The Queen You Thought You Knew

The Queen You Thought You Knew

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The Book of Esther can easily masquerade as a child s tale. There's a villain out to hang Mordechai and murder his countrymen; a king who enjoys drinking; and a beautiful and noble queen. There are assassins, palace intrigue, and a climactic battle scene -- and a happy ending, to boot. What more could you ask for in a good child's story? The holiday associated with the book can seem child-like, too. Purim is celebrated with costumes, carnivals, and abundant merriment. Kids dress up as Esther, Mordechai, Haman and Achashveirosh, wearing plastic hats and cellophane scepters.

Purim is the great holiday of make-believe. All this make-believe, though, can have unintended consequences. Chief among them is the fact that many of us are likely to remain with childlike views of Purim and the Megillah long after we've turned adults. Our perspective upon Mordechai and Esther and their struggle can easily remain as one-dimensional as the face paint we use to impersonate these people in costume. In this book, Rabbi Fohrman invites the reader to look at the Book of Esther with fresh eyes; to join him, as it were, on a guided adventure -- a close reading of the ancient biblical text. In so doing, he reveals another Purim story; a richer, deeper narrative more suited perhaps, to the eyes of an adult than to a child. As layers of meaning are gradually revealed, Esther's hidden story comes alive in a vibrant, unexpected way -- offering the reader a fascinating and stirring encounter with the queen whose costume they wore as children -- the queen they thought they knew.

In his lectures and in his writings, Rabbi David Fohrman accomplishes something very unique. He combines elements of surprise and ingenuity with the authentic ring of truth. He did this with his first book, The Beast that Crouches at the Door and he has done it once more here, with the The Queen You Thought You Knew . Rabbi Fohrman s latest offering provides a stirring and creative new look at the story of Queen Esther. It is sure to enrich, enliven and refresh the reader's experience of Purim. --Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President, Orthodox Union

IN looking at a Biblical text, David Fohrman asks questions that no one else ever asked, and because of that he gives fresh and arresting answers.

Fohrman has already distinguished himself with his first book, The Beast That Crouches at the Door, an original look at the narratives of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel. Now he turns his attention to the Scroll of Esther, the Megillah, just in time for Purim oh, and one of the first questions he asks is, why call it Purim?

Purim stems from the Hebrew word pur, which means lot, and refers to the lots cast by Haman to determine the date he would kill all the Jews of Persia. Why remember a book of biblical salvation by the genocidal terminology of the Hitler of the day?

Fohrman writes:

Imagine it was 1948 and Israel had just proclaimed its statehood and managed to ward off several invading Arab armies. The question comes up: People will want to celebrate this moment year after year; what should we name the day? Someone in the back of the room raises his hand and says:

Let s call it: Tokarev Day.

Why Tokarev Day, everyone asks.

Well, he continues, when the Arabs tried to kill us all, their weapon of choice was Russian made self-loading Tokarev rifles. Thank G-d we were saved. So let s call it Tokarev Day!

And then everyone applauds and decides that this is a wonderful name for the new holiday.

That s roughly what seems to have taken place concerning Purim. Why name the day after the instrument of choice used by our enemy? It s not his holiday, it s ours!

IN The Queen You Thought You Knew (HFBS and OU Press), Fohrman is skilled at linking the micro to the macro. He takes a very close look at the biblical text, picking up on unnoticed sequences, scrutinizing hitherto unseen grammatical and syntactical oddities.

But he does not produce a book of picky points and scholarly obscurities. He builds on small, careful questions to produce a book of large panoramas. From small puzzles he extracts links to large stretches of biblical history. The Queen You Thought You Knew is a book of uncommon range and insight.

It is also a very fun book. Fohrman s style is direct and engaging (per Tokarev Day). Indeed, his style conveys the feeling of inevitability. The reader finds himself saying, I just knew he was going to say that. I knew where he was going with this. To read Fohrman is akin to listening to a powerful symphony with that driving sense of inevitability.

Of course, Fohrman s reader doesn t really have a clue where Fohrman is going, he just thinks he does. That s part of author Fohrman s genius; he convinces you, the reader, that the two of you are co-authors. Fohrman s subtext is a conspirational link between author and reader. For that reason the book is hard to put down how can you put down your own book?

Who said Bible study couldn t be fun?

HERE'S just a small sampling of 3 questions (besides the curious name of the holiday) that Fohrman raises:

1. After Haman is hung and his sons are killed after the enemy is defeated and dispatched why does the Megillah drag on another three chapters? Aren'
t they anti-climactic?

2. After Haman decreed his genocidal plan, Esther seems to hesitate before approaching her husband, Ahasuerus, to change his mind. Esther s Uncle Mordechai tells niece Esther that if she will not seek relief from the King, salvation will come from another source.

Well, if the Jews can be rescued from some other source, why does Mordechai urge Esther to see the King? If she s not really needed because salvation is available elsewhere why the pressure on Esther?

(to read the rest of the review, visit the Intermountain Jewish News website and search for "The Queen You Thought You Knew") --Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, Editor in Chief, Intermountain Jewish News

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