Podcast: Ronna Burger on Reading Esther as a Philosopher

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When Jews celebrate the upcoming holiday of Purim, they’ll also study the Book of Esther, named for the young queen whose Jewish identity was unknown to her husband—Persia’s king—and his court. The Book of Esther tells the story of how she and her cousin Mordechai outwitted the king’s second-in-command, the vizier Haman, who sought to destroy the Persian Jews. Beloved among children and adults, the story has also been read by some as a manual for Jewish political survival in the Diaspora.

Ronna Burger of Tulane University, a professor of philosophy, also sees in Esther a commentary on the sources of human success: do humans accomplish their aims through sheer luck, divine help, or careful decision-making? In conversation with Mosaic’s editor, Jonathan Silver, she walks through Esther, demonstrating how each of these elements—chance, providence, and prudence—emerge from the biblical text.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

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