Esther and the woman who married a multimillionaire by Jane Ulman

But more than 2,000 years ago, a young Jewish woman named Esther entered a similar competition. So began Purim, which starts Monday at sundown.

As Tina Turner sings, "What's love got to do with it?" This holds true for ancient Shushan as well as contemporary America.

Esther, orphaned and under the care of cousin Mordechai, entered the king's harem. There, with the assistance of seven court-appointed maidens, she spent a year preparing for her encounter with the king — "six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and feminine cosmetics," according to the Megillah.

She knew, if not selected queen, she would be unfit to marry anyone else and destined to spend the rest of her life in the harem.

Esther's story, in fact, is not that dissimilar from the modern-day "Marry a Multimillionaire" saga.

Darva Conger also had much at stake. She, along with 3,000 other women, answered Fox's cattle call for the chance to win an Isuzu Trooper, a $35,000 diamond engagement ring, a Caribbean cruise — and a multimillionaire husband, both unknown and unseen.

Of course, there are also differences in the two stories. For instance, Esther was "brought to the harem" — while Conger volunteered for the show.

But the two stories share an important question — especially in light of today's society, where half of all marriages end in divorce, where cohabitation is much less frowned upon than in the past, and where almost half of the United States workforce is female.

Are we women still trading sex and beauty for power and riches, regardless of the consequences? Or worse, are we so jaded we'll jettison our principles — and even don a swimsuit — in exchange for 120 minutes of commercial and superficial fame?

Apparently, the answer is yes.

Both Purim and "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?" offer entertainment, escapism and excess. And both are saddled with problematic premises.

Esther, for instance, intermarries, which is condemned in traditional Judaism.

And Conger, who professes to be a Christian, agreed to a godless and loveless wedding ceremony.

In ancient and modern times, however, sometimes the unexpected happens.

Out of all the women "trying out" for the honor of being crowned queen, Esther captivated Ahasuerus. "The king loved Esther more than all the women," the Megillah tells us.

Esther was then able to use her influence to accomplish nothing less than saving the Jewish people.

And Conger, in hindsight and humility, has announced she would annul her marriage, reassuring us that real relationships are not made on television.

Fox, in an unusual bow to good taste and perhaps lower ratings, pulled the plug on "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?"

In Judaism, marriage is a sacred union, involving the bride, groom and God. Its purpose, as stated in Genesis, encompasses both companionship and procreation.

Whatever the epoch and whatever the method used to find a prospective spouse, a certain amount of risk is unavoidable. Both Esther and Conger gambled their entire future.

Esther won and Conger lost. Both these women can teach us a lesson.