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Why Judaism Has So Many Different Explanations For Things

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One of the volumes of the Talmud is entitled Megillah. It discusses the rules relating to the reading of Megillah-the book of Esther, and the events and characters in the book. The following selections are from pages 15 and 16 of that volume.

“The prophet Jeremiah is a descendant of Rahab the harlot. Rabbi Judah says: Hulda the prophetess was also one of the descendants of Rahab the harlot. She converted to Judaism and married Joshua. Our Rabbis taught: her very name (Rahab means broad) inspired lust.

Rabbi Isaac said: Whoever says Rahab, Rahab at once has an erection. R. Nahman said to him: I say Rahab, Rahab and nothing happens to me! Isaac replied: I was speaking of someone who was intimate with her.”

(This is discussed here to prepare us for the even greater diversity of rabbinic views to come. If Esther was not attractive she would not have become queen, and would not have had the opportunity to protect the Jews. Is female attractiveness a bad thing? Does that depend on how she uses it, or on how males think about it?)

“Rabbi Eleazar ben Hanina said in the name of Rabbi Hanina: Whoever reports a saying in the name of its originator brings deliverance into the world, as it says, “Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai” (2:22).

Rabbi Eleazar further said in the name of R. Hanina: When righteous people die, it is only for their own generation. It is like one who loses a pearl. Wherever it is, it remains a pearl. It is lost only to its owner.

“The king stretched out the golden scepter in his hand to Esther.” (5:2). How much did it stretch? Rabbi Jeremiah said: It was 2 cubits long and he made it 12 cubits (six-fold). Some say 16, some say 24, and some say 60.

Rabbah bar Ofran said in the name of Rabbi Eleazar who had it from his teacher, who had it from his teacher: 200. (How far was it from the throne to the entrance? How big was the attraction of Esther? How phallic is the king? Are bigger miracles better?)

“Let the king and Haman come to my banquet” (5:4) What was Esther’s reason for inviting Haman? Rabbi Eleazar said: she set a trap for him. Rabbi Joshua said: she had learned in her father house “If your enemy is hungry give him bread to eat”(Proverbs 25:21)

Rabbi Meir said: so Haman would not plot a coup.

Rabbi Judah said: so no one would suspect Esther was Jewish.

Rabbi Nehemiah said: so the Jewish people should not depend on her and stop praying.

Rabbi Jose said: so she could keep her eye on him.

Rabbi Joshua ben Korha said: she thought—I will encourage Haman so the king will be enraged and kill us both.

Rabbi Eliezer of Modi’im said she made the king jealous of Haman; and she also made the princes jealous of him.

Rabbah ben Abbuha came across Elijah the prophet, and sure that Elijah who spends most of his time in heaven and would surely know, asked him: Which of these reasons prompted Esther to act as she did?

He replied: “All of them. All the reasons given by the Rabbis are correct.” i.e.  people frequently have many motivations for their actions.”

This is why Jews often say: two Jews, three opinions; and I would add: 2 Rabbis, 7 opinions.

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Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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