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Iran’s Distortion of Jewish History

Iran’s Distortion of Jewish History

Iran’s Foreign Minister reminds Jews why it’s important to know Jewish history.


Just before Purim, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said to a group of young people: “In Persia, they wanted to kill us, but it didn’t work. Today too Persians are trying to destroy us but today too it will not work.”

Javad Zarif, the Foreign Minister of Iran, disagreed with Netanyahu’s interpretation. In a Tweet and a follow-up, he said: “Once again Benyamin Netanyahu not only distorts the realities of today, but also distorts the past – including Jewish scripture….The Book of Esther tells how Xerxes I saved Jews from a plot hatched by Haman the Agagite, which is marked on this very day.”

Of course, we who read the Book of Esther every Purim know that Ahasheurus (the Jewish name for Xerxes) was fully on Haman’s side with regard to destroying the Jews until Esther and Mordechai, the real heroes, turned him around. But we see how Jewish history can be easily misinterpreted by our enemies.

Distorting the Torah is nowhere more evident than in this week’s Torah portion where we read the story of the Golden Calf. Forty days after hearing God at Mount Sinai, the Jews are busy building and dancing around a golden calf. What’s going on? How could they be doing idol worship so soon after they heard God?

According to some Christian scholars, there is a simple answer to that question. The Jews were incapable of doing the right thing! In fact, the Torah was only given to them to demonstrate that, because of original sin, human beings were incapable of keeping it – therefore, they needed the new covenant of Christianity, Judaism Lite.

From a careful reading of the Torah, and the indispensable Midrash, we see that it wasn’t so. The Jewish people thought that Moses was dead. After hearing God at Mount Sinai, they had asked Moses to get the rest of the Torah for them. Now, without Moses, they felt they needed some sort of intermediary to be able to communicate with God. The calf was a replacement for Moses, not a replacement for God. They looked at it as a tangible Kabbalistic symbol to focus their attention, to get what Jews later would get from going to the Temple, or Jews today get from going to the Western Wall.

The Torah tells us that, at our level then, it was a terrible mistake. We didn’t need anything physical; we should have been able to pray to God directly. The need for something physical, even though it wasn’t idol worship, was the start of a road that would lead to idol worship at a later date. That’s why God was prepared to treat their actions so harshly had Moses not prayed and lead them to repentance.

It is important today that we Jews know our history. When we don’t, we can easily be confused by falsifications of our history. No Jew who has gone through the Book of Esther will be taken in by the Iranian Foreign Minister who speaks for a country that wants to make Haman’s dream a reality. But how many Jews are there today who know less about the Purim story than Javad Zarif?

A must-read book for anyone who needs more knowledge about Jewish history is Rabbi Ken Spiro’s A Crash Course in Jewish History. We shouldn’t wait for our enemies to remind us of what we don’t know.

March 14, 2017

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Visitor Comments: 8

(5) Anonymous, March 20, 2017 8:23 AM

How was Xerxes evil?

Rabbi Willis, you mention that "Xerxes was fully on Haman's side". I read the book of Esther many times, still I do not see where it says that Xerxes was "fully" on Haman's side. The book of Esther rather shows that Xerxes was more or less disconnected from daily affairs as he had delegated the running of the country to Haman. Maybe this could have made him ultimately responsible for a genocide that could have happened, but still there is no verse which clearly states that Xerxes was on Haman's side. Later we see in the book of Esther that Xerxes even honored Mordechai, and forced Haman to honor Mordechai, and this happened BEFORE any intervention on Esther's side. Why would Xerxes honor Mordechai the Jews if he was so evil and hated the Jews, as Jewish sources would have us believe? Later we see that Xerxes was FULLY on Esther's side and due to his intervention and orders, the planned genocide against the Jews was stopped, and thanks to the orders and the support of Xerxes, the Jews were able to annihilate their enemies. How could Xerxes later be on the Jew's side if he was so evil as Jewish sources have us believe? IN the book of Esther we see that just as Xerxes initially could have been a "shaliach of evil" who gave a free hand to Haman, he later became a "shaliach of good" and gave a free hand to the Jews and to Esther. Lets give credit where credit is due. The Jews certainly could not have achieved a great victory if Xerxes would not have turned around and supported the Jews in destroying Haman. Iran/Persia, historically has been a curse and a blessing to the Jews. It was the land of Haman, but also the land of Cyrus the Great whom Isaiah called the Messiah of HaShem, who destroyed babylon and freed the Jews.

chaim willis, March 21, 2017 2:56 PM

Xerxes was our enemy

when haman came to Ahasheurus to destroy the Jews, he offered him ten thousand talents of silver for the privilege. When the king agreed, and gave haman his ring which signified his approval, he said ""The silver is given to you, the people also, to do with as you see fit". He was happy with what Haman was going to do, he didn't even want to take money for agreeing to it.
Yet even though he was a bad man, he didnt have the intensity of evil or clarity of Haman, so he could be turned around by love for Esther. And his honoring of Mordechai was an emotional reaction to either 1) not being able to sleep after a drinking party--that had never happened to him before, or 2) after Esther had invited Haman to the party, he worried that maybe they were plotting against him, and that made him think that he should see if he had any friends out there who were on his side.

Anonymous, March 22, 2017 11:01 AM

Xerxes changed from enemy to friend

Please check what I said: "Xerxes gave a free hand to Haman" but it was not due to a particular inherent evil or hate for Jews. When Haman presented his plan to Xerxes, he presented a nation (without naming them) as a threat to national interest and security. Xerxes supported the plan NOT based on a particular hatred for the Jews, but because he believed Haman, that these people posed a threat to his kingdom. As for him honoring Mordechai, your 2 suppositions are not defended by the text. It is only your assumption. The motivations for honoring Mordechai were not based on any perceived threat or a a drinking party as you suggest but of genuine desire to honor someone who had rendered service to his country and had not been rewarded. This shows Xerxes as being a just man. The problem is that I do not understand why you insist on calling him evil for supporting Haman, but you will refuse to give him the credit for supporting Esther and issuing a verdict to save the Jews and help them defeat their enemies. If you consider him to be "evil" for supporting Haman, you should also accept to call him "good" for later supporting Mordechai and Esther. I understand this is basically what Purim is about; turning evil into good and turning the King's heart from being a shaliah of evil to being a shaliach of good and that's the miracle of Purim, turning evil to good, from foe to friend. As i mentioned Iran/Persia is a land of contrasts, a curse/blessing. If this land produced a Haman, it also produced a Cyrus the Great whom Isaiah called the Messiah. Divine providence decides this. Iran previously was a friend to Israel in the time of the Shah. It later became an enemy when KHoMeiNi (KHaMaN notice same the initials) took over. I think/pray Iran will change again and become a blessing to Am Yisrael as it was many times in history.

Mike, March 25, 2017 7:28 PM

"some of my best friends are Jewish"

to quote:

Xerxes supported the plan NOT based on a particular hatred for the Jews, but because he believed Haman, that these people posed a threat to his kingdom.

Sounds like what a defender of Hitler would say

(4) Anonymous, March 16, 2017 6:57 PM

Amen! Thanks for posting!

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