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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Purim’

The Book of Esther: A Political Analysis

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

The Book of Esther, which is read on Purim and to which that holiday is dedicated, has been interpreted many ways. Yet there is much to be understood by analyzing the story in terms of political ideology and strategy.

Ahasuerus is the powerful king over Persia and much more. He holds a banquet and invites the leaders of all of the provinces to come in order to wield together his diverse empire by showing his wealth, strength, generosity, and bringing together his political elite in terms of fellowship and equality with each other.

While drunk, he orders Queen Vashti to come to the banquet to display herself. She refuses, for unspecified reasons, and his advisors urge him to depose her and select a new queen. A young Jewish woman, Esther, is among the candidates. Urged by her uncle Mordechai, she conceals her religiosity-ethnicity, enters the competition, and eventually wins.

At this point, the story introduces a new theme. The king makes Haman prime minister. Mordechai, for unspecified reasons, refuses to bow to him. On discovering Mordechai is a Jew, Haman resolves to destroy all the Jews in the empire.

The story provides a sophisticated analysis of antisemitism:

First, Haman’s antagonism toward all Jews springs from a personal and psychological conflict. This has often been true in history including today.

Second, that conflict is then dressed up in political language to justify it to the ruling authority and the masses.

Third, Haman provides the classic, statement of non-theological antisemitism that could easily fit into the nineteenth and twentieth century and even today, mirroring the kinds of things hinted for example by nominee for secretary of defense Chuck Hagel. Haman explained:

“There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples…of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s law, and it is not in your majesty’s interest to tolerate them.” In other words, the Jews comprise what would later be called a separate national group. It is impossible to assimilate them; they are disloyal due to dual loyalty; and despite their apparent weakness they plot against you.

I’m sure that Hagel is not antisemitic in any conscious way yet he echoes the same themes that Haman used. Haman might have said that he was not a “Jewish” minister but a “Persian” minister, who would not bow down to the Jewish lobby whose interests subverted those of the nation.

A contemporary problem in understanding antisemitism today is that hegemonic political, intellectual, and informational forces in the West want to measure antisemitism by conscious intent and not by the use of well-worn historical (these are even in the Bible!) themes, though that is precisely the criterion that they do use in examining just about any other sort of bigotry. They also begin by excluding all non-Western populations from possibly being antisemitic. But Haman was residing in a non-Western society.

Fourth, antagonism against the Jews camouflages a desire to loot their wealth, in other words material gain.

The king agrees—after all, his most trusted courtier has just told him it’s a kill or be killed situation—and issues the decree for genocide.

In contradiction to these claims of Haman is Mordechai’s good citizenship. This would later become a major theme of Jewish assimilation—I don’t use the latter word in a pejorative sense here—that Jews must prove they are the best, most loyal citizens. Mordechai saves the king by uncovering a real plot against him. By his example, Mordechai shows Jews are not subversives and disloyal.Yet Mordechai’s good behavior is useless if the king doesn’t know about it. Suppose mass media existed and hadn’t covered Mordechai’s behavior but reported on all of Haman’s speeches?

Especially remarkable is the behavior of Esther. Warned of Haman’s plan, Esther wants to do nothing lest she place herself at risk. After all, she is a fully “assimilated,” even hidden, Jew. But Mordechai reminds her: Do not imagine that you will escape because of your high position.

It’s easy to suggest that this can be compared to the Nazi desire to kill all Jews on a “racial” basis. But there are many types of such situations. What’s especially interesting is that Esther’s situation shows how individual Jews can try to set themselves apart to be immune or even prosper from persecutions: converted Jews against steadfast ones in medieval times; Modernized, semi-assimilated Jews against traditionalist immigrants in America and Western Europe; and anti-Israel Jews against pro-Israel ones and Israel itself today.

Police Let Women Read Megillah at Kotel on Shushan Purim

Monday, February 25th, 2013

A women’s Megillah reading at the Western Wall took place on Shushan Purim without incident or arrests on Monday, the day after most of Israel and the rest of the Jewish world celebrated Purim.

Approximately 80 women turned out, some donning prayer shawls, others dressed as police and Haredi Orthodox worshipers, on Monday morning in Jerusalem, the Times of Israel reported.

Hallel Silverman, the 17-year-old niece of American comedian Sarah Silverman and who was arrested two weeks ago during Rosh Chodesh prayers, participated in the Megillah reading dressed in striped prison garb, Two of her younger siblings dressed as police officers leading her by handcuffs.

Israeli police have made nearly monthly arrests related to dress code violations since June related to the Women of the Wall’s monthly Rosh Chodesh service.

In 2003, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a government ban on women wearing tefillin or tallit, prayer shawls, or reading from a Torah scroll at the Wall. The court later ruled the women can do so on Rosh Chodesh at the southern part of the Western Wall, which is less frequented.

Hikind Defends His Blackface Hoop Player Purim Shtick

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Brooklyn New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind had “a lot of fun” by dressing up as a black basketball player on Purim, but now that the party is over, so is the fun.

He invited a professional makeup artist to his home on Purim to help him with his costume, complete with an afro wig, sunglasses, an orange jersey and – of course – brown face paint.

“I was just, I think, I was trying to emulate, you know, maybe some of these basketball players. Someone gave me a uniform, someone gave me the hair of the actual, you know, sort of a black basketball player,” Mr. Hikind explained to the Politicker website. “It was just a lot of fun.… The fun for me is when people come in and don’t recognize me.”

Dozens of people streamed in and out of his house to enjoy the Purim party, where his wife dressed up as a devil, which is probably what many people, black and white, are calling him today.

Jews dress up as just about anyone on Purim, from Arabs, to Haredi Jews, political figures, clowns, priests – everything. But recreating a stereotype of blacks is the farthest point away from being politically correct, especially for a Jewish politician,

Hikind sees no problem with his costume.

“I can’t imagine anyone getting offended,” he told Politicker. “You know, anyone who knows anything about Purim knows that if you walk throughout the community, whether it’s Williamsburg, Boro Park, Flatbush, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens Hills, people get dressed up in, you name it, you know, in every kind of dress-up imaginable.

“Purim, you know, everything goes and it’s all done with respect. No one is laughing, no one is mocking.”

Hikind told a WCBS 880 reporter that it “never crossed my mind for a second” that the costume might be offensive, and added, “If I was black, on Purim I would have made my face look like I was white.”

The New York Times reported Monday that Assembly Democrat, Deborah J. Glick of Manhattan, took to Twitter to state her objections to the costume and wrote, “Assembly member Dov Hikind in blackface was beyond offensive. A Purim party shouldn’t be cover for insensitivity.” City Councilman Mark Weprin posted on Twitter a simple question: “What was Dov thinking?”

Purim of Yesteryear: Celebrations in TLV 1932-34 (Video)

Monday, February 25th, 2013

The “Adloyada” Celebrations in Tel Aviv in 1932-34.

Particularly interesting are the floats mocking the Nazis, complete with giant swastikas, and warning of the impending disaster in Europe.

Happy Shushan Purim!

Visit The Muqata.

Women of Wall Rabbi Calls Knesset ‘Achasverosh’

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Women of the Wall Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman has compared the Knesset with King Achasverosh, the wicked king in the story of Purim, because the Israeli legislature listens to Haredim who “claim authority over Jewish religious practice.”

Imagine the uproar if Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Sephardic Jews, had made that comment. Israeli and foreign media would already have condemned him as spewing hatred against fellow-Jews and for being anti-Zionist.

But when Silverman writes the same thing in the Huffington Post, as she did on Purim, that’s fine – because she speaks in the name of equality, and who can argue with that?

We all probably would be better off if the Haredim were to let the Women of the Wall wail at the Kotel all they want and let them read from the Torah.

The Woman of the Wall make it a point to try to pray at the Western Wall every Rosh Chodesh in their prayer shawls and with a Torah scroll, because they say it is their equal right to do pray as men do.

Equal? Has anyone  noticed that they do not try to pray every day at the Kotel, let alone three times a day?

Silverman’s rant in the Huffington Post sounded familiar to anyone who recalls the biblical Korach, who complained to Moses that all Jews are holy and equal, and who in the H is he to tell everyone what God says?

Silverman wrote, “All Jews who take Sinai as their paradigm for authority and purpose — God’s command that we become a Kingdom of Priests, each one of us in direct relationship with and an interpreter of God — are obligated to reveal ourselves as brave and proactive Jews, like Esther. And the few who seek to hoard God, idol-like, for themselves, in their own images, are obligated to learn from Mordecai’s humility and ask: Who knows?…

“We end public readings of the Scroll of Esther with a blessing: ’Blessed are you, God, who takes up our grievance, judges our claim and avenges the wrongs against us. You bring retribution on our enemies and vengeance on our foes.’

“It’s a tragedy when those we have in mind are other Jews,” Silverman concluded.

Smartphone app Has Text of Megillah and Drowns Out Haman’s Name

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Unique Purim apps available to smartphone users help make the holiday marking the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia an even more unique experience both in Israel and across the world.

For the complete reading of Megillat Esther, there is an app available for Android users, which includes the Hebrew text of Esther, complete with vowels and cantillation marks, seven different font sizes, as well as a verse-by-verse English translation. One of its unique features is that it provides a noisemaker (grogger) to drown out the name of the evildoer Haman during the reading, with several options for noisy sound effects.

The English translation is based on the 1917 Jewish Publication Society version, whose text has been updated to replace “thee” and “thou,” “hast” and “didst,” and similar archaisms.

In addition, the app also includes the text for the Purim Service (seder Purim) with the appropriate texts for four different customs: Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Nusach Sefard and Nusach Ari.

The app is available on Google Play Store by the name of Esther by ZigZag Inc. and costs $1.99 or NIS 7.46.

Other Purim apps, which are both fun and free, include the Megillas Esther app, which was made available to Android users this year after having been available to iPhone and iPod Touch users last year.  According to the Google Play Store description, the app allows you to scroll through verse by verse with a flick of a finger and the ‘virtual’ noisemaker allows you to choose the noises, including crowd booing, air horn, firecrackers, and machine gun for the reading of Haman’s name. There is also a helpful Haman highlighter.

And finally, in order to enjoy a safe and happy Purim, there is SoberApp, developed in Israel, which helps a person monitor the intake of drinks and estimates the blood and alcohol level. By entering basic information about weight and gender and the type of drink a person has had as well as the time he had it, the app will inform if one can drive now or later or if the drinker has exceeded the alcohol limit in whatever country he is located.

The free app is available on Google Play Store and is especially suitable to those celebrating Purim with plenty of traditional drinking. Happy Purim!

Samsung Israel Treats Facebook Friends with Purim

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Samsung, which operates R & D operations in Israel, is sending 10,000 baskets of Purim Mishloach Manot goodies to anyone whose relative or friends signed him up on the company’s Mobile Israel Facebook page.

The company also contributed to two charity organizations by paying the Variety Israel and Enosh Fund organizations to pack the snacks for the Purim tradition, Toronto’s Shalom Life reported.

The packages were sent via a Facebook page app on Samsung Mobile, and the user than downloads a form on which he can write a greeting and the address of the friend, who is to receive the basket by Monday.

 

Why Don’t We Celebrate Two Days of Purim in Jerusalem?

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

While the rest of Israel celebrates Purim this Sunday (the 14th of Adar), Jerusalem celebrates on Monday (the 15th of Adar).

Why?

Well, the easy answer is “because Jerusalem is a walled city from the time of Joshua.”

Which is partially right.  Jerusalem was a walled city in the time of Joshua, but the walls we see today were built in the 1500s, in the Ottoman Era.  From the early 13th century and until the mid-16th century, Jerusalem was not a walled city at all.  And indeed, it was unclear to the Jews of that time when they should celebrate Purim.

Rabbi Eshtori Ha-Parchi of the 14th century tells us that when he came to Israel, he was told that in Jerusalem they celebrated on both the 14th and 15th of Adar, as they were uncertain which one they were obligated to keep.  Rabbi Eshtori brings an entire Halachic discussion about what should be done, and adds that he wrote his rabbi, Rabbi Matityah in Bet-Shean, to ask him what he should do.

Rabbi Matityah wrote him back: If I would be in Jerusalem on the 14th of Adar, and they would read the Megillah, I would leave the synagogue.  Otherwise they could say about me “The fool walketh in darkness” (Ecclesiastes 2, 14).  And the same is true for Tiberias.

Rabbi Eshtori finished by saying that Rabbi Matityah is right.

We don’t know what changed the minds of the Jews of Jerusalem, but today there is no doubt – and we celebrate Purim in Jerusalem on the 15th of Adar.

Visit the Muqata.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/muqata/why-dont-we-celebrate-two-days-of-purim-in-jerusalem/2013/02/24/

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