A Chicago rabbi, Mr. Solomon B. Freehof, quoted by Mr. Bernard J. Brown, considered the story of Haman, Mordecai and Esther to be “the essence of all the history of the Jewish people”; whereas Mr. Brown himself (also of Chicago) says the celebration of Purim ought to be discontinued and forgotten, being in the present time “a travesty” even of “the festivals which were so disgusting” to the Israelite prophets. (Purim had not been invented when Isaiah and Hosea made their impassioned protests against the “appointed seasons” and “feast days”).
Mr. Brown wrote in 1933 and the event of 1946, when the Nazi leaders were hanged on a Jewish feast day, showed that his remonstrance was as vain as the ancient remonstrances cited by him. In 1946, as twenty-seven centuries earlier, the view expressed by Rabbi Freehof prevailed.
The essential features of the event commemorated by Purim are those which invariably recur in earlier and later stages of the story of Zion: the use of a Gentile ruler to destroy Gentiles and give effect to the Judaic vengeance.
From the time of Mordecai, as the old Testament provides no more history, the student must turn to Judaist authorities to learn whether later events also were presented to Jews in the same light; namely, as a series of Jewish ordeals suffered at the hands of “the heathen”, each leading to the ruination of the heathen nation concerned and to a Judaic vengeance.
This research leads to the conc1usion that all history, to the present time, is so seen by the elders of the sect and so presented to the Jewish masses. In the same way that Egypt, Babylon and Persia, in the Old Testament, exist only insofar as they capture, oppress or otherwise behave towards Jews, who are then avenged by Jehovah, so in the scholars’ presentation of the later period does all else fall away.
Rome, Greece and all subsequent empires have life and being, in this depictment, only to the extent that the behaviour of Jews towards them or their behaviour towards Jews gives them existence.
After Babylon and Persia, the next nation to feel the impact of the catalytic force was Egypt. The Jewish community in Alexandria (which had been large even before its reinforcement by fugitives from the Babylonian invasion) was at this period the largest single body of Jews in the known world; Egypt was in that respect in the position of Russia before the 1914-1918 war and of the United States today. The attitude of the Jews, or at all events of the elders, towards the Egyptians was the same as their earlier attitude towards the Persians and Babylonians.
Dr. Kastein says, first, that Egypt was “the historic refuge” for Jews, which sounds like a grateful tribute until subsequent words show that “a refuge” is a place to be destroyed. He describes the feeling of the Jews towards the Egyptians in words very similar to those concerning the Jews which Exodus attributes to the Egyptians in respect of the earlier “captivity”.
He says, the Jews in Egypt “constituted a closed community … they led a secluded life and built their own temples … the Egyptians felt that the religious exclusiveness of the Jews showed that they despised and spurned their own form of faith”. He adds that the Jews “naturally” upheld the Persian cause because Persia had formerly “helped them restore Judah.
Thus the fact that Egypt had given shelter, and was “the historic refuge” did not entitle Egypt to any gratitude or loyalty. Hostility to the host-people took the form of support for the Egyptians’ enemy and therefore awoke Egyptian suspicion:
Other causes of hostility were the determination Shown by the Jews not to become assimilated with the people about them or identify themselves with the country of their adoption . . . The profound spiritual necessity of keeping in touch with every branch of the nation, the call for loyalty towards every group of their own people, however fragmentary, was bound to affect the integrity of their citizenship of a particular state”.
“As in Babylon of yore”, concludes Dr. Kastein, the Jews in Egypt extended “open arms” to the Persian conqueror. Yet Egypt had shown the Jews only hospitality.
Babylon, Persia, Egypt … then came Greece. In 332 BC. Greece conquered Persia and the Greek rule of Egypt began; Alexandria became the Greek capital. Many Alexandrine Jews would fain have followed Jeremiah’s counsel to “seek the peace of the city”. The power of the sect and the destructive teaching prevailed.
Dr. Kastein, the sect’s devotee, says of Greece and its civilization merely that,
it was intellectually brilliant … but the prototype of everything that was mendacious, cruel, slanderous, cunning, indolent, vain, corruptible, grasping and unjust”.
He dismisses the episode of Greece with the triumphant note. “The Alexandrian Jews brought about the disintegration of Hellenic civilization “.
Babylon, Persia, Egypt, Greece … Up to the start of the Christian era, therefore, history back to the Creation was presented to the Jews, by their scriptures and their scholars, as an exclusively Jewish affair, which took note of “the heathen” only insofar as they impinged on Jewish life, and as a record of destruction achieved against these heathen, in peace and war.
Was this portrayal true, of events in the pre-Christian era, and did it continue true of later events, down to our day?