Many groups have been obsessing over tangents in Scripture, rather than looking at the overall message of it. One group includes many modern Feminists. Many of them portray the story of Esther as sexist for talking about the narrative about Vashti being banished for not daring to obey King Ahasureus [commonly thought to be King Xerxes]. However, that is like saying that is is anti-Semitic to talk about the Holocaust. Many of them will portray Scripture as sexist for not “condemning” King Ahasureus [as shown, King Ahasureus is in no way praised for what he did]. It’s like talking about a family where someone died in the Holocaust. You mention that fact as narrative. And then it’s like calling that person anti-Semitic for not “condemning” the Holocaust. It doesn’t mean that the person didn’t “condemn” the Holocaust. It was about not going into tangents. This is an example of how many leftists [particularly the Atheist ones] have double standards when it comes to narrative in Scripture.
But let’s take a look at Vashti. Was she the Feminist heroine that she is often portrayed as? I don’t think so. It is perfectly legitimate to make the case that with King Ahasureus, there was sexism involved. No doubt, societies then were patriarchal. And you can find that with King Ahasureus, sexism was involved in banning Vashti. But was Vashti really the Feminist heroine and role model? Or was she a moral degenerate? Let’s take a closer look.
According to the Talmud [Tractate Megillas Esther 10b], Vashti was a descendant of Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar, the infamous Babylonian ruler who laid siege to and conquered Jerusalem and Judah, burned the first Beit Hamikdash [Temple], and exiled the Jewish people from their land. She was the daughter of Belshazzar, the Prince of Babylon, who became King until the Persian conquest. With the Persian conquest of Babylon, Vashti was left as an orphan girl. However, she ended up being betrothed and married to King Ahasureus.
But the question still remains. What made her modern Feminism’s moral degenerate? Let’s take a look at some of her actions as Queen. When it came to the feast that King Ahasureus was having [Vashti and the women were feasted at the woman's quarters, separate from the men], the Megillah described it as on the seventh day. The rabbis interpreted it to mean that it was on Shabbat, since the Torah described the seventh day as after the six “days” of creation when G-d “rested.”
The Talmud [Tractate Megillah Esther 12a-b] described some of Vashti’s actions. For instance, Vashti forced Jewish girls to strip naked and to do work for her on Shabbat. And what was it what Ahasureaus wanted? For her to come out naked in front of him and all the men at the feast to show off her beauty. So what she did to Jewish women was no better than what the King was forcing her to do.
Modern Feminists will use this narrative to make Vashti look like a Feminist heroine. But was she at the moment? No. The reason why was because she initially actually agreed to do it. But the reason she backed down had nothing do with with any Feminist reasoning or with women’s rights. According to the one of the Talmudic sages Rabbi Yose Bar Chanina, she was too afraid to show herself because she had leprosy. In other words, if she didn’t have leprosy, she would’ve been more than happy to obey King Ahasureus. According to another Baraisa recorded in the Talmud, the reason why Vashti refused to come was because the angel Gavriel made her grow a tail [or an unusual part on one's body to be more accurate]. So in any case, Vashti was NOT a feminist. Her reasoning had nothing to do with Feminism. It had to do with the way she looked. For again, had she not had any problems on her body, she would’ve more than happily complied. Does that sound like real Feminism to you? I think not.
It must be stated that while King Ahasureus was condemned for wanting his wife to publicly come out naked in that manner, what happened to Vashti was ultimately judgement from G-d, even though it’s true that the reasoning used by King Ahasureaus, not G-d, to cast out Vashti was sexist. According to the Talmud, Vashti was to appear naked because of the measure that a man weighs is measured out to him. In other words, the punishment fits the crime. With Vashti humiliating Jewish women and forcing them to disobey Hashem’s Torah by making them work on Shabbat, Vashti was forced in very much the same position that she forced Jewish girls in: stripping naked. The difference is that in this case, Vashti agreed until it was clear that she would not look her best out there. When it came to the whole Vashti/King Ahashureus affair, the Talmud basically explained that both Vashti and the King were being immoral degenerates. However, even with the King being as big of a moral degenerate as his wife, G-d also used that affair as part of a plan he had. Though it may seem that Vashti was the victim of a sexist King and a patriarchal society, when looking deeper, it becomes clearer that what happened to Vashti was G-d’s judgement on her for her immorality and abuse of Jewish women.That’s why she didn’t look that great on her big lustful day.
When it came to the reports from the Babylonian Talmud about Vashti’s lustful and anti-Semitic behavior, the Jewish women encyclopedia claims:
This collection of midrashim presents Vashti in a very negative light. The adverse attitude of the Rabbis in Babylonia to Vashti might possibly have resulted from the fact that Vashti was Babylonian, and for the Rabbis she represented the local Babylonian women, who were promiscuous and Jew-haters.
However, that reasoning is selective. It was from the rabbis that we learn that Vashti was a Chaldean who descended from Nebuchadnezzar. So to accept that as fact and then to say that the Babylonian Rabbis just said that about Vashti because that’s their perception of Babylonian women is being selective. Before, it claims that the Jerusalem rabbis portrayed Vashti in a positive light and used as evidence her appeals to get King Ahasureus to withdraw his request, which were reported in Midrash Rabbah Megillas Esther 3:14. The Midrash reports that Vashti tried to be more “clear” as to why she refused to come out naked before the King and the men of the feast. However, it’s apparent that G-d made the Persian King unable to understand her. For as stated before, what happened to Vashti was ultimately G-d’s judgement.
And it was also part of G-d’s plan because then, as a result, the King chose a more G-dly girl, Esther to be his wife. Esther was a Jew herself. And she was there because she was crucial in saving the Jewish people from Haman’s plan to exterminate the Jews. So ultimately, what happened to Vashti was G-d’s judgment on her for her abuse of Jewish women and was part of G-d’s plan to get Esther in so then she could save the Jewish people from genocide. For ultimately, the saving of the Jewish people from the wicked Haman was a miracle from G-d. But it was through the King’s love of Esther, who was a Jew herself.