Tradition Today: Reclaiming Purim

Purim's slogan has rightly been “upside down” because it does things differently, emphasizing actions – such as drinking to excess and disguising oneself.

By RABBI REUVEN HAMMER
March 21, 2019 12:27
Tradition Today: Reclaiming Purim

AT THAT point a woman shouted from the balcony, “Kakh l’Natzer!”’ – “So too for Egyptian Prime Minister Gamal Abdel Nasser,” pictured being cheered in Cairo after announcing the Suez Canal Company, August 1, 1956).. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 
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Purim has always been a problematic holiday. Its slogan has rightly been “upside down” because it does things differently, emphasizing actions – such as drinking to excess and disguising oneself – that are the opposite of what is usually done by Jews on their festivals. The result is that, for many, it is simply a time for children to enjoy themselves while adults put up with the goings-on.

I once experienced a reading of the megillah that was completely different from any other I ever attended. Because I had studied the biblical books according to the academic discipline of biblical criticism, I always understood the Book of Esther, at best, to be historical fiction, not historical fact. Aside from that, the usual readings of the megillah I had attended were always, in keeping with Jewish tradition, rather raucous affairs and not at all serious. The name of the villain was drowned out by noisemakers or shouting, and they were rather humorous events, attended by people in costumes ready for a carnival.

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