The Book of Esther tells how the Jewish people were saved from extermination by a beautiful young woman, Esther, who charmed her way into the graces of the Persian King Ahasuerus. The story is a familiar one to those who celebrate Purim, but Dr. Susan Block has a slightly different take.
“It started percolating in my pre-adolescent brain,” the Sunday school teacher-turned-sexologist told us over the phone tonight. “I loved dressing up as Esther and putting on Purim plays as a little kid in Hebrew school. Though nothing was ever said about the eroticism of the story – Esther is portrayed sometimes as a virgin even at the end of the story – I sensed she was a hot number and when I dressed as her, I felt like a hot number.”
In adulthood, Block became disenchanted with Judaism and other religions and it wasn’t until after she met her husband that she revisited the story.
“I married a man who was born Catholic,” Block said. “He converted to Judaism, mainly because he loved Jewish women and he was very interested in my heritage, which I found very endearing. Most of the Jewish men I went out with had been very rejecting of it.”
Her husband didn’t know what Purim — the holiday commemorating the events described in Esther — was about.
“I hadn’t celebrated in at least a decade,” Block said of Purim. “But I told him, ‘you know what? Let me read the story of Purim to you, let me read it right out of the Bible. It meant a lot to me when I was a little girl and I used to dress up and feel like a princess.’”
So she did.
“Let’s just say before I could finish, we were having sex,” she confessed. “The eroticism of it jumped off the page. It became clear to me that this is a story about sex. It’s not a coincidence that Purim falls close to Saint Patrick’s Day and Mardi Gras. It’s a holiday of spring and renewal and getting drunk, so drunk, you don’t know the good guys from the bad. The heroine is a woman who uses the power of her beauty, her charm and sensuality to seduce a king and save her people. In a time of such brutality and violence, it is a miracle.”
To Block, Esther is a sexual role model.
“There is an element of masquerade to Purim, I realized this even as a kid,” Block said. “You dress up – even if you don’t dress up as a character in the Purim story, you wear costumes. That’s a metaphor for how, very often, we disguise ourselves to seduce someone. We don’t just lay open all our problems and weaknesses. We present a mask, which is what Esther does.”
The story of how Esther surrenders herself to save her people is filled with metaphor for Block.
“There is a moment when Esther has to go before the king to plead for her people’s lives,” Block told us. “She can be killed if she goes into this court without having been invited (Esther 4:10 – 11). And she hasn’t been invited. The only way her life will be spared is if the king holds out his scepter to her. This is such an iconic moment, because of course he does raise his scepter when he sees her in the courtyard about to be seized by his guard. He raises his scepter and Esther touches the tip of his scepter (Esther 5:2). This is described in such loving detail and it’s so erotic to me – like a handjob, right there.”
Dr. Block will be celebrating this Purim with a play at her speakeasy this Saturday night in Downtown Los Angeles. The play will feature porn stars, belly dancers, poets and philosophers and not hold back on her interpretation of the events. You can read more about Dr. Block’s take on her blog or get a ticket to the show.