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March 15, 2022 10:42 am
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Ukraine and Purim: A Call for Jewish Unity

avatar by David Stav

Opinion

The entrance to Israeli President’s official residence is decorated with a huge monster to mark the upcoming Jewish holiday of Purim, which is a celebration of the Jews’ salvation from genocide in ancient Persia, in Jerusalem February 24, 2021. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

While every Jewish holiday involves an element of communal unity, the holiday of Purim is particularly one that celebrates togetherness.

Giving to the poor, delivering food baskets, celebrating a joyous meal with family and friends — the mitzvot of the day are all designed in the spirit of caring for others, and extending ourselves on behalf of those around us.

This makes the division of observance built-in to the holiday so ironic. Why would a holiday focused on togetherness separate us based on something as seemingly irrelevant as geographic location?

A small number of cities — most notably, Jerusalem– observe Purim the day after the rest of the world. This division has specific halachic ramifications, whereby a resident of Jerusalem is not able to perform the mitzvot of the day on “Purim proper” — and conversely, non-Jerusalem residents are not able to do so on Shushan Purim, the following day.

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This is a situation that is entirely unique in Jewish tradition. While there are, of course, those outside of Israel who observe two days of certain holidays while those in Israel observe just one, the first day of the holiday is always the same calendar date, wherever we find ourselves on the map.

This leaves us with a fascinating and somewhat troubling question: are we not taking a day that is meant to be ultimately about unity and community, and conveying a sense of divisiveness within the greater Jewish nation? The Gemara even acknowledges this question, and is troubled by the suggestion that we would allow for individual “camps” to exist. Is this not a disturbing precedent to be setting?

The answer lies in an all-important reality, one critical to our understanding of how we relate to challenges facing Jewish society as a whole.

Real unity thrives best when we admit that diversity is a natural, and wholly positive, part of our national existence.

A Jew must be respected as a Jew. They must be embraced as our sisters and brothers, wherever they are in the world. That is the majesty of Jewish identity. The Torah that we all embrace is the very same Torah wherever we are, and whatever language we might speak.

This seeming paradox of Jewish unity that is revealed through Purim is certainly more important this year than in years past. Jews living in, or fleeing from, the war-ravaged regions of Ukraine are likely people that we had thought little about before these tragic events were thrust into our lives. For purposes of the Purim metaphor, they lived behind walls that we might have never crossed, and we likely might have never come across them were it not for this war.

But Judaism attempts to teach us that even when we look different, dress differently, live in different places, and even observe our faith differently, we are the same people. Purim reminds us that the notion that there is no room for diversity within Judaism is a flawed one — and that while we are all united by that one Torah and the halacha which guides us, we should never lose sight of the fact that we must respect those who live and act differently. Because that is the only way that we will be able to create a more united Jewish world.

Our deepest prayer on this Purim is that we should welcome this holiday as a way to look beyond our city borders, and embrace those all around the world who need our help. In the merit of a meaningful and united holiday, we should all be blessed with happiness, health, and peace.

Rabbi David Stav is the Chair and Founder of Tzohar Rabbinical Organization in Israel.

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