For the past few years, it’s become trendy among feminists to cast Vashti as a hero. In case your memory is rusty, Vashti was King Ahashverosh’s wife before she was replaced by Esther. The megilla tells us that the king invited her to his party and that she refused to come and she paid for that with her life.
The reasons for her refusal are unclear–the midrash suggests that she may have been having the ancient world’s equivalent of a bad hair day. Either she developed leprosy or grew a tail. What’s clear is that her vanity fueled the refusal. The midrash teaches that she was among the most beautiful women who ever lived. and it’s fair to assume that she wanted to look her best for the paparazzi.
For the feminists, all that counts is Vashti’s refusal. In their reading, she stood up to the patriarchy” and that makes her a hero, even more of a hero than Esther.
This is how Lisa Green describes her in a recent piece that appeared in Jewish Chicago
“She took a risk. She refused. I see a principled conscientious objector. Vashti boldly resisted the (male) authority before her and stood her ground..”
This trope is even being marketed to small children.
In the popular picture book, ‘Queen Vashti’s Comfy Pants’, Vashti refuses to give up the comfort of her red-and-orange patterned pants. When the unnamed king insists that she perform until the king presents her with an ultimatum dance or SCRAM!’ Vashti and her ladies-in-waiting take the scram option and leave to ‘conquer the world in their comfy pants!’
Ha Ha. So funny I forgot to laugh. This is a distortion. Why confuse children with a misreading of a sacred text?
I don’t know.
Here’s what the Talmud tells us, that Vashti was the daughter or granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian King who burned down the first temple. Imagine her a member of the Hitler clan (if there was one) or perhaps a grandchild of Eichmann or Goebbels.
And she followed the path laid out by her forebears. The midrash tells us that she forced her Jewish women, presumably slaves to work naked on the Sabbath. This is an extreme form of dehumanization. Shockingly reminiscent of Nazis who also forced our people to disrobe before their slaughter.
So why is she being presented as a hero?
Vashti doesn’t deserve admiration–she deserves our scorn. And Esther?
She showed true faith and bravery in risking her life for her people. Let’s not forget that and let’s not allow our kids to forget it either.