Was Esther on Social Media?

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by R. Gil Student

There is no greater female heroic figure in the Bible than Esther, who saved the Jewish people from destruction by inviting guests over for a small party. The question we wonder, in the playful spirit of Purim, is whether she was posting pictures of the party to her Instagram account? A selfie with Haman would have been damaging to her reputation but what about the food and the decor? Of course, we could answer simply that Esther was one of the biblical prophets (Megillah 14a). Obviously, a prophet would not have a smartphone. But setting that aside, perhaps we can find a stronger proof from the text itself.

First we have to establish that Achashverosh was on social media. That seems clear from the Talmudic explanations of his smaller party. Achashverosh first made a great party for all his ministers and servants from across the kingdom, in order to show off his wealth (Esther 1:3-4). Then the king made a second, smaller party for the residents of Shushan (Esther 1:5). Where did Achashverosh place his more intimate party for the locals? Where did this party actually take place? The Megillah gives a confusing answer to this question: “And when these days (of the first party) were fulfilled, the king made a feast to all the people that were present in Shushan the castle, both great and small, seven days, in the courtyard of the garden of the king’s house (ba-chatzar ginas bisan ha-melekh)” (Esther 1:5). Was the party in the courtyard, the garden or the house? Which was it? The Gemara (Megillah 12a) quotes two answers.

One explanation is that first Achashverosh tried to fit the guests in the courtyard but there were so many that they didn’t fit; then he brought them to the garden and they still didn’t fit; so he brought them all inside the castle. The other answer is that he arranged people by social status. Those who were on a lower status were in the common area in the courtyard. Those of a higher status were allowed into the garden. And the real VIP’s went into the castle. The question is: according to this second opinion, how did Achashverosh know who had what social status? It must be that he had access to everyone’s social media accounts and could determine each person’s social status. He could tell which other parties they attended, with whom they were taking selfies, and thereby know who hangs out with celebrities, who enjoys parties regularly and who goes bowling on a Saturday night.

Obviously, there was plenty of alcohol at this party. “And the drinking was according to the law (ka-das); none did compel” (Esther 1:8). What does drinking according to the law mean? The Gemara (ibid.) explains that the drinking followed the practice advised by halakhah, Jewish law, that you eat more than you drink. So too, Achashverosh served plenty of food so people could eat more than they drank. And what does it mean that “none did compel”? R. Elazar explains that people have specific tastes. When it comes to wine, there are regional differences and people tend to prefer their local wine. Therefore, Achashverosh made sure to serve people the wine from their place of origin.

However, this was a party for the residents of Shushan. Everyone was local! Rather, because it was the capital city, there were residents who originally came from across the empire and settled there for political reasons. Achashverosh had to figure out where everyone came from before they moved to Shushan. He must have been able to check their Facebook pages and see where they were born. That way he knew what wine to serve them. This might seem farfetched but we have another indication of Achashverosh’s access to people’s Facebook pages.

At this party, Achashverosh did not serve just any wine. Rather, he served “royal wine (yein malkhus) in abundance, according to the bounty of the king” (Esther 1:7). What does it mean that this royal wine was in abundance (rav)? Maharsha points out that the normal way is to say that there was a lot of wine (harbeh). Here it says that the wine was great in number (rav). The Gemara (ibid.) explains that Achashverosh served every guest wine that was older than the guest. The wine’s age was greater in number than the guest’s age. How did Achashverosh know everyone’s age? He must have checked their Facebook page. Either he saw the year they were born or he saw them post pictures of their birthday celebrations. Someone who really posted a picture celebrating his 25th birthday out with the guys, got wine that was at least 26 years old.

But if Achashverosh had access to everyone’s social media accounts, then we face a serious problem. When Esther was taken as a potential wife for Achashverosh and then throughout the beginning of the marriage, she never revealed her ancestry. “Esther did not reveal her people nor her lineage” (Esther 2:10). So what? Achashverosh could just check her Instagram and see pictures of the challah she baked and the request to say Tehillim for someone sick and all her Jewish friends with whom she hung out. Clearly, Esther was not on social media. Either she never was on social media or when Mordechai told her to keep her identity private, she deleted all her accounts.

With this, we can better understand the Talmudic debate whether Achashverosh was a clever or stupid king (Megillah 12a). How could the evaluations be so far apart as to be the exact opposite interpretations? Perhaps we can suggest that he was clever in certain aspects and stupid in others. When it came time to issue a decree, Achashverosh did not merely tweet “Kill the Jews.” He knew that posting a status update, no matter how antisemitic, may generate an attack or two but will not lead to all out war. Instead, he wrote the decree in scrolls and sent those letters with carriers across his empire. If you want something done well, it has to be in person and not merely on social media. That was clever.

On the other hand, when Esther would not reveal her ancestry, Achashverosh Googled her and didn’t find anything. So he just gave up; he was defeated. He should have just sent a detective to her home to interview her neighbors and friends. Really, he would have seen a mezuzah and figured out immediately that she was Jewish. But Achashverosh was too lazy for that. When it came to something standard, like issuing a decree, he followed the standard procedure which was effective. But when it came to investigating someone who wasn’t on Facebook, he couldn’t think outside the box and do something in person rather than online. In this, he was a stupid king.

In conclusion, Achashverosh was online and cyber stalking people. Because Esther was not on social media and had no digital footprint, she was able to save the Jews from destruction.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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