I’ve always loved the story of Queen Esther. When I was a kid, I did what many young girls do on Purim – I dressed up as her, looking up to her as a Jewish superhero princess, hoping one day I’d be like her. Now my understanding of Esther is much more complicated, but I adore her nonetheless – a vulnerable young girl with little agency of her own, taken to the King’s harem whether she wants it or not, but who over the course of her tale finds her voice, and learns to use the power that she does have to stand up for her people. As an adult, I see Esther not only as beautiful (though there’s no denying that in the context of her story, Esther’s beauty helps a lot), but clever, tactical, and able to make change by taking calculated risks. Today, I was delighted to find yet another reason to adore Esther – it’s possible that she was vegan, just like me!
In Megillah 13a, the Rabbis puzzle over what Esther must have eaten whilst she was in King Ahashverosh’s palace. Surely a nice Jewish girl would have kept kosher, right? Rabbi Yochanan argues that she ate “זרעונים [Zeronim],” which can mean vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and/or pulses. At least according to Rabbi Yochanan, the ideal diet for a secretly Jewish Queen of Persia would have been plant-based.
Whilst Rabbi Yochanan likely saw Esther’s veganism as a practicality, I can’t help but see her dietary choices as being connected to her struggle against anti-Semitism. All liberation struggles are intrinsically linked; the logic that allows us to oppress human beings is the same logic that allows us to oppress animals. In my midrashic imagination, Queen Esther not only happened to be vegan, but actively chose to be vegan because it aligned so clearly with who she was. She knew what it was like to be “other,” as a young woman and as a Jew in Diaspora, and I’d like to believe that this made her want to live as empathically and compassionately as possible.
With veganism, it can be difficult to take the first step – just as Esther herself was initially afraid to speak up for her people. But, this Purim, why not try out a vegan diet, in solidarity with Queen Esther and her bravery? And who knows, you might even find it super delicious!
Over the course of the Megillah, Queen Esther hosts not one, but two dinner parties, as part of her plan to save the Jewish people. What might our vegan heroine have served up at these feasts?
Here’s a suggested dinner party menu, inspired by the vegan queen. Tasty enough to change minds, hearts and possibly even the course of history. Perfect for a Purim seudah (celebratory meal) or Shabbat dinner:
Kohenet Yael Tischler is a ritual-weaver, Jewish educator and song leader. She is the co-founder of Yelala, a constellation of work that celebrates Earth-centred, feminist Jewish spirituality and reclaims the practices of our women/femme and folk ancestors. She holds an MA in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University, a BA in English Literature from Columbia University and a BA in Tanakh (Bible) from the Jewish Theological Seminary.