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Teaching the Book of Esther—Is It a Satire?

Goals:

  1. Get kids/adults to entertain the possibility that Esther is a satire.

  2. Get kids/adults to compare possible messages about the power balance between men and woman based on different readings of Esther chapter one.

Ages:

Appropriate for children 4th grade and up

Materials:

  • A Chelm story

  • Chapter one of the Book of Esther

Lesson Recipe:

  1. Read a Chelm story.

    (Isaac Bashevis Singer has some great versions of them in Zlateh the Goat and Stories for Children). The Chelm story doesn't need to be connected to Purim. The idea of reading a Chelm story just prior to reading chapter one of Esther is to help students see the possibility that Esther is satire, that King Ahashverosh might be like the Elders of Chelm.

  2. Read Chapter One of Esther.

    For 7th grade and up you can read straight from the Biblical text (in English). Decide before hand what you want to do about the "eunuch" problem. Changing it to "advisor" is an easy solution. For 4th through 6th grade, photocopy the first chapter and take a pencil to edit it to make it shorter. In addition, you may change certain words. You don't have to re-write the whole thing.

  3. What is satire?

    From Webster’s Dictionary:

    1. a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn.

    2. trenchant (sharp, effective) wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly

    These definitions have a lot words that the kids may not know. This can add to the fun of your detective work.

    Investigate the following questions with the children:

    1. Is the Chelm story a satire? If so, what are the human vices being held up to scorn?

    2. Is chapter one of Esther satire? Give evidence from the text to support your argument?

    3. If the author of Esther is writing a satire, how does it change the meaning of the story? For example, how does it change the meaning of the banishment of Vashti?

    4. Is it possible that the story is serious and a satire at the same time? Explain.

  4. Will the real author of Esther please stand up!

    Have one student play the role of the author of Esther who claims Chapter One is serious. Have another student play the role of the author of Esther who claims it's a satire. Have other students interview the authors.
Type: Lesson Plan

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