Nir Rubin Sirkin
Sanctioning or Rejecting the Diaspora
Two different viewpoints on national life in exile
The Book of Esther allows two different ways of reading it, without a clear decision between them.
The fundamental question addressed by the Megillah is, what ability does Jewry have to exist while scattered in exiles, without a homeland or sovereignty. It constitutes a myth with an ambivalent message on life in the diaspora. It should be noted that the Book deals with the period following the Koresh Declaration and return to Zion, in which there was an existing temple and important Jewish center in the Land of Israel on the one hand, and a large portion of the people (apparently most) living in the diaspora on the other hand. It was written during the Second Temple period, in the Persian or Greek era (the Old Testament was sealed probably around 200 B.C.). During this period the Jewish people was divided, with the reality of many of its sons living in exile, and the existence of a Jewish spiritual center (and in the Hasmonean perod a Jewish kingdom) in the Land of Israel. The authors of the Book made sure to leave it open to two different readings, with two opposite approaches to life in the diaspora: It can be read as proof that the Jewish People can survive in exile, since G-d watches over us under foreign rule too. In other words, the diaspora is a permanent solution for the Jews. Alternately, the Book may be interpreted as proof that the Jews living in exile become distanced from G-d and assimilated, and are at constant risk of annihilation. In other words, life in the diaspora is a temporary, problematic solution for the Jewish People. The real solution to the Jewish People’s problem is sovereign existence in the Land of Israel.
The Book omits the Land of Israel and fails to mention the existence of Jerusalem and the Temple as a significant factor in the story, on the one hand, thus affirming the diaspora. On the other hand, it omits G-d from the story, and thus strengthens the negation of the diaspora. The duality of these two approaches in the Book is an expression of the conflict between the center in the Land of Israel and those in the diaspora. The ambivalent message represents a conflict between the ethos of the diaspora and that of the Land of Israel. The lack of decision between them in the Book apparently reflects a balance of forces between the two.
With the destruction of the Second Temple (70 A.D.), the center in the Land of Israel lost its prominent status. During the period following the destruction of the Temple, the ways of worship undergo change and Judaism assumes a new form. The Land of Israel loses its prominence, and the spiritual center shifts to the diaspora. Most of the interpreters of the Book of Esther were immersed in a diaspora mentality; hence, it was important to them to emphasize and develop the reading of the ‘hidden providence in exile’. The ‘negation of the diaspora’ reading was incompatible with the ethos of life in the diaspora; hence, they emphasized the Book as a myth of a hidden divine miracle.
For me, as a Zionist Jew in the Land of Israel, it is important to reiterate the call to reject the diaspora, and use it to indicate political sovereignty in the Land of Israel as, in my opinion, the right form of existence for the Jewish People.