Pastries and Biblical Supervillains

It would be easy to pass by the little Jewish bakery if it were not for the deliciousness inside.  They also make the best coffee in the neighborhood.  Of course, I have become a regular customer for their coffee, their fresh-baked pita bread, their muffins and babkas and cinnamon Danish pastries, and their funny, square-shaped bagels.

I am a goy, but I have a fair amount of Jewish blood on my mother’s side, which came down from her father’s side.[1]  This must be why I like Jewish food so much.  Either that, or it’s because I like food and Jewish food is good.  I haven’t figured it out yet.

My latest finds at my favorite bakery are Hamantaschen.  These are triangle-shaped pieces of Heaven, stuffed with either chocolate or fruit preserves.  They are a Purim tradition, and they are named after Haman, who performed dastardly deeds and got his just comeuppance in a very dramatic way in the Book of Esther.  What attempted genocide has to do with pastries is a mystery, but Haman’s name has been stuck onto these wonderful delicacies.  I don’t question this.  I just eat.

They look something like this.

The story of the goings-on in the Book of Esther starts with King Ahasuerus of Persia and Queen Vashti.  He gets drunk at a big banquet and sends away for Vashti, ordering her to come to him so he can show everyone how beautiful she is.  Vashti says no and stays put.  This makes me wonder just what the deal was.  I suspect he was asking her to appear naked or something like that.  In any case, she isn’t about to debase herself by going and standing in front of a bunch of drunken idiots.  Vashti was cool.

When the king sobers up enough to have a coherent thought, he consults some advisors and they all agree that Vashti is a bad example for other women.  They are not going to risk having all of the wives in Persia disobeying their husbands because what would the world come to?  Vashti’s title of Queen is taken away and the king never calls on her for anything again, including sex, although he probably regrets that decision, considering that she is pretty damned hot.  Apparently none of the other women in the harem appeal to him that much, so the king sends around for a the most beautiful young women in the empire, puts them in the royal harem, has them go through about a year of beauty treatments, then takes them one by one and tries them out.

In the meantime, a Jewish guy named Mordechai happens to overhear a couple of men plotting against the king.  He could have just stayed out of it and nobody would have known he heard anything, but Mordechai is a Good Guy.  He reports the plot, saves the king’s life, and is honored with a parade through town, complete with someone shouting what a hero he is.  There were no computers or smartphones in those days.  There weren’t even any newspapers.  Something like this had to be spread around the hard way, on foot and by mouth.  Haman has to arrange this show, which gives him a major case of agita, because he thinks he should be the honoree instead of the event manager.  From then on, Haman looks for a way to get rid of Mordechai.  Haman is not a guy you want to mess with.  He’s smart, sneaky, patient and evil, with an ego the size of the Persian Gulf.  Apparently, his wife is almost as evil as he is, because she is eager and ready to advise and encourage him when he comes home in a bad mood.

In the meantime, Esther pleases the king mightily when her turn comes up, and she is made Queen.  We are not told what Esther does that all the other girls fail to do, which is just as well.  Whatever it is, it works.

Did I mention that Esther doesn’t tell the king that she is Jewish?  Well, that’s important.  Remember it.

To make a long story short, Haman does some agitating and lying and sets up a big plan to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire on a certain day.  He also sets up a high gallows, on which he plans to hang Mordechai.  He does this because he hates Mordechai, and instead of just going after him he goes after all the Jews.  Haman figures if you are going to take revenge on someone, do it in a big way so that people thousands of years later will pick up a book and read about it.  Mordechai tells Esther about this.  Esther, who is brave and pretty smart herself, invites the king and Haman to a small dinner party.

Haman thinks he’s being honored, but he’s actually being set up.  During the dinner party, Esther reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman’s evil plot is against HER people, who do not deserve it in any way, shape or form.  The king gets very angry and goes out of the room to fetch someone to arrest Haman.  When he’s out, Haman grabs Esther and begs for his life.  The king comes back in, jumps to conclusions and thinks Haman is molesting Esther.  That’s it for Haman.  He is hanged on the same gallows he had put up for Mordechai.  That teaches him a lesson.

The Jews of the Persian empire are saved, Mordechai lives on and, we hope, Esther and the king live happily together, although, with his temper, he can’t be easy to live with.  Haman, the original supervillain, dies.

Here I am, thousands of years later, eating pastries named after him.  Life is funny.

[1] For those of you who don’t already know this, Jewish ancestry comes down from the mother’s side.  In other words, if your mother is Jewish, you can claim to be a Jew without having to go through a conversion process.  Because my mother’s Jewish ancestry came down from her father’s side, she couldn’t automatically claim to be Jewish.  Therefore, I can’t, either.  This is kind of a moot point, because my father was Italian, and I have been a Catholic since I was a baby, anyway.  My mother, who was raised Protestant, became a Catholic after she married my father.  Oh well!


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