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In Esther 4:16, Esther instructs Mordechai:

צ֣וּמוּ עָ֠לַי וְאַל־תֹּאכְל֨וּ וְאַל־תִּשְׁתּ֜וּ שְׁלֹ֤שֶׁת יָמִים֙ לַ֣יְלָה וָי֔וֹם גַּם־אֲנִ֥י וְנַעֲרֹתַ֖י אָצ֣וּם כֵּ֑ן

Fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night and day; also I and my handmaidens will fast thusly.

I understand why Mordechai and the Jews should fast; they were the ones in danger, so they therefore had to fast. The same logic would apply to Esther. But why did her handmaidens fast?

We first meet these handmaidens in 2:9 (I assume that the handmaidens Heigai gave her were the same ones she kept as queen):

וְאֵת֙ שֶׁ֣בַע הַנְּעָר֔וֹת הָרְאֻי֥וֹת לָֽתֶת־לָ֖הּ מִבֵּ֣ית הַמֶּ֑לֶךְ

And seven handmaidens who were fitting to be given to her from the King's palace

The Gemara in Megillah 13a discusses why she was given seven (and answers what "fitting to be given to her" means):

ואת שבע הנערות וגו' אמר רבא שהיתה מונה בהן ימי שבת

"And the seven handmaidens, etc." Rava said: she would count with them the days of the week (and would therefore always know when Shabbos was).

For this purpose, there is no need for the handmaidens to be Jewish specifically; further, had Esther specifically requested Jewish handmaidens, she would have given away her nationality, which she specifically kept secret; in 2:10, discussing when Esther was still at the harem, the Megillah notes:

לֹא־הִגִּ֣ידָה אֶסְתֵּ֔ר אֶת־עַמָּ֖הּ וְאֶת־מֽוֹלַדְתָּ֑הּ כִּ֧י מָרְדֳּכַ֛י צִוָּ֥ה עָלֶ֖יהָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־תַגִּֽיד

Esther did not tell her nationality nor her birthplace, for Mordechai had commanded her not to tell.

So if even at that stage, Esther was careful not to reveal her nationality, she wouldn't have requested specifically Jewish handmaidens - that would have raised too many eyebrows.

What is the other option, then? Heigai just happened to give her seven Jewish handmaidens? If he's picking them randomly, it's much more likely that few, if not none, of them would be Jewish; if he's not picking them randomly, well, why not? What advantage is there, from Heigai's perspective, of giving Esther specifically Jewish handmaidens?

Based on this logic, then, it would seem that Esther's handmaidens, or at least most of them, weren't Jewish. Therefore, the logic behind the Jews' fasting would not apply to them. So why would Esther insist on her handmaidens' fasting?

  • גם אני ונערותי אצום כן. כי אסתר גיירם בשכבר. והראתה למרדכי שלא היתה מדמה להמלט היא מצרת ישראל מכל הזולת. ואיך בכל צרתם גם לה היה צרה. והיתה רוצה לשים נפשה בכפה עליהם וכדי להושיעם. ואף כי היתה מלכה ומעונגת. ואשת אחשורוש אשר נשותיהן היו חושבות מחשבות לילה ויום להתיפות לבלתי יתגנו בעיניו. עם כל זה היתה רוצה להתענות התענית הנמרץ ההוא. according to the Joseph Ibn Yahya. Though I can translate the first statement (she converted them) the rest is beyond me to any level of specificity. – rosends Mar 2 '18 at 0:06
  • Rav Yonasan Eyebeshutz says that they were the Jewish maids that Vashti forced to work on shabbos so they were devoted to Esther who had them keep shabbas and kashrus. As a result, they kept her secrets. – sabbahillel Mar 2 '18 at 0:23
  • @rosends If you can cite that, it sounds like an answer to me. – DonielF Mar 2 '18 at 0:23
  • @sabbahillel Ditto to you – DonielF Mar 2 '18 at 0:26
  • @DonielF I was told that at a shiur but cannot find my notes with the correct citation. – sabbahillel Mar 2 '18 at 0:27
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Perhaps they fasted because they were Esther's, similar to how the people of Ninveh made their animals fast when they repented.

  • Interesting. Is this your own answer, or did you see this somewhere? – DonielF Mar 4 '18 at 1:00
  • @DonielF - I remember seeing it years ago (I think), but until I can remember where consider it as if I said it by myself. – Uber_Chacham Mar 4 '18 at 7:53
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The Maharal to that verse assumes like your two assumptions: (a) her handmaidens weren't Jewish, as that would have raised suspicion that she was Jewish and (b) no seeming purpose that they should fast.

He infers from the end that verse which says אָצ֣וּם כֵּ֑ן, literally I will fast, excludes her handmaidens from her fast. He explains that while they did indeed fast, it was for a different reason.

When she arrives at the king's palace uninvited, maybe Achashverosh will accuse her of lacking the proper fear of royalty. Esther would then be able to prove that she does have fear by stating that she's been fasting for three days as preparation, which shows she knows how serious it is coming uninvited.

If Achashverosh were to not believe her, she could use her handmaidens as proof that she did indeed fast, for they fasted as well. So she had them fast as a backup plan to prove her integrity. I don't understand why they had to specifically fast instead of simply saying Esther fasted, maybe she worried they would lie. Then it's not clear to me how them fasting would prove anything, as maybe they're lying about that...unless it was somehow clear that they fasted.

However, Rav Yosef Nachmiash and Yosef Lekach (to 2:9) assume that she for sure had Jewish handmaidens.

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