Departmental Papers (Jewish Studies)

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At the 2001 meeting of the Association for Jewish Studies, Michael Fox described this book as his only "Jewish" commentary. Now reprinted by a Christian publisher, in 1991 it was the only commentary on Esther written by a Jew for a general audience. (It has since been joined by Jon Levenson's commentary in the Old Testament Library series.) He ends his introduction with the remark that the book does not address the most urgent and vital aspect of the meaning of the Scroll, "its existential bearing on the individual reader" (p. 11). For his own part, he feels the anxiety of the Jews of Persia and shares their exhilaration at their deliverance. "Except that i do not think 'their,' but 'my'" (p. 11). The book performs the remarkable and necessary feat of remaining skeptical about the historicity of the Esther story while taking its thoughts about the threat of genocide against the Jews with utmost seriousness. (Fox's excursus dealing with feminist readings of the book finds them "indifferent to the severity of the crisis that stands at the story's heart: the mortal danger to the Jewish people" [p. 208].) The major question of the book, "How can Jews best survive and thrive in the diaspora?" (p. 4), is still a question today. Esther's liturgical role in the celebration of Purim is an excuse for most of us not to think seriously about the book. Fox's approach is quite different; for him, Xerxes' combination of "petty impulses and mental sloth" (p. 175) is Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil."

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Originally published in Shofar by Purdue University Press, archived on Project MUSE and JSTOR.



Date Posted: 05 July 2017

This document has been peer reviewed.