As a parent raising a small child, I find it difficult explaining the story of Megillat Esther. Are there any methods (rabbinic precedence or otherwise) of explaining to a young child the violent elements of the story, such as Haman's drive to exterminate the Jews, the war, and Haman's hanging?

These are crucial to learning the story of Purim and yet I find it inappropriate to otherwise talk to my child about such violence.

The same problem occurs in many others places when teaching Torah to children (Dina's rape is the first that comes to mind). However, since I'm now preparing for Purim, I would be happy to hear of a proper, sensitive approach to teaching the story.

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    @GershonGold: all of the violent imagery is found in your link, so how does this address the problem? ("you are to destroy, kill and slaughter all Jews, young and old, women and children, all in one day." "Haman was hung on the gallows he himself had built for Mordechai" etc.) – Aryeh Feb 13 '13 at 16:54
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    There's a big difference between murder and rape IMO. – Double AA Feb 13 '13 at 17:18
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    Are you looking for a way to explain the violence, or a way to tell the story in which the violence is left out? – jake Feb 14 '13 at 3:38
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    @yoel, I haven't yet and I'm not sure what's the appropriate age for that either, but I don't think someone younger than chinuch age needs to learn about mass genocide just yet. – Aryeh Feb 14 '13 at 17:30
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    @Aryeh you are certainly entitled to your parenting approach and I'm not even saying it's a wrong one, but don't you think that understanding the reality of "in every generation they rise up against us to destroy us" is essential to understanding many key concepts in Judaism? If you don't teach this until bar mitzvah, how will you address Amalek? The Hagadah? What was even the miracle of Purim without this concept? – yoel Feb 14 '13 at 19:39

When I was telling the story to my son when he was younger (he's still pretty young, so even younger), I used the following euphemisms:

  • King Ahashverosh wanted to show everyone how pretty Vashti was, but she didn't want everyone looking at her so she said no, and he got angry and sent her away.

  • Bigthan and Teresh wanted to hurt the king, and when Mordechai heard them talking about it he told Esther ... and they got punished.

  • Haman wanted to get rid of all the Jews.

  • Haman got mad at Mordechai for not bowing down to him.

  • Esther told the king that Haman wanted to get rid of her and her people, and the King punished him.

(I may have also mentioned the hanging. I can't remember for sure, but I remember thinking about the fact that, as far as a child that small knows, hanging from a tree sounds like an awfully uncomfortable and possibly embarrassing experience, but there's not necessarily an assumption that it is fatal.)

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    "an awfully uncomfortable and possibly embarrassing experience" :) – Double AA Feb 17 '13 at 0:16

I'm assuming this question is based on the assumption that you don't want to have to explain murder to your child by exposing him to such violent imagery, rather than a question about how to do exactly that. (One does not have to venture too far into the Torah to find murder, so the time to explain these things comes quite soon. Most schools I'm familiar with don't even bother to put these things in context; they just present the text as is. And the children are certainly younger than bar-mitzva-age. But let's not get into a parenting discussion here about the proper age at which to teach children about these things.)

Although the story of Purim revolves around murder and violence, the spirit of the story is not lost if you replace any element of murder with some other form of less-violent unpleasantness, such as being banished (perhaps to the "Island of Perpetual Tickling"!)

I'm not sure how old your child is, but if s/he is even somewhat resourceful, and there is access to a Megillas Esther with English translation (which are usually quite accessible in the average American shul), perhaps better not to pretend that the story does not contain violent elements.

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    I'm not sure about the appropriateness of teaching children something that didn't really happen. Children have a better memory than many people realize, and if a child grows knowing that Haman wanted to banish the Jews, he might get very confused when he starts understanding the Megila on his own... – Shraga Feb 14 '13 at 21:38
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    @Shraga, A good point. I remember chumash class in my younger days at school. Instead of explaining sexual intercourse, whenever it came up, they would say it as "living together". I remember always picturing e.g. Yehuda and Tamar playing house together, sitting on the couch, making dinner etc. – jake Feb 14 '13 at 21:44
  • jake, that's really funny! – Shraga Feb 14 '13 at 21:52

The problem with touching up the story is that children are sometimes left with these misconceptions, which my lead to embarrassment upon this realization besides for ignorance. I remember at one point in my schooling the rebbi telling the class that they actually killed vashti and that he had realized that many students were unaware if this due to teachers covering it up. Perhaps preferable would be to simple mention the plot points that are age appropriate; e.g. mention Ester becoming queen without mentioning Vashti's fate.

  • Where does it say they actually killed Vashti?? – Double AA Feb 2 '15 at 3:02
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    I wndered if someone would ask this. It doesnt (although it is written in Gemara Megillah 11b) and in fact if I recall the Iyun Yaakov mysteriously asserts that she wasnt killed. The teachers however assumed she was killed as per the Gemara yet told the students otherwise. This was just one example of a teaching (true or untrue) that was specifically intended for a younger audience yet stuck around in the minds of students. – mevaqesh Feb 2 '15 at 3:06

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