March 2016

ADAR I – ADAR II 5776

from Simchat Megillat Esther

THE MYSTERIES OF THE HAREM

The Book of Esther features two strong female personalities and the harem in which they resided. Very little is known about this ancient institution, but the Book of Esther provides a brief glimpse into some of its customs.

In antiquity, women’s lives were not as secluded as they came to be in the Middle Ages, but there is very little evidence from the Persian period. With few exceptions, women were essentially illiterate so there is scant written evidence from inside the harem walls themselves. The literate class in antiquity (a very small percentage of men) even if inclined to write about women, would not have been permitted inside the women’s residence.

In general, women were devalued; their daily lives were not considered important enough to write about.