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Memuchan states (Esther 1:16-20) that Achashveirosh should kill Vashti and decree that all women who rebel against their husbands should also be put to death. Achashveirosh (v. 21-22) agrees and does so.

The mefarshim disagree as to why Memuchan spoke up first. According to the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 4:6), it's because the least important one speaks first, like we do. Other say that for various reasons Memuchan - if you say he is Haman (Megillah 12b) - had a personal vendetta against Vashti, or that Haman wanted Vashti deposed so that his daughter could become queen.

According to any of these opinions, Memuchan would have been justified in sentencing Vashti to death. But why did he want the women of the provinces killed for any rebellions? Just kill Vashti and the women would learn from her; why did there need to be a formal decree saying they would be killed as well for their rebellions?

(Note that this is according to Rashi, who says on v. 19 that both Vashti and the other rebellious women should be killed. Although Rashi doesn't necessarily have to hold of any of the above explanations, he has to hold of some explanation of the story, and all of them so far have the same issue according to Rashi.)

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    I recall hearing somewhere that Memuchan/Haman was upset with his wife, and was using this scenario as an excuse to be able to punish his own wife for her indiscretions against him. – Salmononius2 Feb 28 '17 at 20:29
  • @Salmononius2 Well, that's an interesting pshat. I'd love to hear a source for that. – DonielF Feb 28 '17 at 22:09
  • I believe that's what the Gra answers, although I'm not entirely certain. I looked it up, and I thought that's what he said, but I may have been reading into the words the Pshat I was looking for. If you want to look at it yourself, it's in the Pirush Hagra on the Megillah. – Salmononius2 Mar 2 '17 at 1:26
  • @Salmononius2 Do you have a link? – DonielF Mar 2 '17 at 1:47
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    @sam I don't understand how that answers the question – DonielF Mar 10 '17 at 3:42
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Tosfos (Megillah 12b s.v. Memuchan) brings a midrash that Memuchan was Daniel, and his wife was a mistress who was greater than him and he was unable to force her to speak his language, and therefore he advised Achashverosh to do this.

  • Is there any indication that Tosafot understands that the decree was to kill all rebellious women, as the OP thinks? Otherwise I dont think that this really answers the question. "why did he want the women of the provinces killed for any rebellions? Just kill Vashti and the women would learn from her; why did there need to be a formal decree saying they would be killed as well for their rebellions?" – mevaqesh Mar 15 '17 at 19:10
  • I almost think @mevaqesh's point should be asked the other way around. Don't ask whether Tosfos agree to Rashi's pshat; ask whether Rashi agrees to Tosfos's pshat. Indeed, there does not seem to be any indication whether Rashi holds that Memuchan was Haman or Daniel. – DonielF Mar 15 '17 at 20:08
  • @DonielF I can't say for sure that Rashi agrees with this Tosfos, but I don't see any contradiction between the two, so it would answer your question as far as an explanation of the story that fits with Rashi's explanation. – Ploni Mar 15 '17 at 23:22
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Rav Dr. Yonatan Grossman, associated with Yeshivas Har-Etzion/Herzog College as well as a professor at Bar-Ilan University, has developed a fascinating study of Megillas Esther. It is published in three forms, a series of written English Shiurim on Yeshivas Har-Etzion's VBM website, an English book entitled Esther: The Outer Narrative and the Hidden Reading, and a Hebrew book entitled אסתר: מגילת סתרים.

Rav Grossman addresses the story by contextualizing Memukhan's advice as being given to a drunk and capricious king. The entire story of the decree on all women is presented as a mockery and derision of the institution of the Persian monarchy, and specifically Achashveirosh.

The following quote is taken from the shiur on VBM entitled: Shiur #04: The King's Judgment: Responsible or Ridiculous Rule? I highly recommend reading the entire article, (as well as his entire book :) ) which contains further proofs of Rav Grossman's reading, as well as an analysis of this story's allusions to other parts of Megillas Esther and other stories in Tanach.

It is reasonable that Achashverosh was enraged by the refusal of his wife, the queen, to appear when so commanded.  Less apparent is why the king invited the ministers of the kingdom to consult on what to do with Queen Vashti.  Seemingly, tensions between a couple should be sorted out between themselves; even if a person might wish to share his predicament with his close friends, he would not summon an urgent meeting of government ministers!...

The irony is especially striking in light of the attention paid to the names of the ministers and to their official position – all of which seems unnecessarily detailed.  The emphasis is highlighted through the structure of the sentence.  First there is a prelude to direct speech: "The king said to the wise men who knew the times" – and the reader expects to hear what the king said.  Instead, there follows a lengthy description of the status of these wise men, along with their names: "The closest to him were Karshena, Shetar, Admata, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, Memukhan – the seven princes of Persia and Mede, who beheld the king's face and who sat first in the kingdom." The reader can almost imagine the trumpets blaring as these ministers enter… However, the reader once again asks himself (as the ministers probably do, too) why does the king urgently summon them? With obvious cynicism, the narrative formulates the point of the gathering in the following way: "For the law of what to do with the queen, Vashti, for not having performed the bidding of the king, Achashverosh, via the chamberlains" (1:15).  The addendum, "Via the chamberlains," at the end of the sentence appears to be meant as a mockery of the king, who urgently gathers all of his ministers but who has not spoken with his wife; he invites all the legislators of the kingdom for a consultation, but fails to ask his wife to explain her refusal.

The ministers find themselves in a most difficult quandary.  On one hand, they cannot do that which, seemingly, they would most want to do in this situation: to gently bring the king to his senses, encourage him to drink some coffee, and wait for him to sober up.  Any minister daring to offer such a proposal will obviously be regarded as showing contempt for the crown.  On the other hand, it is difficult to think of any law that may be legislated with a view to solving the king's problem with his wife.  The law, by nature, is a general sphere that applies to the entire kingdom, while in the instance at hand the problem pertains exclusively to the royal couple.  Moreover, the ministers must bear in mind that within a few days the king is likely to sober up, and then they will have to give a logical accounting for the special law that they passed!   The most brilliant of the ministers, as quickly becomes apparent, is Memukhan.  An examination of his response to the king shows how he resolves the ministers' quandary:   "Memukhan said, before the king and the ministers: Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king, but also ALL the ministers and ALL the peoples in ALL the provinces of King Achashverosh.  For word of the queen will become known to ALL the women, making their husbands contemptible in their eyes, as they shall say: 'King Achashverosh commanded that Queen Vashti be brought before him – and she did not appear!' And the princesses of Persia and Mede, who will have heard of what the queen did, shall tell of it to ALL the king's princes, and there shall be great contempt and wrath.  If it please the king, let a royal edict proceed from him, and let it be written among the laws of Persia and Mede and not be altered – that Vashti shall not come before King Achashverosh, and the king shall give her royal estate to another, who is better than her.  And when the king's decree which he shall proclaim shall be heard in ALL of his kingdom, which is extensive, then ALL the women will give honor to their husbands, both great and lowly" (1:16-20).

Memukhan starts with the central idea that he will develop in the course of his monologue: "Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king." This idea is emphasized through the use of the word "all" which is repeated over and over, a total of seven times, in his speech.  This word sums up the point that Memukhan is making: the problem is not the king's personal problem, but rather an issue that affects ALL of the kingdom and ALL of the couples living within it.[2] We can almost hear Memukhan telling the king (if only through hints): "How fortunate that my lord the king has invited your important ministers.  Indeed, a general problem confronts us and it must be addressed by means of a general, thought-out law.  The issue at stake is not, as some people might think, a matter of a private problem between the king and his wife.  No! The entire kingdom faces a problem; every couple now confronts inestimable strife." The sophisticated reader imagines Memukhan winking at the other ministers as he holds forth.  This is hinted at in the introduction to his words: "Memukhan said, before the king AND THE MINISTERS." They, too, await breathlessly the solution to the dilemma in which they have unwillingly been placed.  And Memukhan supplies the goods, by pretending to side with the king's approach, only exaggerating it even further.3

The king is happy with Memukhan's suggestion, as are the other ministers: "The thing was good in the eyes of the king and the ministers, and the king did as Memukhan had said" (1:21).  (We may assume that the king was happy with the "good advice" that he had received, while the ministers were glad that Memukhan's quick thinking had removed them from their predicament.) Immediately the king puts the advice into practice: "He sent letters to all of the king's provinces, to each province according to its writing and to every people in accordance with its language, that every man might rule in his own house, and speak according to the language of the people" (1:22).  We can imagine the reaction of the Persians as they gathered in the town squares to hear the new law that had just been promulgated, and their surprise upon hearing that from now onwards, if a husband asked his wife for a cup of coffee, it was forbidden for her to refuse…

This model serves to expose Achashverosh's kingdom in all of its fickleness. How are matters decided? Does order really prevail in this world power? The reader who enters the experience of the king's momentary caprices that establish new laws in the kingdom, is aware of one of the most important devices that advance the plot, but also senses the narrator's biting regard for the norms and procedures of Achashverosh's rule and – as I shall propose later on – for the institution of royalty altogether. Here, too, we discern the disparity between the revealed and concealed levels. On the revealed level, the king is described as someone who consults his ministers before legislating a new law. Even for the purpose of deciding "what should be done with Queen Vashti" he appeals to the appropriate hierarchy, and the law is accepted through the accepted channels. At the same time, on the concealed level, the reader senses the cynicism that pervades this scene. Contrary to the impression that the literal text conveys, if an entire legal process is required in order for the king to decide what to do with his wife, then the entire legal system and the legislative procedure are being presented with a healthy dose of derision.9

This reading also works well with the Talmud's assertion that Memuchan was Haman, as we see that both of them viewed the rebelliousness of one individual (Vashti/Mordechai) as an endemic problem that needed to be taken care of even to the point of execution (Women/Jews). Midrashim in general look to combine Biblical characters to show deeper meanings in Tanach.

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    Note that this answer doesn't address the question that the OP asked (apparently based on a misreading of Rashi) of why Memukhan decreed that all other women would be killed. However, it could be that the question stands without it. – mevaqesh Mar 14 '17 at 0:23
  • @mevaqesh oh you are totally correct, I completely misread the OP's question, should I leave this as an answer? – termsofservice Mar 14 '17 at 0:24
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    Your call. Personally I would leave it as it addressed why Memukhan generally decreed against women. You might want to mention that the basic assumption of the OP is incorrect. – mevaqesh Mar 14 '17 at 0:27
  • @mevaqesh Yeah, I was just writing that this question answers why Memukhan extended the decree, so not a huge logical step to extend the death penalty to them to. I am going to look up the sources the OP mentions to evaluate the assumption. – termsofservice Mar 14 '17 at 0:30
  • Rashi does however say: ולא יעבור – חוק זה מביניהם, שיהא זה חוק ודת לכל הבוזה את בעלה, It may mean that זה is the death penalty. – termsofservice Mar 14 '17 at 0:40

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