Purim and the Evolution of Judaism

February 22, 2013 1:27 am 14 comments

Esther and Mordechai writing the second letter of Purim. Oil on canvas, 1685. RISD Museum of Art, Rhode Island.

It always amazes me how Judaism has succeeded in evolving (or shall we say, for the sake of political correctness, reinvigorating itself).

After all, the Bible took orgiastic pagan harvest festivals and turned them into disciplined, monotheistic family celebrations. Shapatu, the Mesopotamian Seventh Day, was transformed from an evil day of fear and bad luck into one of rest and spirituality. The people of Ugarit boiled a kid in its mother’s milk, while we wait six hours between meat and milk (or insist on two sets of dishes, fridges, ovens, dishcloths, tablecloths, dentures, and toothpicks). But I still can’t believe that Moses could ever have imagined his descendants would one day return to the Land Flowing with Milk and Honey to turn it into a land swamped with long black coats and fur hats speaking a variation of “Dog German”. But, as the good book of Psalms says, “How amazing are your works, God, and they are all wise!”

No sooner had Moses and Joshua been called to the Heavenly Assembly, when we Israelites returned to our natural bolshie, argumentative, and contrarian personification of a “stiff-necked people”. Despite the optimistic aspirations of Isaiah and the desperate Jeremiads of guess who, and with the exception of one or two decent monarchs, we descended into corruption, chaos, defeat, and exile. The horrific conquest and destruction described by the Book of Lamentations is obvious enough reason for the state of depression that enveloped us as we “sat by the waters of Babylon and there we wept”.

By the time we got to the prophet Zechariah, Judaism had instituted a range of depressing fasts, in the fourth month, the fifth, the seventh, and the tenth month (though we can’t be certain which ones they were, because the names of the months were constantly changing from Canaanite to Babylonian to Persian and more). Not only, but according to the Talmud we were fasting at the drop of a hat whenever something went wrong, the rains failed, the hurricanes blew, the lions roared, the jackals howled, or yet another invading army passed through.

The mood was dark. Our land was laid waste and we became a nation of expatriates. So think how amazing it is that after all those visions of valleys of dried bones, all of a sudden our religion bequeaths us a celebration to surpass all celebrations, a carnival of food drink and fancy dress. Again I ask, could Moses have ever envisioned a celebration that started in the warmth of Persian indulgence transported into the driving sleet of Manchester, the cold rain of London, or the snow ravaged suburbs of New England? No wonder getting drunk seemed to be the only way to get through the day.

Yet the wisdom of our forefathers was not simply in giving us an opportunity to have fun and let our hair down (if you were a male and forgot to shave your head to the scalp). Even in the moments of our inebriated self-indulgence we were commanded to think of the poor, to cement friendships, and give presents. It is an amazing tribute to our forefathers that they knew how to find that golden rule, that balance between self-indulgence and altruism, between individuality and community, between enjoying God’s gifts and making sure we shared them with others.

That, after all, was our very first celebration as a nation. The Paschal Lamb was eaten together with the stranger or the loner and was welcomed into the warmth of the home. So from the start the family, eating and rejoicing, became the center point of our religious life.

Nowadays in modern and free materialist living, the idea of family comes under assault everywhere and in every form. Families no longer sit down to eat together, or if they do it is in front of the television. Mothers walk their babies as they talk into their cellphones or sit on park benches texting, and never even look at their offspring, let alone communicate with them. The conflicting and concurrent demands of modern life pull one parent to work, the other to the store, one child to sport, the other to a mall; even when they do come back, they each retire to their pads, phones, boxes, and screens to enter their own private worlds. How wise of our founders to focus on sitting down together to have a religious meal, to drink and be merry, to talk about lofty ideas, and encourage children to present some stimulating or original thought. We have always been adding, adapting and adjusting as circumstances and history have changed.

There’s one point about Purim that I don’t think is stressed enough. The Jews of the Persian Empire were very careful to avoid offending and above all not to be seen benefitting from the discomfort of their enemies. They did not loot or take advantage (though Esther did get Haman’s palace). I wish nowadays more of us took that to heart. Swindling the State has almost become a national pastime in some quarters.

Purim reminds us of the dangers of life but also the pleasures. One can so quickly turn into the other. We are commanded to be so spaced out on Purim that we cannot tell the difference between “Blessed is Haman” and “Cursed is Mordechai”. If I may suggest some relevant adaptations; between an outwardly religious Jew who behaves like a pagan and a pagan who behaves more morally than a Jew, and between a Jew who says he is a Jew and one who really behaves like one!

We have survived despite the continuing presence of Amalek in various disguises. And we have survived despite the fact that we are often our own worst enemies. So let’s drink to survival. Happy Purim.

14 Comments

  • I thought Mr. Rosen’s statement refreshing, amusing and pointedly true in so much of his comment. He said “above all not to be seen benefitting from the discomfort of their enemies. “…that is precisely the situation of zionsist Israel today and one in which any Jewish protestor (and their are scores of thousands of them, at least 20,000 are militant)is called a “self hating jew” by his treacherous government. These atrocity hating jews are modern Jewish hero’s who have breached the cultural architype Nebuchadnezzar observed from his kindness to Jews when he later exiled the lot for treachery…a common theme for 2400 years now.

    Treachery against the Israeli PM’s. pathological liars almost to a “T” , or the IDF or Mossad in protesting their atrocities and other despicable actions by decent jews, including the thousands who refuse to serve against Palestinians whose 67 years of pogrom and “holocaust” by Israelis certainly “above all not to be seen benefitting from the discomfort of their enemies”.Of all the hypocrites on earth Israel and the USA are literally, blood brothers.All this over the pre-talmud fireside-tales of myth and lie.

    …Moses probably never existed however and nor did the ‘exodus’. Unfortunately the Abraham story has seen not only a religion in which quite appalling people including the mythical Jacob are venerated and which created a parallel religion with all the same charisma, faults and violence…called Muhammadanism or ‘Islam’.

    Unfortunately whilst Christians (allegedly) fought biterly over sustaining ‘the law’(Peter) and starting afresh (the enigmatic ‘Saul”)the institution itself whilst favorong Paul as the doctor of the Church also insistits is essentially Jewish…which it ought not….and so supports such fairy-stories as ‘the promised land’, which in a culture of “I am we are you aren’t” has led to the murder of millions of people since Israel was created by mutual consent with new order Jews in happy conference with the Reich in 1933.1934 whence began ‘the transfer’ to their new (misappropriated) lands by their collaborative partner the Reich, which set them up commercally for trade with it.

    These Israeli people (60-100,000) were not the victims of the German pogrom nor of the holocaust (sacrifice for a benefit) exercised by their new order bretheren. Well reported is that these Israelis, enjoying the milk and honey of Palestine in collaboration with the Reich …including offering the Reich thay it would “route the British for it in the middle East”.

    Now those Israelis of whom the Old Order were terrified or who loathed them and wanted untimately to escape to anywhere but Palestine…in which thousands were betrayed to the Gestapo or turned back by places like the USA (Rabbi Wise insisted) ..the true holocaust…they claim to be ‘Jews’ rather than descendants of the protected ‘transferees’ riding on the backs of their victimised and persecuted old order bretheren who stayed or were capturd now dictating to the world, meddling in government and the public cervice, military and hospitals (etc). The victimised Jews who survived and illegally fled to Israel or who didn’t survive but left evidence of their previous possessions have been in some cases victims again…their property misappropriated.

    Mr Rosen is to be commended, though I am usure he’d go the whole hog of research which would as I have done, undermine modern Israel’s lies with truths.

    • YO! JEAN BABY MAH MON, MAH MAIN MON….
      The doctors called me back for a re-evealutation.They think that maybe they should’ve kept me longer on the meds and they asked me to bring you along also.

      I find it amazing that this ‘link’ posts my comments
      AND POSTS YOUR COMMENTS. C’MON, LET GO BACK TO THE CLINIC AND GET CHECKED OUT AGAIN.
      The docs will NOT give you anymore shock therapy so relax.
      By the way….what did you post…I didnt understand a thing.
      MIKIE..HEY HEY HEY…i am *not angry.YOU SHOULD SEE MY SMILE.IF YOU DID YOU WOULD KNOW THAT I AM HAPPY.I FEEL GREAT.
      Mikie would you mind driving the car taking us to the clinic, they asked for you too. We’ll stop by the Disney store and pick up some toys to play with while we’re in the waiting room.

    • Jean
      I appreciate your compliment but I am afraid I cannot agree at all with your one sided diatribe against Israel.
      Have you forgotten that there are Muslim and Christian Arabs living freely in Israel, with full democratic rights? Yet the Palestinians want their territories to be Judenrein?Indeed even Christianrein! Who is the racist here?
      Of course Israel has made mistakes and I am glad in a democratic society one can say so and there are plenty of critics within. But you seem to ignore the demands of Hamas and the Brotherhood to destroy Israel. Israel is surrounded by millions of enemies screaming for its destruction. Is this a sound basis for peace? I dont think so.
      I am all in favor of criticism and condemnation but I also believe in balance and reciprocity. Let me see some criticism of Hamas, Hezbollah and Assad. You are a Christian obviously, let me see some criticism of how the Christians are being driven out of the West Bank, Syria and discriminated against in Egypt and then I will believe you are an honest critic and not a biased one. Then I’ll take your outburst more seriously.
      Jeremy

  • Sounds like …Dacon9 has a “lots of anger.”
    Anyways, just wanted to say that I think this is a wonderful and enlightened article and I could not have said it better myself, especially this telling observation: “between an outwardly religious Jew who behaves like a pagan and a pagan who behaves more morally than a Jew, and between a Jew who says he is a Jew and one who really behaves like one!”

  • You and I may have survived, but, six million of us did not! While one might claim that by now they would have died naturally, that misses that many of the six million were children and babies, who whould still be alive today, plus they would have had their own children. Remamber to forget Amalek.

  • I wonder why no one comments on what an idiot Haman was to suggest riding in the Kings horse in the Kings clothes. Wasnt it obvious that this would suggest he wanted the Kings position too for himself?
    Perhaps since Achashverosh was such a dumb drunk, Haman was really getting ready for a coup.
    Amazing how our enemies always seem to overreach themselves.
    J

    • Jeremy
      See what the meeir einey chachomim has to say why achasverosh was willing to give into and homon also agreed to give such an extraordinary honor to mordechai being that achasverosh was no less of an anti semite than homon.

  • Very erudite. Shows command of big words and great names.

  • WOW. DID YOU, THE AUTHOR THINK OF THIS ALL BY YOURSELF?

    LOTS OF ANGER THERE.
    TRUTH? MAYBE. PURPOSE?

    IN ARABIC WE SAY …HAKI BALASH ..AND WALK AWAY.
    (talk for nothing)

    i am dissappointed in you.
    WHAT? You say I didnt get the point?
    That makes you even less.

    YOU ENDED WITH WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO SEE……..
    HOW HAVE WE BEEN OUR OWN WORST ENEMY ?

    AND ANOTHER ARTICLE I WOULD LIKE TO SEE
    WHAT IS IN OUR DNA THAT WE ARE DETERMINED TO SURVIVE.

    but I agree that the ‘long black coats,fur hats and that ugly vuz vuz gotta go.
    Excuse me while I dust off my camel. Hey wheres my staff and robes, I have a long ride to the shuk.
    Hmmm I wonder what kipa should I wear today, well it does depend on which community I will sell my rugs to…
    now do they wear the knitted one or the full velvet one of the wrap around type……….

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Residents of the Los Angeles Jewish Home give dating advice to a young Jewish man in a comedic video posted Monday on YouTube just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jonathan, an associate at the Jewish home, quizzes the senior citizens on an array of topics including having sex on the first date, kissing a girl, who should pay for dinner and whether online dating is a good idea. When the 28-year-old asks a male resident named Lee about his experiences [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Anyone who spent time in the Jewish Catskills hotels – especially those like me, who returned for decades – must see the new documentary,”Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort.” Not only will the film transport you back to the glory days of your youth and thousands of memories, but it will also make you long for a world that is now lost forever. I returned to Kutsher’s one last time in the summer of 2009, but by then, the [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Jewish Identity Lifestyle Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    JNS.org – Amid the numerous studies and analyses regarding Jewish American life, a simple fact remains: part-time Jewish education is the most popular vehicle for Jewish education in North America. Whenever and wherever parents choose Jewish education for their children, we have a communal responsibility to devote the necessary time and resources to deliver dynamic, effective learning experiences. The only way we can do this is by creating space for conversations and knowledge-sharing around innovative new education models. That also [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.