Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Queen You Thought You Knew

I always do my best to make an attempt to prepare myself - mentally, emotionally, and spiritually - for any upcoming Jewish holiday. Typically this involves attending shiurim and reading sefarim on topics related to matters of the chag, and this year I chose to read "The Queen You Thought You Knew: Unmasking Esther's Hidden Story" by Rabbi David Fohrman to get myself into the Purim spirit.

While Rabbi Fohrman's book was released last year, I neglected to add it to my Seforim Sale purchases, and thus read other things. But after hearing positive from Chana at Curious Jew and from other sources, I checked it out and bought it at this year's sale.

Here's a dramatic preview video that was featured on Youtube prior to the book's release:

Pretty cool eh?

Overall, I found the Rabbi Fohrman's approach to be very engaging. His style of writing is not one of a typical work of this sort - a commentary/analysis of the events and workings of Megillas Esther. He speaks to the reader, almost as though he were delivering a lecture instead of composing a written text. Some more academic minded individuals might be put off by this stylistic choice, but I think the majority of regular lay readers will find it interesting and thought-provoking.

I enjoyed his "chiddushim" that expanded the political and socio-cultural aspects of what occurred during the the Purim Story. I had heard some of these ideas before from either the Malbim's commentary on Megillas Esther or in a far more in-depth and mind-blowing fashion that I experienced in Rabbi Hayyim Angel's shiur at YU.

Nevertheless, his insights were novel, fresh, and added another dimension to my appreciation of what is contained in Megillas Esther and Purim - which is what I wanted when I decided to buy and read the book.

My one critique, and it is somewhat substantial, is Rabbi Forhman's emphasis on treating the end portion of this book as a teaser for his next book - a sequel of sorts that will explore a particular element of his analysis in a deeper, broader fashion. What was first a mere footnote on p.134 referencing what will be seen in his forthcoming sequel book, expands into a multi-chapter, cross-Tanach examination of Yehuda/Binyamin relationships and a 4-page epilogue that serves as a "preview" of what will be contained in his promised continuation.

Also, the last page of the book with written text advertises "For exclusive bonus material relating to this book, please visit:" I attempted to access this material to add to my review, but it turns out the entire website is nonfunctional and merely "coming soon!" I'm not sure if this was supposed to be a further bridge between this book and the next, or merely expanded/cut material that was not in the print version. Either way, it seems like it would be appropriate for Rabbi Forhman to have gotten this material together and made available online almost a year after the initial publication and promise of more.

In the end, I think that "The Queen You Thought You Knew" is a worthwhile read, especially for those interested in understanding the layers of the Purim story. I particularly liked the "Mother Persia" theme that Rabbi Fohrman develops, particularly since I had never heard of it before and it fits so well with the pshat of the text. I wouldn't rank it as more essential than the Malbim's Megillas Esther commentary, which is a must read - but for those who have already read that, those looking for something new and different, and someone who enjoys lecture-style books, "The Queen You Thought You Knew" is certainly worth a look.

For further Purim reading suggestions, check out last year's post.


  1. I heard this was a great book. I think I'm going to iy"H read it! I personally love the story of Esther, there is SO many deep things hidden in the story, even within the peshat. Malbim is great! I personally loved the GRA on Esther--I strongly recommend it!

  2. I adore Rabbu Fohrman, and I have his other book, "The Beast that Crouches at the Door." THAT one is a must read.

  3. ZP - I'll have to check out the GRA at some point. Right now I'm actually reading Rabbi Lamm's commentary on Megillas Esther. I'm only on his remarks covering Ma'ariv and I'm already blown away!

    Princess Lea - I'm very interested in reading his other book now, thanks for reminding me... I'll have to add it to my list of books to buy/read.


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