Near the beginning of the Purim story, Esther lives in King Achashverosh's harem and "applies" to be queen by spending the night with him. What do our interpretations say about why she did this and whether it was, l'chatchila, Torah-sanctioned behavior?

My motivation for asking is that I wasn't aware that there were any special permissions for a Jewish woman to enter a non-Jewish man's harem or engineer to marry him, even if she had righteous intentions (nor for a father to give away his daughter to do this). Mitzvos that might apply are

  • Leviticus 21:29 "Profane not thy daughter, to make her a harlot, lest the land fall into harlotry, and the land become full of lewdness." (re: Mordechai's hand in this)

  • Deutronomy 23:18 "There shall be no harlot of the daughters of Israel"

    (I don't know if Esther was literally being "וְאֶת רָחָב הַזּוֹנָה," but it would seem that at least a similar prohibition could be involved.)

...Someone told me that Esther and her father were "made" to do this, but the Megillah is not clear. If that interpretation is correct, please provide a textual source.

If she was, in fact, forced, I would be interested in any possible answers to the related question of whether Esther made effort to avoid being kept or chosen. I never get that sense from the Megillah itself, but I haven't read much commentary.

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    I don't have access to the source, now, but the word used in Hebrew is "Vatilakach Esther" (I think it's in Chapter 2). The word means that she was "taken" - i.e., forcibly. How this was done, is unclear. If she applied, she may have been forced to do so as were all the girls in Shushan. As to whether she tried NOT to be attractive, etc. so that she wouldn't be chosen is a separate issue that the Megillah doesn't mention directly.
    – DanF
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 22:44
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    @DanF, Ester 2:15 is pretty clear that she wasn't looking to be attractive.
    – Yishai
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 22:49
  • Isn't this a case of pikuach nefesh?
    – Daniel
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 2:38
  • @DanF judaism.stackexchange.com/a/11126
    – msh210
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 6:36
  • @msh210 - I assume that you are referring to the 2nd answer there? It says "Being taken is something that you CAN resist" - Huh? If you're taken forcibly, doesn't that imply that resistance doesn't work, i.e. - their force overpowers your resistance?
    – DanF
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 15:33

2 Answers 2


There are several places in the Talmud which assume she was taken by force, e.g. Megillah 15a:

לך כנוס את כל היהודים וגו' עד אשר לא כדת אמר רבי אבא שלא כדת היה שבכל יום ויום עד עכשיו באונס ועכשיו ברצון וכאשר אבדתי אבדתי כשם שאבדתי מבית אבא כך אובד ממך

Rashi there:

עד עכשיו. נבעלתי באונס: ועכשיו. מכאן ואילך מדעתי: אבדתי ממך. ואסורה אני לך דאשת ישראל שנאנסה מותרת לבעלה וברצון אסורה לבעלה

When she agrees to go to the King to plead for the Jewish people, then it won't be Halachic rape anymore, and she will no longer be able to be reunited with her Halachic husband, Mordechai.

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    We must remember that the assertion that she was married to mordechai is mere midrash (see [below]) unsurprisingly the Baal Hameor in Sanhedrin is willing to suggest that the Gemara there doesnt hold of this midrash.(judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/53349/belief-in-medrashim/…)
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 0:33
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    Note that there are different opinions about what justified Esther to take an active role as opposed to a passive role (קרקע עולם, per Abaye in Sanhedrin 74b). The Noda BiYhuda (II YD 161), for example, says this was only allowed because it was necessary to save the Jewish nation, whereas the Sh'vus Ya'akov (II 117) says it was allowed to save masses of Jews (which is to say, the Sh'vus Ya'akov would permit taking an active role to save masses of people even if the entire nation was not at risk).
    – Fred
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 0:37
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    @mevaqesh The gemara cited by Yishai (M'gilla 15a) is itself a factor in extensive halachic discussions regarding whether a woman is permitted to her husband (see e.g. R' Sh'lomo Kluger on EH 178, who explains that Ya'el was permitted to her husband because her actions directly allowed her to kill Sisera and save the Jews, whereas Esther's actions merely helped her gain favor in the eyes of Achashveirosh which indirectly allowed her to save the Jews).
    – Fred
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 2:55
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    @Fred Saying pshat in the halacha according to the author of that Midrash isnt the same thing as paskening based off it. But even if some posek or other would reckon with the Midrash, that doesn't change my comment that the initial sources cited (the Gemara Sanhedrin, Shvus Yaakov, and Noda Biyehuda) are independent of the Midrash, (IIR the contents of the tshuvos correctly) and certainly the Gemara is independent, and may even be mashma not like the Midrash (see Baal Hameor, Rishonim ad loc.). Furthermore, even if it is reckoned with b'tachlis hachomer as a method of deriving what the
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 4:31
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    @mevaqesh Rather than editing Yishai's answer in a manner possibly contrary to his intent, I suggest that you let your comments suffice (or also downvote if you think "this answer is not useful"). Perhaps also write your own answer to present your take; I expect that an answer based on the Ba'al HaMaor would be well received. But I don't think an answer needs to be revised whenever it takes an aggadic statement from the Talmud at face value (especially a non-fantastical aggadic statement that was likely intended to be understood literally).
    – Fred
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 5:08

Esther 2:8 uses the term "Vatilakach" - she was taken. While it doesn't clearly imply "forcibly", there are several hints that this was mandatory.

One is 2:3 that says that the king should gather EVERY virgin girl. The text alone doesn't state that Esther was married, so she might have been a betulah.

Even if we follow the explanations that she was married, see Rash"i on 2:17 that says that the king took even married women.

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