The Love Story of Esterke and Kazimierz, King of Poland—New Perspectives

in European Journal of Jewish Studies
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This article reveals and discusses four forgotten and unknown literary versions of the love story between the Polish King Kazimierz the Great (1310–1370) and Esterke, a young Jewish maiden from Opoczno. A fundamental research study by Khone Shmeruk in the 1980s examined the reception and molding of the Esterke story in both Polish and Yiddish literary works and their intertextuality. This article will discuss and analyze two Hebrew and two Yiddish versions of the story and will put each of them in its contemporary Jewish socio-political and cultural context.

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    The first article on the topic“Hamagaʿim beyn hasifrut hapolanit le-beyn sifrut yidiš ʿal-pi sippur esterka ve-qazimir ha-gadol melekh Polin [Contacts between Polish and Yiddish literature according to the story of Esterka and Kazimierz the Great, king of Poland],” Hasifrut 21 (1975): 60–100includes a detailed appendix of literary works in various languages concerning the story. This appendix was not reprinted in following publications. The article also appeared in Shmeruk’s Sifrut yidiš be-polin [Yiddish literature in Poland] (Jerusalem: Magnes Press 1981) 204–279 and as a book in English translation: The Esterke Story in Yiddish and Polish Literature—A Case Study in the Mutual Relations of Two Cultural Traditions (Jerusalem: The Zalman Shazar Center for the Furtherance of the Study of Jewish History 1985). References herein are to the English work. The work was translated into Polish in 2000 entitled Legenda o Esterce w literaturze jidisz i polskiej (Warsaw: Oficyna Naukowa 2000).

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    On the first two works see ShmerukThe Esterke Story in Yiddish and Polish Literature37–39. Sefer Seder ha-dorot was written by Jehiel ben Solomon Heilprin and first printed in Karlsruhe. Page 382 includes a quotation from Tsemaḥ David concerning Esther. Sefer Gedulat Šaʾul written by Zvi Hirsch Edelman was printed in London in 1854. Most of the work relates the biography of Shaul Wohl considered a confidant of the kings of Poland and king of Poland for one day. Pages xi 5b and 13a mention Esther as the wife of King Kazimierz. Apparently the writer based this on information from Sheʾeris Yisroel (a Yiddish addition to Sefer Yosifon by Menahem Mann Amelander first edition Amsterdam: Naftali Hertz Levi Rofeh & his son-in-law Kashman 1743).

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    See FeinerHaskalah ve-historiyah310–339; Roman ʿim ha-ʿavar 34–46; Shmuel Verses “Ha-ʾagadot ʿal ʿaseret ha-šěvatim ve-hasambatiyon ve-darkhey qělitatan be-sifruteynu ha-ḥadašah [Legends concerning the Ten Tribes and the Sambation and their absorption into our modern literature]” in: Me-Mendele ʿad Hazaz: Sugiot be-hitpatḥut hasiporet ha-ʿivrit ed. idem (Jerusalem: Magnes Press 1987) 300–328; Shmuel Verses “Geyruš Sefarad be-aspeqlariyah šel sifrut ha-haskalah [The Spanish exile from the perspective of Haskalah literature]” in: ‘Hakeytsa ʿami’: sifrut ha-haskalah be-ʿidan ha-modernizatsiyah ed. idem (Jerusalem: Magnes Press 2001) 157–190; and Dan Miron Bodedim běmoʿadim [When loners come together] (Tel Aviv: Am Oved 1988) 62–65.

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  • 23

    FeinerHaskalah ve-historiyah317–318 323–324. One of the popular German language Jewish writers of this genre of writing was Ludwig Philippson. In 1839 he adapted for theatre (in German) part of a French book concerning Esterka by the exiled Polish writer Jan Czyński and this work was published in Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums. Other extracts from the play in German translation had appeared in the same journal only a number of months earlier. More bibliographical details may be found in Shmeruk’s bibliography in “Hamagaʿim beyn hasifrut hapolanit le-beyn sifrut yidiš ʿal-pi sippur esterka ve-qazimir ha-gadol melekh Polin.” For more information on Philippson and the historical novel see the fourth chapter of Ben-Ari’s work Roman ʿim ha-ʿavar.

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  • 32

    Ibid.55 and 59.

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    See ShmerukThe Esterke Story in Yiddish and Polish Literature60–106. Conversion from free will was a topic discussed and variously appraised in the historical Jewish novel in Germany in the nineteenth century. See on this Ben Ari Roman ʿim ha-ʿavar 87.

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  • 70

    See ShmerukThe Esterke Story in Yiddish and Polish Literature60–82.

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    On Shomer’s sources see ShmerukThe Esterke Story in Yiddish and Polish Literature41–45. Regarding Eppelberg see ibid. 55–59.

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  • 81

    See CohenSefer sofer ve-ʿiton209–213.

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