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Esther was taken (Esther 2:8), ostensibly against her will, by king Achashveirosh. I would like to know if she had the halachic status of a captive such that, for example, the mitzvah of redeeming a captive (pidyon sh'vuyim)would apply.

  • SA YD 252:2 cites לא תעמד על דם רעך and והצל לקוחים למות and וחי אחיך עמך among the sources for פדיון שבויים (the others are general צדקה sources). Perhaps this would only apply if there’s potentially a loss of life, as a general case of imprisonment is, but not in this case or similar ones, where she is being promoted to queen. – DonielF Feb 14 at 16:31
  • @DonielF Esther's predecessor might disagree – rikitikitembo Feb 14 at 16:57
  • On what, royalty being a death sentence? There’s a big difference between someone being appointed to take away your throne, and you yourself appointing someone with whom to share it. Particularly in the case of female royalty, where queens historically had little power. Remember that, as previously established in the Megillah, “every man will be the ruler of his household,” a law established precisely because the queen rebelled against her husband. – DonielF Feb 14 at 17:02
  • @DonielF according to some opinions Vashti was put to death. Anyone in close proximity to a clearly unstable king is certainly in a position of potential loss of life. – rikitikitembo Feb 14 at 19:09
  • I still think in the specific case of Esther, even if she would qualify as a Shevuyah, they still wouldn’t have (and indeed, didn’t) redeem her. After all, Mordechai knew that she was put on the throne for a reason - certainly Hashem would help her. However, in a general case similar to that of Esther, I think maybe she wouldn’t qualify as a Shevuyah to begin with, unless it’s a clearly unstable king. – DonielF Feb 14 at 19:12
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Rambam (Matnos Aniyim 8:10, Meszler translation) seems to understand that a halachic "captive" must be one who is in danger:

פִּדְיוֹן שְׁבוּיִים קוֹדֵם לְפַרְנָסַת עֲנִיִּים וְלִכְסוּתָן. וְאֵין לְךָ מִצְוָה גְּדוֹלָה כְּפִדְיוֹן שְׁבוּיִים שֶׁהַשָּׁבוּי הֲרֵי הוּא בִּכְלַל הָרְעֵבִים וְהַצְּמֵאִים וַעֲרוּמִּים וְעוֹמֵד בְּסַכָּנַת נְפָשׁוֹת. וְהַמַּעֲלִים עֵינָיו מִפִּדְיוֹנוֹ הֲרֵי זֶה עוֹבֵר עַל (דברים טו ז) "לֹא תְאַמֵּץ אֶת לְבָבְךָ וְלֹא תִקְפֹּץ אֶת יָדְךָ" וְעַל (ויקרא יט טז) "לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל דַּם רֵעֶךָ" וְעַל (ויקרא כה נג) "לֹא יִרְדֶּנּוּ בְּפֶרֶךְ לְעֵינֶיךָ". וּבִטֵּל מִצְוַת (דברים טו ח) (דברים טו יא) "פָתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת יָדְךָ לוֹ". וּמִצְוַת (ויקרא כה לו) "וְחֵי אָחִיךָ עִמָּךְ". (ויקרא יט יח) "וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ". (משלי כד יא) "וְהַצֵּל לְקֻחִים לַמָּוֶת" וְהַרְבֵּה דְּבָרִים כָּאֵלּוּ. וְאֵין לְךָ מִצְוָה רַבָּה כְּפִדְיוֹן שְׁבוּיִים:

The redemption of captives held for ransom takes precedence over sustaining the poor and clothing them. You do not find a mitzvah greater than the redemption of captives, for captivity is in the same category as famine, drought, or exposure, and one stands in danger to one's life. One who averts his eyes from redeeming [the captive] transgresses [the commandment], (Deut. 15:7) Do not harden your heart and shut your hand, and (Lev. 19:16) Do not stand upon the blood of your neighbor, and (Lev. 25:53) He shall not rule ruthlessly over him in your sight, and nullifies the commandment (Deut. 15:8) You must open your hand, and the commandment, (Lev. 25:36) Let him live by your side as your kinsman, and (Lev. 19:18) Love your fellow as yourself, and (Proverbs 24:11) If you refrained from rescuing those taken off to death, [those condemned to slaughter--if you say, "We knew nothing of it," surely He who fathoms hearts will discern], and many such sayings. You cannot find a greater mitzvah than the redemption of captives.

As a later posek, Aruch Hashulchan Yoreh De'ah 252:1 seems to follow this understanding as well. (Note that various Rishonim and Poskim disagree with this position, such as Tosfos, Pischei Teshuvah, and others.)

Megilas Esther (2:7) says Achashverosh loved her, and presumably he wouldn't hurt her1!

Therefore, even if she would have been considered halachically "captured" by Achashveirosh, it seems that her life wasn't endangered, so she would not meet the requirements for a "captive" according to the Rambam and Aruch Hashulchan.

1 on second thought, he slaughtered his previous wife, so perhaps she wasn't safe?

  • "Megilas Esther (2:7) says Achashverosh loved her, and presumably he wouldn't hurt her1!". In fact, it seems that this love of her was the main motive for his hanging Haman. Note that when Esther reveals the danger of the edict, she mentions herself first by saying that "I and my people" have been sold. Thus, she states that because Haman's decree was to kill all Jews, it included her. Thus, Achashverush saw the immediate problem because it affected his beloved wife, directly. – DanF Feb 14 at 21:15
  • @רבותמחשבות, I'm not sure that that Rambam supports your point. It seems like he's saying that a default status of a captive is that he's assumed to be in Skanas Nefashos, not that the Mitzvah of Pidyon Shevuyim only applies when it's a status of Pikuach Nefesh. – Salmononius2 Feb 14 at 21:56
  • @Salmononius2 1. It's Al's point, not mine, 2. See the Aruch Hashulchan who understands it that way. (Although in truth, the line of what is considered "Pidyon Shevuyim" is blurred.) – רבות מחשבות Feb 14 at 22:02
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The gemarah ketubot 51b states as follows (with explanation from Sefaria.org)

ת"ר שבויי מלכות הרי הן כשבויין גנובי ליסטות אינן כשבויין והתניא איפכא

The Sages taught: With regard to women captured by the monarchy for the purpose of having intercourse with the king, they are considered to be like captives, i.e., they are assumed to have been raped but not to have consented to intercourse. However, those stolen by bandits are not considered to be like captives, as there is a concern that they might have consented to their captors, thinking that they will marry them. The Gemara raises a difficulty: But isn’t it taught in a baraita that the reverse is the case, i.e., women taken by the monarchy are not classified as captives, whereas this status does apply to those abducted by bandits?

מלכות אמלכות לא קשיא הא במלכות אחשורוש הא במלכות בן נצר

The Gemara answers: The apparent contradiction between the ruling of one baraita with regard to those captured by the monarchy and the ruling of the other baraita with regard to those captured by the monarchy is not difficult: This first baraita is referring to the monarchy of Ahasuerus, i.e., a powerful king, as the woman is aware that he is merely using her to satisfy his lust and will certainly not marry her, whereas that other baraita is dealing with the monarchy of ben Netzer, a man who established for himself a minor kingdom through robbery and small-scale conquests. It is possible for a woman to suppose that a king like ben Netzer will eventually marry her.

I would therefore conclude that Esther would have the halachic status of a captive and would be subject to the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim.

  • If the principle is an Ahasuerus-captive would not consent due to lack of marriage prospects, that wouldn't apply to Esther who was taken as part of a big game of The Bachelorette with express intention for potential marriage – Double AA Feb 17 at 4:26

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