As schoolchildren, many of us were told that Queen Esther’s skin was green. Is this true? And is it to be taken literally?


The Talmud gives us insight into Esther’s appearance when discussing Esther’s real name.

We read in the Megillah that Mordechai “brought up Hadassah, who is Esther.”1 According to one opinion in the Talmud,2 Esther was her proper name, and she was called Hadassah, “myrtle,” since Scripture compares the righteous to myrtles.3 Others say that Hadassah was her true name and she was called Esther because she “concealed” (masteret, מסתרת) her identity. Alternatively, Rabbi Nehemiah says that the non-Jews named her Esther on account of her beauty (either a reference to the moon or Venus).4

Then there is the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha that Esther was called Hadassah because “she was greenish [like a myrtle] but a [Divine] cord of grace was drawn on her [making her beautiful].”

Before discussing what this means, it is worth noting that this discussion plays out in another debate.

The Four Most Beautiful Women

The Talmud states:

There were four women of extraordinary beauty in the world: Sarah, Abigail, Rahab and Esther. And according to the one who said that Esther was greenish in color, remove Esther from the list and insert Vashti in her place.5

If Scripture6 itself testifies to Esther’s beauty, how could one claim that she wasn’t beautiful?

Some explain7 that she was indeed extraordinarily beautiful when she was chosen as queen. But as we know, Esther had no interest in being queen. On the contrary, it caused her much pain and suffering, and she would often cry and fast, which caused the change in her complexion. But nevertheless, as Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha states, the “cord of grace” made her beautiful.

What Color Is “Green”?

This may sound like a strange question, since we’re used to referring to a certain color as “green.” The truth is that the word yarok (ירוק), which the Talmud uses here, does not necessarily always mean “green.”8

Somewhat similar to the Greek word chloros (greenish-yellowish), and how the concept of how colors were generally viewed and referred to in ancient times, the word yarok can actually refer to a spectrum of colors spanning gold,9 yellow,10 green11 and blue.12 Indeed, the Talmud and halachah often provide an adjective together with the word yarok to let us know which color it is referring to.

Regarding Esther, some do indeed explain yarok to mean a shade of green,13 while others14 explain it to mean more of a yellow-gold hue.15

Exile and Redemption

The chassidic masters explain16 that when we are on a high level in our divine service, we are compared to our matriarch Rachel, who is referred to as having “beautiful features and a beautiful complexion.”17 But in exile, especially when we are on a lower level of divine service, we are compared to Esther (who is not considered beautiful by all). The word “Esther” also means “hidden,” as in “And I will hide My face on that day…”18

Yet even at that time, we have a cord of divine grace, as in the Purim episode, when the Jews reached into their innermost selves and returned to G‑d. This drew down divine grace and mercy, ultimately revealing how what seemed to be a matter of mere coincidence was truly the work of G‑d.