Ta'anit Esther with Hadar
Ta'anit Esther with Hadar

Esther and the Ongoing Work of Confronting Sexual Victimization

Monday, March 6, 8:45 AM - 1:30 PM Eastern

All sessions will take place on Zoom
Want to join us for tefillah in NYC? Yeshivat Hadar is hosting Shaharit on Ta'anit Esther and Megillah reading on Purim.



Throughout the Jewish calendar, ritual fast days are times of increased spiritual and moral awareness and responsibility. Ta’anit Esther, on the day before Purim, is a particularly important moment to turn our attention to sexual victimization,* an undercurrent throughout the story of Esther.  

Just as there is an annual obligation to hear the Megillah, we have an ongoing responsibility to confront the reality of sexual victimization and its impact, in our tradition and in our own communities. How should we read and relate to the troubling text of Esther’s story, while also supporting survivors and creating safer communities?

At this Yom Iyyun (day of study) on Ta’anit Esther, we will learn from the experience of rabbis and community leaders so as to pause to notice these difficult parts of the Megillah.  We will take stock of how to continue to engage in the work of acknowledging real stories of sexual victimization in our communities and how to build more supportive and safer environments of dignity and care.



All times are Eastern

8:45-10:00 AM: Shaharit with Selihot

Communal Tefillah livestreamed from Yeshivat Hadar for the fast day following traditional liturgy.

10:10-11:10 AM: Teaching Troubled Torah - Pathways Towards Safety and Healing?

R. Aviva Richman, R. Sarah Mulhern, and R. Avi Killip

Many of the most formative and beloved stories and ideas of our tradition take on a different valence from a trauma-informed perspective. Can teaching and learning these texts differently be a path forward for healing for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in our communities, and if so how do we need to teach differently to make this possible? Can the process of engaging with complex texts generate new Torah and cultural norms that will make our communities safer and more respectful spaces in the future? How can we find what is good and beautiful in these rich parts of our heritage and amplify suppressed voices within them without ignoring the ways in which they do harm?

In this session, Rabbis Aviva Richman,Sarah Mulhern and Avi Killip will each bring a brief text and reflect on teaching Torah from classical sources to feminist midrash, related to topics of sexual violence, gossip, and benefit-of-the-doubt,  and share both what they have learned from their teaching experiences and the questions with which they struggle.


Rabbi Aviva Richman is a Rosh Yeshiva at Hadar, and has been on the faculty since 2010. A graduate of Oberlin College, she studied in the Pardes Kollel and the Drisha Scholars' Circle and was ordained by Rabbi Danny Landes. She completed a doctorate in Talmud at NYU. Interests include Talmud, Halakhah, Midrash and gender, and also a healthy dose of niggunim.








Rabbi Sarah Mulhern serves as the Rabbi of Base LNCLN, where alongside her family she opens her home and her heart to folks in their 20s and 30s looking for Jewish community in Lincoln Park, Chicago. She passionately believes that Torah matters and that Judaism can enrich human life and better society. Sarah is also a faculty member of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and a nationally-regarded teacher of Torah. She formerly led the Created Equal Project, the Hartman Institute's research and educational portfolio on gender and the ethical use of power. Previously, Sarah has worked as a Rabbi and Jewish Educator in a variety of settings, including pulpits, social justice organizations, mikvaot, hospitals, and in formal and experiential education. She has been involved in the leadership of several halachic-egalitarian minyanim. Sarah was ordained by the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College, where she also earned a Masters in Jewish Education, and received private rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Daniel Landes. She is an alumna of Brandeis University, Yeshivat Hadar, Pardes Institute, Drisha Institute, Beit Midrash Har El, the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, and the David Hartman Center Fellowship.



Rabbi Avi Killip is the Executive Vice President at Hadar. A graduate of Hebrew College Rabbinical School, Avi was a Wexner Graduate Fellow and a Schusterman Fellow. She also holds Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Brandeis University. Avi teaches as part of Hadar's Faculty and is host of the Responsa Radio podcast. Avi lives in Riverdale, NY with her husband and three young children.







11:20 AM-12:20PM: From Stories to Action

Interview with Dr. Guila Benchimol, moderated by Avigayil Halpern

What does it look like to practice a trauma-informed approach to reading the story of Megilat Esther as a community?  How can we take up the charge of the end of the megillah - that telling stories should lead to communal action?  Dr. Benchimol will share insights on the megillah based on her extensive experience studying and addressing sexual victimization in Jewish communities and beyond.

Dr. Guila Benchimol is a researcher, educator, consultant, and victim advocate whose work focuses on gender, abuse, and power. She holds a PhD in Sociological Criminology from the University of Guelph and is also a trained restorative and transformative justice facilitator whose work incorporates the survivor perspective and her Jewish identity. Guila was one of the key advisors who guided the launch of the SRE Network ,and she continues to serve as their Senior Advisor on Research and Learning while consulting on other projects. She has been invited to address Jewish professionals and clergy across Canada and the US, as well as other faith communities where she educates, trains, and develops and implements policies on abuse prevention and intervention. Guila also sits on the board of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and is a research associate at the Center for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence where she has worked on projects related to homicides and domestic violence deaths. Her first 10+ year career as a Jewish educator, in and outside of the Orthodox Jewish community, informed her understanding of the need to address victimization of all kinds. Previously, Guila was the Director of Judaic Studies at Tiferes Bais Yaakov where she also taught Tanach to grades 9 through 12. She was also the Managing Director for the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) in Canada, where she founded and directed an international camp for high school girls. Guila lives in Toronto, Ontario and was raised in the Spanish-Moroccan community there which was built by the families who fled Tangier.


Avigayil Halpern (she/her) is studying toward rabbinic ordination as a member of Hadar's Advanced Kollel. She has taught Torah in spaces including the Drisha Institute, Hunter Hillel and Brandeis Hillel, and the Kreuzberg Kollel (now Ze Kollel) and holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Yale University. She currently serves as the Cooperberg-Rittmaster Pastoral and Educational Intern at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah. Avigayil has completed a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at New York Presbyterian/Columbia, is trained as a Mikveh Guide through Rising Tide, the national network of community mikvaot, and has participated in Faith Matters' Movement Chaplaincy Training. She has written on issues of Judaism and gender in Jewish and other media and is currently writing a weekly dvar Torah on the parsha incorporating queer and feminist insights through her newsletter, Approaching (avigayil.substack.com). Avigayil was selected as one of the New York Jewish Week's "36 Under 36" in 2021.

12:20-12:30 PM - Closing Remarks: Finding Joy in the Work of Purim

R. Aviva Richman

12:45-1:30 PM - Minhah 

Communal Tefillah livestreamed from Yeshivat Hadar for the fast day following traditional liturgy.




*People who have experienced sexually based violence and harassment choose different terms to describe those experiences.  Some prefer the language of "survivors" while others prefer "victims" or turn to different terms.  Based on the guidance of Dr. Guila Benchimol we are using the term sexual victimization as a way to acknowledge the fact that every act like this is an affront to a person's dignity.