Today is Purim, the Jewish holiday which celebrates the events recounted in the Book of Esther in which Esther and Mordechai stop Haman's plans to destroy the Jews. The story of the Book of Esther is one of hidden identity and palace intrigue.
My twin has a piece up at the Huffington Post that looks at the story of Purim in the context of the Don't Ask Don't Tell. Aaron argues that the story of Esther, in which she hides her Jewish identity from the king until she is forced to reveal it to save her people, bears a similarity to the military’s current policy regarding gays. In particular, Esther hid her ethnic/religious identity and the king did not inquire about that identity until events required Esther to disclose the truth. Aaron argues that this ancient tale reflects a basic truth about policies like Don't Ask Don't Tell: they are inherently unstable.
I am not impressed by the piece. The claim that DADT is inherently unstable is not novel: I don't think that anyone, whether they are for or against gays in the military, thought that DADT had any long-term stability. Policies in which an identity is acceptable only as long as it is not blatant are by nature unstable since such policies generally arise when certain groups are discriminated against, but the discrimination is not universally accepted and therefore must be discreet. To continue to use Jews as an example, the quotas on Jewish student admissions to Ivy League schools prior to the 1960s worked in a fashion similar to DADT. Applicants who were obviously Jewish were covered by the quotas. But little effort was made to actively determine the identity of general applicants. (This is to some extent an oversimplification. Dan Oren's excellent book "Joining the Club" discusses this in more detail). This ambivalence was in part due to the fact that Jews were accepted enough that a serious backlash was feared from excessive enforcement of the anti-Jewish quotas. Similarly, DADT in the military came as a compromise when both gay rights groups and anti-gay groups had political power. Such a compromise is inherently unstable.
Aaron also does not address the fact it is not clear from the text why Esther kept her Jewish identity secret from the king. Aaron cites the traditional commentaries which weave elaborate stories of Esther keeping the various classical prohibitions of Judaism such as kashrut and Sabbath observance. Some of the classical commentaries say that Esther kept her Jewish identity hidden because of Persian attitudes towards the Jews. Others invoke other explanations. For example, according to some commentators, Esther kept her identity hidden because of her relation to the line of Saul, the first king of Israel. If it became known that she was of royal blood, her political position would have become much more complicated. Given the ahistorical nature of the story of Esther, it seems to me that the likely reason for her keeping her Jewish identity hidden is primarily to make an interesting story.
My twin correctly notes that there are good reasons to abolish DADT and allow gays to serve openly in the military. However, those reasons exist without any analogies to Biblical texts. We can make the correct decisions without recourse to ancient texts whether we see those texts as religious or literary in nature. DADT is bad policy. We don’t need the story of Esther and Mordechai to tell us that.
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