Book Review | The Queen You Thought You Knew

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Purim is a few days away, but I have a late entry for Purim reading. I recommend Rabbi David Fohrman’s The Queen You Thought You Knew. If you order it today, you can get it before Shabbos and read the book before Purim. It is an easy read and the book is not too long.

The Queen You Thought You Knew is worthwhile addition to your library. Rabbi Fohrman discusses a novel approach to the Purim story. His work is mostly speculative but presented reasonably and in my opinion, responsibly.

The premise of the book is that there are many many questions that remain unanswered in the Megilla which can be answered with the novel approach of Rabbi Forhman. Many of the questions in the book have been asked and answered by Chazal or more recent rabbis. But I am not aware of any holistic solution to some of the more well known and lesser known challenges within the Megilla narrative.

Rabbi Forhman takes us on a journey of question, thought and theory to find answers and ultimately his novel approach.

I won’t ruin the book in this post but I will say that it is nothing like anything you have heard before. The book is clearly well researched and well thought out.

Although I wholeheartedly recommend this book. But there is one small caveat. It is important to note that Rabbi Fohrman’s theory is almost completely unsubstantiated in Chazal or other classical sources. It is almost entirely novel and based purely on the text of the Megilla. Rabbi Fohrman himself seems to forewarn of this throughout the book by hedging the theory of the book as speculative and a possibility not to the exclusion of any other idea. To some, this may be a great accomplishment. To others it may be controversial. I think it is a worthwhile read if only for the questions presented and the very novel solution as tenuous as it may be.

While using an academic style of study, the book fails to use any external corroborative materials to support its flimsy premise. In fact, I think the historical record would indicate that the premise is wrong. In my mind, if you’re going to use academic methodology, you should provide some scholarly support for your premise. This is the biggest and most glaring flaw of the book. Outside of this critique the book’s premise is elegant and useful.

It is also worthwhile to discuss the merits and demerits of the style of study the book represents. It is a departure from typical yeshiva style study in that it is more similar to academic text-based study. This is different than almost every other Torah book that is studied in the yeshiva milieu. It remains to be seen if this will become a more popular form of study or if it will be shunned by the yeshiva fraternity.

This last issue is being discussed in my post on DovBear: Is Rabbi Fohrman’s Purim Book Controversial?

Order on Amazon by clicking any of the links or simply clicking here: The Queen You Thought You Knew

  • From what I’ve read, the book may make use of academic scholarship and methods, but it is not academic in any meaningful sense (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Unfortunately, in the yeshiva world, “academic” is often a synonym for “peshat.”
    Regarding hte novelty, I think you’ll find that a similar approach to the Megilla, particularly the discovery of counter-readings and intertextual allusions, was taken by Rabbi Dr. Yonatan Grossman:
    Of course, R. Grossman is largely unknown in America.

  • Bai

    Rabbi Fink,
    The fact of the matter is that Rabbi Fohrman is looking at the text at face value. You cant bring into a Torah text theories about green Vashtis with a tail or a Malach pushed Haman on the couch. most of the Chazal opinion on the matters of Purim are just as speculative and at times wishfull thinking. Read Jacob Hoschanders “The Book of Esther in the Light of History” to appreciate the fact for example that there was a province of Persia called AGAG and that is where Haman probably hailed from and all attempts to link him to King Agag of Shauls time is just midrashic wishfull thinking.
    Rabbi Forhman has taken the “what do we see if we approach the Megilla at face value” approach and he succeeds in being very convincing in a story that Chazals often fantastical interpetations would have you think the Megillah nothing more then a fairy tale.
    Be Well.

  • The Nudnik
  • Meyer Shimanowitz

    It would seem that much of his theses is based on the Malbim on Esther and as such would have at least one classical source backing his claim of Achashveirosh having a strategy of creating a unified global empire.