As Jews celebrate Purim this Saturday night, a surprising figure could be making an appearance in some synagogues: Steve Bannon. What might the controversial presidential adviser have to do with the Jewish holiday?
Purim celebrates the deliverance of the Jews of ancient Persia from death at the hands of an evil government official named Haman. The story, told in the Book of Esther, shows how the beautiful Esther, with her cousin Mordechai's guidance, became queen and helped turn the tables on Haman. Esther opened King Ahasuerus' eyes to Haman's designs and thus saved the Jews. Purim is a classic Jewish holiday. As the old joke goes, "They tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat."
But there's more to Purim than eating. Jews are required to hear the tale read from the Book of Esther, to give gifts of food to at least two other Jews, and to participate in a festive meal that includes certain holiday-specific blessings. Many Jews also dress in costume and attend a humorous play at their synagogue.
Some Shpiels last year featured then-candidate Donald Trump as Haman. New York Jewish Week's Gary Rosenblatt predicts even more such comparisons this year, albeit with the roles tweaked. As president, Mr. Trump will likely stand in as King Ahasuerus. Mr. Bannon, a close adviser, would take the role of Haman. Anyone considering these designations should reconsider.
Many if not most Jews disagree with Mr. Bannon on a host of issues, and they are also uncomfortable with his giving a platform to the alt-right while at Breitbart. Yet it is still inaccurate and unfair to lump in Mr. Bannon with the likes of Hitler and Hussein. The adviser said in an interview published in these pages that Breitbart supports Israel and opposes the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. He added, "We've been a leader on reporting on the terrible plight of the Jews in Europe." This sounds more like what the Anti-Defamation League's agenda should be than the platform of a modern-day Haman.
Comparing Mr. Bannon, or any Trump aide, to Haman diminishes the true threats that Jews face in a dangerous world. A political figure, even one with whom you disagree, is not worthy of comparison with someone who paid a pliable king 10,000 talents of silver for the "privilege" of slaughtering the Jews. The suggestion that the two are alike will only undermine legitimate criticism of Mr. Bannon.
Most Jews are Democrats, but many are not, especially those in the Orthodox community. The Hamanization of Trump aides threatens badly needed Jewish unity and could also turn off otherwise sympathetic gentiles.
There is a religious issue here as well. One of the 613 biblical commandments is to remember and pursue the destruction of Haman's evil nation of Amalek. Deuteronomy 25:17-19, which lays out this obligation, is read annually on the Sabbath before Purim. Declaring someone to have Amalek-like status is a serious designation, not to be doled out lightly, even in a humorous Shpiel.
Many Jews want to defeat Messrs. Trump and Bannon politically. If they want to succeed, they should come up with a new vocabulary for political disagreement, one that maintains political credibility and avoids unnecessary demonization. In the spirit of Purim, all of us should aim to maintain the joy and the frivolity of the holiday, without exacerbating tensions. Now, let's eat.
Mr. Troy, a former deputy secretary of health and human services, is the author of "Shall We Wake the President? Two Centuries of Disaster Management from the Oval Office" (Lyons Press, 2016).