Naming names

Naming names

In reminding us of the anomalous names of the protagonists in Megillat Esther, Rabbi Engelmayer raises what might be an even more disturbing question than the names themselves (“Highlight of the Gods,” March 14). Mordechai, he tells us, actually means a follower of Marduk, the Babylonian god of war, while Esther is named for Ishtar, the pagan goddess of love. These were common names in the Persian empire. It is as if prominent Orthodox Jews today were to name their children Jesus, Christopher, Mohammed, or Christine.

This situation certainly calls for some rather vigorous commentary and explanation One looks in vain, however, for a discussion of the issue in commentaries to Megillat Esther. Just about all of the commentaries, especially ArtScroll, totally ignore this problem. When discussing the origins of the names of our Jewish protagonists, Mordechai and Esther, the commentators tie themselves in linguistic knots trying to find some exceedingly obscure Hebrew or Aramaic origins for these names, and yet amazingly totally ignore the elephant in the room, to wit, that our protagonists are named for prominent pagan gods! Nowhere is this even mentioned, much less discussed! If I were inclined to be disrespectful, I might say that such blatant avoidance smacks of a lack of intellectual/religious integrity, if not actual dishonesty.

Explanation, anyone?