The other side(s) of Purim

Purim is probably, in Jewish tradition, the only "care free" Holiday. It is a Holiday of informality and it is even a Mitzvah to get drunk! BUt is that all there is to it? Digging in the story, I believe there are some other aspects of the story to highlight....

a) "Mordechai" is not a name of Jewish origin; it is derived from the name of the god Marduk, an ancient Babylonian deity. It seems then that adopting non Jewish names is not a modern trend. Sean Cohen and Moishe Fergusson are not new phenomena!.

b) As for Queen Hadassah (Esther, another Pagan name), she hides her origins from the King until, because of Haman's decree, she is forced to reveal herself. Some Rabbis believe that wearing masks on Purim is connected to her (and Mordechai's) concealment of  their Jewish origins. If these Rabbis are correct (and let us keep in mind they are in a minority), then the use of masks is celebrating the hiding of Jewish Identity!

c) So what happened AFTER Haman's decree was rescinded? Haman is hanged and the Jews of the Empire go around attacking and killing those who supported him. It is a dream come true... The Jews get their revenge! This bloody part of the Megillah is normally downplayed, perhaps because it is a bit embarassing to think of Jews behaving like the Hooligans who participated in the anti Jewish pogroms over the centuries.

d) To this day, in the city of Hamadan (Iran) there is a tomb venerated by Persian Jews as the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai, and it stands in front of a Synagogue that, tradition claims, was the Synagogue where Esther and Mordechai worshipped. Iranian Jews make pilgrimages to the place. Hamadan is the old Ecbatana, and it is claimed that it was founded back in the time of Tiglat Pileser of Assyria, who expelled the Israelites living on the other side of the Jordan.

e) The "gantze megillah" (of Esther) is today considered by most scholars to be a work of fiction, and as such intended to convey a message rather than describe an historical event. Either way, Jewish tradition enshrined the story as part of our annual cycle of events. I'll drink to that... L"Chayim!

f) Jews of Color in America have adopted the story of Esther as a cautionary tale of what happens when a society or a group of people does not accept all its members as equal (Jews in ancient Persia but also, as they see it, Jews of Color in the American Jewish Community)

None of the above changes the celebration, but it adds layers of meaning to the old story. As in most stories in our tradition, old stories get told anew and gain new meanings over time. That is what makes Jewish culture a dynamic response to a changing world. It also provides an answer for Mark Twain's question in his Essay "Concerning the Jews":

..."The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?"



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