Interruption: Chag Purim Sameach

Kids in a shul somewhere in the U.S. sing “Chag Purim,” the key children’s song of the holiday in the U.S. (the only other song I know is “Ani Purim”). One suspects that they’ve perhaps just done a Purimshpiel, a re-enactment of the events of the holiday similar to a nativity play or Krippenspiel. Note all the little girls dressed up as Esther. Boys dress as anything, but little girls typically want to be princesses.

Actually, this is a holiday I hardly celebrate because there are very few small Jewish children in my life at the moment. This is a bit schlubby of me since Purim is one of the few holidays when women are under obligation to hear the reading, which in this case is Megillat Esther (the Old Testament book of Esther), because it was a woman who delivered Israel in this story — and that’s the event the holiday celebrates.

It begins tonight at sundown. Chag sameach, everyone!

Teenagers in Israel sing the song, dressed as the Three Musketeers. I was looking for someone dressed as Vashti to show you, but I guess that happens only at Hillel parties in the U.S.

[Photo: a Purim grogger with Yiddish letters: “a freylichn Purim” or “Happy Purim!”]

For me the defining quality of Purim is that everything normal gets turned on its head (in this sense it’s not unlike Carnival in Catholic countries). “The rules” go out the door for this holiday. For instance, Megillat Esther is the only book of the Hebrew Scriptures that does not mention the name of G-d. If you go to shul to hear the reading, you’ll notice not only adults in costume and all kinds of mayhem going on around the bimah (the pulpit from which the Torah is read), like tying together the shoelaces of the people leading the services, but also that whenever the name of Haman (the villain, who wants to kill all the Jews) is read, everyone in the congregation shouts, rubs their feet on the floor (to rub his name out), and shakes a rattle called a “grogger” (to obliterate his name). That’s why the kids in video 1 above all have some kind of homemade rattle in their hand.

Similarly, although the prohibition on drunkenness and general social disapprobation of inebriation are high in traditional Jewish culture, on Purim, many of the men in the congregation will be at least one sheet to the wind — and frequently more. (See this interesting Hasidic meditation on the significance of getting drunk on Purim.) There’s a not-very-nice, but well-known among the older generation, song —  “Shikker iz a goy” — that claims that non-Jews have to get drunk by nature, while Jews, in contrast, have to pray. But on Purim it’s considered a mitzvah (a commandment) for Jews to get just a little drunk — to throw reason overboard and have a little fun.

Hamentaschen

Two more traditional customs deserve mention. The iconic food of the holiday is a sort of cookie or pastry called “Hamantaschen” (singular and plural), which is triangular because it is supposed to mimic the shape of Haman’s hat. (So sometimes you hear that old chestnut, “My hat, it has three corners” sung on Purim as well.) These are really big, heavy cookies usually filled with jam or poppy seed fillings. A trendy variation involves filling them with a nut butter (like Nutella). I can eat about two of them before being full. I recently saw a funny skit on youtube about whether their traditional triangular shape may be harmful to our health. And adults send each other little goodie baskets, mishloach manot, which have to include at least two different (in the sense that different blessings are spoken over them — so not two tree fruits, for example) items that are ready to eat and can be eaten during the Purim festival. It’s usually hamantaschen and kosher grape juice or wine, in my experience, but some of the baskets are very elaborate and include many items.

A final component of the holiday is the mitzvah of tzedakah (charity). One imagines that at the moment our minds are heavily on the need for charity to earthquake survivors and their families in Japan, though many observers are urging potential donors to wait with donations to see where they can best be allocated. When in doubt, the International Red Cross is usually a safe bet. Keep in mind that donations designated at a specific target through an umbrella organization are often re-distributed at the discretion of the umbrella group to meet organizational needs or the victims of less well-publicized catastrophes, and make sure to research the record of any charitable organization you donate to. It’s also frequently the case that in years with terrible disasters, regular giving to local programs suffers. The poor and homeless in our own backyards are also in need of tzedakah. As always, the Richard Armitage Just Giving pages are linked in the right-hand sidebar.

~ by Servetus on March 20, 2011.

11 Responses to “Interruption: Chag Purim Sameach”

  1. Thank you as always for giving us a little insight into Jewish culture, customs and traditions. I absolutely love these posts.

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  2. Happy Purim to you Servetus. Ive heard the story of Esther but didn’t know about the other customs of the festival. Thanks for letting us into your celebration.

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  3. Thank you for sharing! I love to learn about celebrations & traditions of various faiths & cultures so Happy Purim to you!

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  4. Servetus, Happy Purim to you!

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  5. Thanks, all. As I said, I didn’t pay it much attention this year; I live on the very edges of the Diaspora where it’s mostly a holiday for children. We didn’t have a university party this year because of the holiday falling on Spring Break. I’m actually gearing up for Pessach (passover) as we speak.

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  6. As an historian, I thought you might be interested by this other holiday where things were turned upside down. During Medieval period was held the “fete des fous” ou “fete de l’ane”, during the month of January. You can find a first info on wikipedia (http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/F%C3%AAte_des_Fous).
    This was linked to christian communities.
    This has also been related in to
    Vcitor Hugo’s book “Notre Dame de Paris” and has been kept by the Walt Disney’s version of “Casimodo”.

    Happy Purim, even if you don’t dress like a princess anymore…

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  7. […] you know what I mean. Focused on grading to the exclusion of almost everything else. Yesterday was Purim and I had kids to go with and didn’t even go. It’s not my favorite thing, but my […]

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  8. […] explanation of Purim from two years ago is found here. The only piece that’s necessary to understand this post is that on Purim, one dresses up in […]

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  9. […] about Purim here. My previous posts about Purim here and […]

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  10. […] ( a pastry) for the temple’s  imminent Purim Party  ( link stolen from Servetus and Me and Richard, with more info […]

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  11. […] started last night and ended about five years ago, but that’s how the days have gone lately. A previous informative post about the holiday and a Richard Armitage one. The Peskies are away with relatives, so I didn’t have any […]

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