On June 2, 2008, the twenty-eighth of the Hebrew month of Iyar, 5768—Jerusalem Day—the fortieth anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem, forty nationalist Orthodox rabbis, some of them from the settlements of Judea and Samaria, visited the Temple Mount. This declarative act was preceded by a number of calls opposing the ban on visiting the mount that had been issued after the Six-Day War by the Chief Rabbinate. Such calls have been issued in clearly political contexts: in 1996 at the height of the struggle against the Oslo Accords; in 2001 in protest against the Waqf’s exclusion from the mount of non-Muslims at the beginning of the second intifada; and in 2004 after the Temple Mount was reopened to non-Muslims.
The rabbis’ visit to the Temple Mount was a high point in the debate within nationalist ultra-Orthodox society between opponents and supporters of such a visit. The visit to the Temple Mount also revealed a nascent change toward the authority of the Chief Rabbinate and its rulings.
Each generation of commentators has imprinted the Book of Esther with its own values and world views. The present article deals with the commentary of Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, one of the leading figures of religious Zionism, on Esther as a case study of the religious Zionist interpretation of this book. Committed both to Zionist ideology and to the Biblical canon, Aviner is determined to find a way to reject the exilic ambiance of the Book of Esther without tarnishing its two principal protagonists. He invests this story of courtly intrigue with modern insights and validates its religious and moral value for his vibrant, well informed readers. In Aviner’s interpretation the story of Esther and Mordecai is no longer that of two successful Diaspora Jews who find themselves involuntarily caught up in the antisemitic plot of a lone evildoer; rather, it becomes the story of the daring struggle of two indefatigable warriors standing shoulder to shoulder in total combat against the forces of evil.