One of Israel’s most celebrated high-tech investors says a hard-headed analysis of the power politics and economics behind the Purim story has finally revealed its real villain – and it’s not who you think.
Michael Eisenberg, a venture capitalist with Aleph Partners, is a key figure in Israel’s tech world whose countless success stories include WeWork, Anodot and Houseparty.
He’ll discuss his book, “The Vanishing Jew: A Wake-Up Call From the Book of Esther,” with Rabbi Benny Lau in English on Sunday, February 18 at an event hosted by Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem and Times of Israel Presents. Tickets are available HERE.
Eisenberg takes a contemporary approach to dissecting the text of the Purim story – and exposes the usually heroic figure of Mordechai as a willing participant in the destruction of the Jewish people.
The author argues that investment in Israel – however risky it may seem – is a prerequisite for securing the Jewish future. Instead, Mordechai invests in winning the ultimate power connections with the royal household in Persia – and ends up securing the doom of Diaspora Jewry.
“Mordechai chooses wealth and assimilation in Persia over life in the land of Israel,” says Eisenberg. It’s a choice that would have condemned the Jews of Persia to oblivion, he says.
According to Lau, the motive behind Eisenberg’s interpretation of the traditional tale is to “unmask the holiday of Purim, to sober up from the wine, and to restore awareness and understanding.”
“Eisenberg’s reading is informed by the elbow-rubbing, competition, and endless interactions of economics, economic policy, business, and politics, enabling him to identify patterns and nuances in economic cycles and the inevitable struggle for money, power, and control,” says Lau.
Death, defeat, and a drop in taxes
The Book of Esther opens and closes with an account of the economic state of the Persian empire, which leads Eisenberg to interpret the story through the modern lenses of the economy, identity politics, globalization and multiculturalism. King Ahasuerus’s fortunes drop from the conspicuous consumption of the opening feast to the modest celebration of Esther’s coronation. That followed a disastrous defeat in a foreign military campaign and a drop in tax revenues, says Eisenberg.
Then along comes Haman, offering 10,000 shekels of silver – equivalent to the empire’s entire tax revenues for a year – with the offer to “Make Persia Great Again.” That’s a no-brainer for the king, who gladly accepts, along with the offer to wipe out the Jews.
Meanwhile, a couple of pioneering entrepreneurs are about to invest their efforts in the land of Israel.
“Ezra and Nehemiah are coming back at that time to Israel with rough hands and barely a penny, but setting up a society that ultimately lasts for a very long time,” says Eisenberg. Mordechai, on the other hand, stays in Persia, “continuing down the path to assimilation and extinction.”
“The relationship between Israel and the major Diaspora communities today bears an uncanny resemblance to the relationship between Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora in the times of Ezra, Nehemia, Esther, and Mordechai,” he says.
After the conclusion of the Purim story, Esther’s son becomes the ruler of Persia, King Artaxerxes I. But her success in becoming queen, as engineered by Mordechai, ends in disaster.
Mordechai’s family, says Eisenberg, loses “their Jewish identity in pursuit of Persian power and wealth. Mordechai worked to use Esther’s beauty, his Jewish brothers, and political savvy to become the deputy to the King of Persia. Although he achieved his goal in the end, the story remains a lasting Jewish tragedy, masked by drunken celebrations.”
“The Jews disappear into the fabric of the Persian Empire,” Eisenberg says. “Esther’s own son eventually succeeded Ahasuerus as emperor. The son of a Jewish mother was the most powerful man in the world, but he had no Jewish identity whatsoever, and history remembers him as a Persian, not as a Jew.”
For Eisenberg, the parallels with subsequent Jewish history – including our own times – are clear.
Far from being a jolly story of survival and rescue from the jaws of destruction, the author of the Purim story uses a “sharp pen and subtle cynicism” to lay bare Mordechai’s self-serving machinations that seek power and influence in Persia over the rebuilding of Zion. That project was launched in the very next generation by Ezra and Nehemia – who himself served as a royal courtier to Esther’s son, the next king.
“The author of the Megilah uses a seemingly cheerful and amusing story to tell about the dangers of assimilation in exile and the factors that drive this process,” says Eisenberg.
Join us on Sunday, February 18 for what promises to be a fascinating discussion.
THE VANISHING JEW
Michael Eisenberg & Benny Lau
8:00 p.m., Sunday, February 18
Beit Avi Chai, King George 44, Jerusalem
Tickets NIS 40 HERE
Check out another upcoming event:
BRITAIN AND ZIONISM: BALFOUR TO THATCHER
Azriel Bermant & Elliot Jager
The Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917. Soon after, Britain backtracked on its commitment to foster a national home for the Jewish people. Even under Margaret Thatcher, an avowed friend of Israel, British ambivalence continued. Why?
Book launch and discussion with Azriel Bermant, author of “Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East,” and Elliot Jager, author of “The Balfour Declaration: Sixty-Seven Words – 100 Years of Conflict.”
7:30 p.m., Tuesday February 27
Tickets NIS 40 HERE
To make sure of your seats and to be the first to hear about all our events, join our priority mailing list. Email the word “subscribe” to: firstname.lastname@example.org