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The Polish Queen Esther

Dr. Pearl Herzog

Centuries after Purim’s Queen Esther lived and died, another Jewess with a similar name lived a strikingly similar life story, using her position of power to save her fellow Jews from persecution

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

castle on hillIn the ancient Jewish quarter of the Kazimir district in Krakow, Poland, you’ll find a street called Ulica Estery. It’s named after Queen Esterke, as she was referred to in Yiddish. Like Purim’s Queen Esther, this 14th century Jewess was married to a gentile king — Casimir III — and used her position of power to save Polish Jews from persecution.

About 200 years after Queen Esterke lived, Rabbi Dovid Ganz (a student of both the Rema and the Maharal) authored a book titled Tzemach Dovid, which is the first Jewish documentary evidence of Queen Esterke’s existence. He writes that there was a Jewish Queen Esther whose husband, Casimir, granted the Jews of Poland special liberties as a result of her influence.

 

A Jew in the Palace

King Casimir was also likened to King Achashveirosh. An anti-Semitic priest, Przeslaw Mojecki, who was obviously familiar with the Purim story, writes in his book Jewish Cruelties (published in 1589): “We know from chronicles that our Polish Asswrus [Achashveirosh], Casimir the Great, took Esther in place of his own wife, the despised Adleida, and begat with her two sons — Niemira and Pefka — and daughters as well, and, persuaded by Esther, he permitted to bring them up as Jews.” The priest goes on to describe Esther as being conniving and having manipulated King Casimir to promulgate what Mojecki considers a hateful law.

The linking of Esterke’s life with Purim’s Queen Esther is also found in a play called “Estherke,” by Herschel Eppelberg, which was first performed in Warsaw in 1890. The play contains many parallels to the Megillah, including a fast called by Queen Esterke to assure the success of her appeal to King Casimir when she tries to plead for the safety of her people. The attempts of an evil priest to block the granting of rights to the Jews is reminiscent of Haman’s actions centuries earlier.

 

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