I am having a debate with a friend. He has a good job in a big company, but he has not told them he is Jewish. He thinks his boss is an anti-Semite, and by hiding his Jewishness he is able to get away with things. Like Friday afternoons the staff all go out for a drink, and he leaves early. He says it's because he doesn't drink alcohol, so they let him off the hook. If he said it was for Shabbat they wouldn't accept it. I think it's wrong to hide who you are just to keep your job. Don't you agree?


As a rabbi, I have never had to hide my Jewishness to keep my job. That probably wouldn't work out so well.

But I'm not sure that is what your friend is doing either. Perhaps he is hiding his Jewishness not to keep his job, but to keep his Jewishness. There could be a clear precedent for that.

Esther is the hero of the Purim story. She was a good Jewish girl who was forcibly taken to be queen by the Persian tyrant Ahasuerus. Her cousin Mordechai, head rabbi of his time, instructed her not to tell anyone in the palace that she was Jewish.

Why did he tell her to do that?

Some suggest that Mordechai wanted Esther to hide her Jewishness to protect her position as queen. But this doesn't fit the story. Esther did everything she could to avoid marrying the heathen buffoon of a dictator. If revealing that she was Jewish would disqualify her from being queen, that would be good news, not bad.

But Mordechai knew that she would never be allowed to openly observe Judaism in the palace. As long as no one knew that she was Jewish, she could surreptitiously keep her religion and no one would notice.

Esther couldn't ask to be served only kosher food. So she claimed that she was on a new radical diet and only ate seeds and beans. This she could get away with. She couldn't be seen to be observing Shabbat, so she requested that seven different maids serve her each day of the week. That way she could observe the Day of Rest without anyone noticing that her habits were different from one day to the next. Her weekday maids were never there to see that she did no work on Shabbat, and her Shabbat maid, who only saw her on Shabbat, thought she was just a spoiled princess who never lifted a finger.

Esther managed to observe Judaism under the very noses of those who would not have tolerated it. She is a precedent for all those Jews throughout the ages who were forced to hide their identity in order to preserve it. Perhaps your friend is in the same predicament. It would be easy to tell him that he should either come clean or get another job. But maybe, like Esther, he doesn't have that choice.

At the same time, Esther teaches us that this charade cannot go on forever. When King Ahasuerus signed a decree to annihilate the Jewish people, that was Esther's cue. Mordechai told her, "Maybe this is why you ended up as queen in the first place - to save your people!" She could hide no longer. She took off her mask and revealed her true identity—a single act of bravery that saved the Jewish nation.

There comes a time when a Jew has to state openly and proudly who they are. That time will come for your friend too. He may be able to fly beneath the radar for a while. And as long as he is still being true to who he is, it may serve him better to keep his identity to himself.

But there will be a moment, when someone makes a snide remark about Jews, or when a job candidate is rejected just for being Jewish, or when his coworkers are piling scorn on Israel for its so-called crimes. At that time, keeping silent would mean not being true to who he is. That's when he will do what Esther did. He will say, "I am a Jew, and I will stand for my people." Maybe this is why he ended up in that job in the first place.


Ibn Ezra, Esther 2:9.

Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer ch. 49.

Megillah 13a.

R' Yonatan Eibeschutz, Yaarot Devash 2:2.