June 17, 2024
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Esther in America: Queen or Superhero?

Reviewing: “Esther in America” by Stuart Halpern. Maggid Books. 2020. English. Hardcover. 424 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1592645619.

The new superhero movie “Wonder Woman 1984” is now all the rage in the news. With Gal Gadot in the leading role, many in the media have asked if Wonder Woman indeed reflects what a real Jewish superhero looks like. While Wonder Woman is not mentioned in the book, in “Esther in America,” Rabbi Dr. Stuart Halpern has gathered an all-star cast of contributors who look at the role of an authentic Jewish superhero throughout history, Queen Esther.

The book opens with Halpern’s essay on New England Puritan minister Cotton Mather, and his writings that see Esther as a woman of independent action to admire. He notes that since Mather, numerous Americans have invoked Esther as a model of feminine behavior throughout the ages, including in works such as “The Esther Effect: The Seven Secrets of Self-Confidence and Influence,” “What Queen Esther Knew: Business Strategies From a Biblical Sage” and many more.

Halpern notes that the Book of Esther has inspired Americans from the founding fathers’ time, referring to Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, et al., not Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jews and non-Jews alike have used the Book of Esther as a source of inspiration and turned to it and Esther to rally themselves on behalf of an oppressed people.

The book contains essays on Esther from early American to contemporary times. Halpern has essays from some of the brightest and most sophisticated minds in American Orthodoxy today, including Dr. Erica Brown, Rabbi Doctors Meir Soloveichik, Jason Weiner, Zev Eleff, Rabbi Shalom Carmy and more.

On the lighter side, Yosef Lindell writes of numerous Hollywood movies about Queen Esther over the last 70 years, none of which I had heard of. So which one of these movies should you see? With all that Hollywood has done, Lindell notes that Hollywood has yet to make a quality Queen Esther movie. To which he responds, do yourself a favor and watch something else instead.

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik said that he would add a 14th principle of faith to the Rambam’s list if he could. And that would be that the Torah is relevant and timeless for all generations. In “Esther in America,” the contributors brilliantly show that the leadership and daring of Esther that occurred 2,600 years ago in Persia is just as relevant now as it was then.


Bio: Ben Rothke lives in New Jersey and works in the information security field. He reviews books on religion, technology and science. @benrothke

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