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Esther Rabbah (Hebrew: אסתר רבה) is the midrash to the Book of Esther in the current Midrash editions. From its plan and scope it is apparently an incomplete collection from the rich haggadic material furnished by the comments on the scroll of Esther, which has been read since early times at the public service on Purim.
Structure of the Midrash
Except in the Wilna and Warsaw editions with their modern and arbitrary divisions, this Midrash consists of six "parashiyyot" (chapters, sections; singular = "parashah") introduced by one or more proems; these chapters begin respectively at Esth. i. 1, i. 4, i. 9, i. 13, ii. 1, ii. 5; and in the Venice edition of 1545 each has at the end the words "seliḳa parashata. . . ." This division was probably based on the sections of the Esther roll, as indicated by the closed paragraphs (סתומות); such paragraphs existing in the present text to i. 9, i. 13, i. 16, ii. 1, ii. 5, etc. The beginning of i. 4, as well as the lack of a beginning to i. 16, may be due to differences in the division of the text. It may furthermore be assumed that a new parashah began with the section Esth. iii. 1, where several proems precede the comment of the Midrash. From this point onward there is hardly a trace of further division into chapters. There is no new parashah even to Esth. vi. 1, the climax of the Biblical drama. As the division into parashiyyot has not been carried out throughout the work, so the comment accompanying the Biblical text, verse by verse, is much reduced in ch. vii. and viii., and is discontinued entirely at the end of ch. viii. The various paragraphs that follow chapter viii. seem to have been merely tacked on.
Sources and Dating
The Book of Esther early became the subject of comment in the schoolhouses, as may be seen from Meg. 10b et seq., where long haggadic passages are joined to single verses. The Midrash under consideration is variously connected with these passages. The author of Esther Rabbah often draws directly upon Yerushalmi, Bereshit Rabbah, Wayiḳra Rabbah, Pirḳe R. El., Targumim, and other ancient sources. Bereshit Rabbah or Wayiḳra Rabbah may also have furnished the long passage in parashah i., in connection with the explanation of the first word (ויהי). Parashah vi. shows several traces of a later period: especially remarkable here (ed. Venice, 45c, d; ed. Wilna, 14a, b) is the literal borrowing from Yosippon, where Mordecai's dream, Mordecai's and Esther's prayers, and the appearance of Mordecai and Esther before the king are recounted (compare also the additions in LXX. to Esth. i. 1 and iv. 17). These borrowings, which even Azariah dei Rossi in his Me'or 'Enayim (ed. Wilna, p. 231) designated as later interpolations, do not however justify one in assigning to the Midrash, as S. Buber does, a date later than Yosippon—that is to say, the middle of the 10th century.
According to Strack & Stemberger (1991), the midrash may be considered to be composed of two different parts which were combined in the 12th or 13th century.
- An older part characterized by non-anonymous proems, originating in Palestine around 500 CE, which draws material from Talmud Yerushalmi, Genesis Rabbah, and Leviticus Rabbah. This part is then itself cited in such works as Ecclesiastes Rabbah and Midrash Psalms.
- A younger part drawing from Yosippon, which may be dated to the 11th century.
In any case, this Midrash may be considered older and more original than the Midr. Abba Gorion to the Book of Esther. Yalḳuṭ quotes many passages from the latter Midrash, as well as from another haggadic commentary (edited by Buber in the collection Sammlung Agadischer Commentare zum Buche Esther, Wilna, 1886). The Midrash here considered is entitled "Midrash Megillat Esther" in the Venice edition. Naḥmanides quotes it as the Haggadah to the Esther roll. It may be assumed with certainty that it is of Judean origin.
- This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.. The JE cites the folliwing works:
- Zunz, G. V. pp. 264 et seq.;
- Weiss, Dor, iii. 274, iv. 209;
- A. Jellinek, B. H. i. 1-24, v. 1-16, vi. 53-58, with the respective introductions;
- Horowitz, Sammlung Kleiner Midraschim, 1881;
- S. Buber, Introduction to Sammlung Agadischer Commentare zum Buche Esther (1886);
- idem, Agadische Abhandlungen zum Buche Esther, Cracow, 1897;
- Brüll's Jahrb. viii. 148 et seq.;
- Winter and Wünsche, Die Jüdische Litteratur, i. 554 et seq.;
- a German transl. of the Midrash in Wünsche, Bibl. Rab.;
- and the bibliographies to Bereshit Rabbah and Ekah Rabbati.
- Strack, H.L. & G. Stemberger (1991), written at Edinburgh, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, T&T Clark