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.I was therefore in for a shock when in 1956, as a student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I was invited to the megillah reading at a synagogue called Anshei Shushan – The People of Shushan. The invitation came from a professor with whom I was studying, Prof. Ezra Melamed. He was also the rabbi and spiritual leader of the synagogue, a congregation of Persian Jews who came from the city in Iran identified with the ancient biblical Shushan where the Book of Esther takes place.These people had come to then-Palestine with Prof. Melamed’s father who, in the early part of the 20th century, was their rabbi, a position Prof. Melamed had now inherited. His congregants considered the Book of Esther their ancestral history. They took it all very seriously, as indeed anyone does who believes that. Here were people who had left behind the graves of their ancestors, as well as the burial sites of Esther and Mordechai. Purim was their story, and one does not make light of one’s story of salvation.They had their own customs and even their own special foods for Purim. Hamantashen were unknown to them, for as the name indicates, it is an Ashkenazi recipe. Instead, they ate some very flat cakes. The synagogue was in an old part of new Jerusalem, a section of winding streets and small houses. It was not elaborate or large. There was a women’s balcony where my wife sat, but there were absolutely no costumes and no Purim noise-makers. The rule was: no noise at all during the reading. Every word was sacred and had to be heard, even the accursed name of Haman. Prof. Melamed himself read the megillah using a cantillation melody, but it was not the one to which I was accustomed. And truth be told, he declaimed it rather than sing it, giving a dramatic reading that was worthy of Lawrence Olivier. I am only sorry I had no way of recording it. I LISTENED enthralled and was anxious to know how it would all come out. I remember particularly one very exciting section. When Esther has describes Haman’s evil plan, Melamed very dramatically shouted out the King’s question, “Who is he and where is he who would dare to do this?” (Esther 7:5) and then spat out Esther’s answer, “The adversary and the enemy is this evil Haman!” (Esther 7:6) as she points him out. There was a collective gasp from the congregation. And soon thereafter – when the king is reminded that Haman has already prepared a stake 50 cubits high on which to execute Mordechai – came the words of doom, “Impale him on it!” At that point a woman shouted from the balcony, “Kakh l’Natzer!” (“So too for Nasser”), Egypt’s president at the time and a sworn enemy of Israel.I must admit I have not experienced a reading of the megillah like that since then and do not expect to again. Prof. Melamed, of blessed memory, is long gone, and I don’t know where or if the synagogue still exists. And even though my rational mind tells me it’s all a story and that we should hoot and shout and make noise and have a good time when hearing it, there is a spot somewhere in me that recalls when I heard the Book of Esther read as real history, in a dramatic way, by people who believed every word. Unfortunately, in recent times, Purim has had the misfortune to become associated with the actions of Jewish extremist. Kahanists have attempted to make it their own, which turns the rest of us off. This trend began at the sacred site of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where Baruch Goldstein killed and wounded many Arabs while they were at prayer. Since then, Goldstein has, for some, become a martyr and saint. Kahanists and others on the radical Right teach and encourage Jewish terrorists to take violent action against Arabs. They have even produced a book praising him and his actions called Blessed is the Man, as well as a halachic (Jewish legal) work, Torat HaMelekh, that tries to justify such actions. One group of Kahanists meets every year on Purim at the site of Goldstein’s grave, which has become a place of pilgrimage at which to read the Book of Esther.These same people might now be elected to the Knesset, because their political party has joined with another religious party at the insistence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was afraid of losing their votes if his own party does not receive enough votes. The result of this is to give legitimacy to their interpretation – or rather misinterpretation – of the Book of Esther and the holiday of Purim. If they identify with Kahanism, they have no future within Judaism. These people have no place in the Knesset or in the government. They should be outlawed, as was Meir Kahane and his party. In any case, they must not be allowed to make the megillah their own, or to turn Purim from a celebration of victory over our enemies into a time of racism and hatred of all non-Jews. Let us redeem Purim and rescue the megillah from this fate. The writer, a former president of the International Rabbinical Assembly and the founding director of the Schechter Institute, is a member of the Committee on Jewish Law of the Rabbinical Assembly. A prolific author, two of his books have received the National Jewish Book Council Award as the best work of scholarship of the year. His most recent book is Akiva: Life, Legend, Legacy (JPS).