Celebrating Rebellious Women: From Vashti to The Sinless

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When we think about female rebellion nowadays, our thoughts automatically picture marches, signs, social media, and hashtags. There is an accepted concept that the louder we cry, the more our voices will be heard.

But does volume really maximize impact?

Next week, my husband and I are premiering a play here at the 14th Street Y—The Sinless. The play centers around a conflicted woman named Annabelle, who has found faith and Orthodox Jewish life through college and marriage. Her marriage with Tuvia, a rabbinical student, is in a state of conflict at the start of the play, and this conflict heightens when the couple splits up for a weekend. Annabelle launches an elaborate plan to try on a new life, just for one night.

What will she do when God isn’t watching? Will her hidden rebellion change something in her life?

Annabelle is hardly the first heroine in a Jewish story to enact a rebellion within the walls of her home. This week we read the story of Purim, and come across the controversial character of Vashti. Vashti is the King’s first wife, and when asked to parade before the King at a feast, so that all the men can see her beauty, she has a moment of rebellion and refuses. The Megillah, or the scroll of Purim, reads:

“But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s behest which was [brought] by the hand of the chamberlains, and the king became very wroth, and his anger burnt within him.”

Soon, the King has banished her, which leads to the events that bring Esther, the hero of the story, into the picture. The story does not explicitly tell us how Vashti’s rebellion affects Esther, but in this verse, we find something interesting:

“Then with this the maiden would come to the king; whatever she would request would be given to her to come with her from the house of the women to the king’s house… Now when the turn of Esther… came to go in to the king, she requested nothing, except what Hegai the king’s chamberlain, the guard of the women, would say, and Esther obtained grace in the eyes of all who beheld her.”

In other words, Esther has the opportunity to walk before the king with anything she might want to bring, be it riches or gowns or escorts. But because she desires to keep her Jewish heritage a secret, she brings nothing. And this act wins the Kings favor, and she is chosen as his new wife, a position that will enable her to save the Jewish people from destruction later in the story.

Jewish thinkers struggle with these two figures. Some herald them as feminist heroines, and wave flags in their honor at Purim celebrations. Some see them as victims of circumstance, who ultimately are still at the mercy of more powerful male figures.

During the holiday of Purim, we are commanded to shout, use noisemakers, and celebrate.

However, the story’s female heroes are quiet in their most impactful moments.

In our contemporary story, Annabelle fears being heard. The rebellion is about her inner journey, not outward. There are certainly no groggers and yelling in this story. In fact, her inner thoughts and desires are hidden, and only the audience is invited to hear them. We are, perhaps, the first people to know her secrets. But those around her judging her actions, are left to wonder.


 

Don’t miss The Sinless, premiering at the Theater at the 14th Street Y!

The Sinless

March 28 – April 7

Written by Judah Skoff, Producing Director Rebecca Deitsch Skoff

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