Gefen Bar-On Santor

Gamed by Haman?

Image: Rembrandt’s "Haman Recognizes his Fate." Source:

March 24 this year is the Jewish holiday of Purim and time to read the book of Esther—about the failed plan of the minister Haman in ancient Persia to murder all the Jews by manipulating the rather foolish and gullible King Ahasuerus.

As Haman was cooking his plot against the Jews, Esther, the Jewish wife of King Ahasuerus, could have simply stayed quiet and done nothing.  But Esther’s uncle Mordechai tells her that silence is not an option:

“Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace.  On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish.  And who knows, perhaps you have attained [a] royal position for just such a crisis.” [Some translations say: for such a time as this.] (Esther 4. 12-14)

Esther exposes Haman’s evil to her husband, and in response the king grants the Jews something that has been rare throughout Jewish history—the right to defend themselves:

“Letters were dispatched by mounted couriers, riding steeds used in the king’s service, bred of the royal stud, to this effect: The King has permitted the Jews of every city to assemble and fight for their lives; if any people or province attacks them, they may destroy, massacre and exterminate its armed force together with women and children, and plunder their possessions” (Esther 8: 11).

Today, this ancient (and likely fictional) decree would likely appeal to haters who misrepresent Israel as a genocidal force.  Look: the Bible gives permission to the Jews to “destroy, massacre and exterminate.”  In reality, Israel fights within the modern laws of war and does what it can to minimize harms to civilians in the context of a tragic war that the Hamas sadistically decided to force upon Israel on October 7.  What remains relevant from Esther 8:11, however, is the fact that the Hamans of the world bring suffering upon ordinary people who are manipulated to follow them.

The vast majority of people in any culture wish to live peacefully—so why is there war?  The answer lies in the hunger of the Hamans among us who rise to positions of power.

Philip Raskin’s poem “Satan and Haman (After the Talmud)” describes the pleasures of Jew hate as a driving force:

When the Persian Haman
Thrilled and throbbed with joy,
At the gladsome prospect
Israel to destroy;

Satan, likewise joyful
Brought to God the news,
Bade Him sign the verdict
To destroy the Jews.

The Almighty answered:
“Thy request is good,
But my seal, ere signing,
Must be dipped in blood.

Bring some human blood, then,
Shed by Jewish hands.”
Forthwith sped old Satan
Over sea and lands,

Searching every highway,
Every cave and wood;
But, alas, he could not
Find such human blood.

Then, to God returning,
He brought back the tale:
“Cowards are Thy people,
And of hearts too frail.”

Today, when Israel does in fact tragically spill blood because it has been forced into a war, Raskin’s poem reminds us of an ironic point: the same hate that manifests itself today, during war, has been raging against the Jews throughout history—including very much over the many hundreds of years in which the Jews could not defend themselves.

To survive, Jew hate has had to metamorphose into whatever form would work in any given social and cultural context. Long before the modern state of Israel existed, the Jews were demonized as Christ killers.  Then, as the power of religion declined, the pseudo-scientific idea that Jews are an inferior race emerged.  Today, the fact that Israel is forced to defend itself against sadistic violence has facilitated a covert form of Jew hate: hate in the name of compassion for the victims of self-defense.  Today’s Israel haters are fond of words such as “dignity” and “empathy” or of calling out the “dehumanization” that Israel causes—and yet they remain silent when compassion expresses itself as one act of vandalism or intimidation at a time, for example:

Today’s Israel haters are likely a combination of wolves in sheep’s clothing, wolves in wolves’ clothing and well-meaning people who are misinformed by aggressive messaging.  Some are simply telling themselves that they want to “understand both sides”—not realizing that one side is ruled by Haman. Some are telling themselves that they just want the war to come to an end (so do I)—not realizing that “cease fire” is not the same as peace; it is an opportunity for the Hamas to prepare its next assault.  The Palestinians would benefit enormously from abandoning the fantasy of destroying Israel—and yet, people who claim to be motivated by compassion are explicitly or implicitly encouraging them to do the opposite—with tragic consequences.

In Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Hannah Arendt observes that Eichmann, one of the third Reich’s key Hamans, did not seem to be particularly antisemitic: “his was obviously also no case of insane hatred of Jews, of fanatical anti-Semitism or indoctrination of any kind. He ‘personally’ never had anything whatever against Jews; on the contrary, he had plenty of ‘private reasons’ for not being a Jew hater” (p. 58).

Eichmann thrived in a society in which “good citizens” could tell themselves that they had nothing personal against the Jews.  They even knew some good Jews.  It is just that science says that Jews are inferior, and therefore Jews must go—preferably to Palestine, where they belong, but later to the gas chamber.

Today, Israel haters have nothing against the Jews either.  Of course not!  They are motivated by compassion and the pursuit of justice and freedom.

Nearly half of the world’s Jews live in Israel, and many other Jews have family members in Israel.  But the desire to “free Palestine” within the entire territory of Israel is not Jew hate—absolutely not!  It is simply that some elite theories and ideas lead to the inevitable conclusion that Israel is evil.  About 100 years after Europe began its descent toward Nazism, science is no longer about charting the shape of noses or measuring the circumference of skulls to “prove” racial inferiority.  Today “knowledge-based” Israel hate freely distorts concepts from academic theories to reignite and legitimize the pleasures of Jew hate.  This is what “science” looks like today when it comes to “proving” that hating Jews (this time going by the name Zionists) is once again the duty of a “good citizen.”  It is once again the Jews who stand as an obstacle between us and what should be a perfect world governed by empathy, dignity and freedom.  Without the Jews, there would be no Black Death.

This Purim, as we read the book of Esther, it is our responsibility to not become the foolish King Ahasuerus into whose ear Haman pours poison.  Purim reminds us that hope and renewal are possible even in the darkest of times—but only if we demote the Hamans among us from positions of power.

Raskin’s poem is from The Purim Anthology (The JPS Holiday Anthologies).  The Jewish Publication Society. Kindle Edition.

Quotations from the Bible are from the Jewish Study Bible (Oxford University Press).

The Hannah Arendt quotation is from Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Image: Rembrandt’s “Haman Recognizes his Fate”

About the Author
Gefen Bar-On Santor teaches English at the University of Ottawa, as well as adult-education literature courses at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre in Ottawa, Canada. She is an enthusiastic believer in life-long learning and in the relevance of fiction to our lives. She also writes at
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