda County will assemble this evening for their own Megila reading. Rabbi Amy O’Donoghue-Weinstein will recite the Megila using the ancient cantilations but without the name of Mordechai.   “Mordechai was inserted in the story to dilute the pivotal role of Esther in the rescue of the Jewish people”. Instead Rabbi O’Donoghue-Weinstein will be reading from The New Feminist Megila, published in 2003 by the Berkeley Press. “This particular Megila resonates well with our congregation as most of our members have been victimized in some way by the male patriarchal system”. The New Feminist Megila does not excise the other primary male characters, Haman and Ahasueurosh. “Haman represents the oppression of women, minorities, gays and transgendered individuals while Ahasueurosh signifies the incompetence of patriarchal leadership” said the Rabbi.

Professor Bar Lev observed that “Jewish liturgy has always been a reflection of the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. Our practices reflect our values and our worldview”. On this the Jewish communities of Alameda County, California and Beit Moshe, Israel can most certainly agree.

Reprinted from the Akron Jewish Week….    ***JUST KIDDING –  HAPPY PURIM!!!!! THE MIKE REPORT***