Purim: A Non Progressive Jewish Holiday

Esther's banquet by Jan Victors, 1640.

Esther’s Banquet by Jan Victors, 1640.

Today the Jewish people celebrate the holiday of Purim.

It’s an old and familiar story: An intolerant Jew-hater named Haman hatches a plan to annihilate the Jewish people in the ancient kingdom of Persia.

That Genocide Thing. Again.

Most of the Jews in this multicultural Persian kingdom have been enlightened to the point where they enthusiastically attend royal feasts and gorge themselves off the golden plates and cups looted from the holy Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

But these court Jews have evolved past that old, tired Judaism. They’re all new-agey, progressive, and they know that Jewish history has moved beyond the old paradigms. It’s kumbaya time, Persian style.

These liberal Jews figure that Haman, a descendant of the old Jew-hating Amalek tribe, is just an annoying blip on the historical screen. They don’t take him seriously. They view him as just another blowhard who can be appeased. They figure some clever negotiations will make this nut-job go away. They want to give peace a chance.

But there’s a Jew named Mordechai, a descendant of King Saul and King David. He’s old school; so pious and proud that unlike the good, liberal Jews of the kingdom, he refuses to bow down to the Grand Vizier Haman. Mordechai understands that the cult of personality is idolatry, paganism designed to replace G-d.

Mordechai only bows down to G-d.

And to the contempt and derision of the liberal Persian Jews, Mordechai actually takes Haman seriously.

Because Mordechai knows Jewish history. He knows the primary rule of Jewish history: when someone announces they plan on killing you—believe them.

Mordechai did not graduate from an elite Persian university with a degree in Conflict Resolution. He studies Torah. He prays.

He knows that history is frequently a simple calculation: kill or be killed.

Enter Leading Lady Esther

Mordechai maneuvers his niece, Esther—a Persian name that means hidden—into the royal court where she becomes the king’s favorite wife. She is a secret Jew in a corrupt court where Jew-hatred is the latest fashion.

There, in the belly of the beast, Esther lays a trap for Haman, for Haman’s clan, and for the fanatics who thirst for Jewish blood.

Esther proclaims a fast for the Jewish people, because that’s what Jews do: we fast and sprinkle ashes on our head to let G-d know that we know that we count on him, that we are humble in the face of his greatness.

Hey, The Second Amendment Appears

And after the fast, after the brilliant and courageous and frightened Esther springs her trap on Haman. Like all tyrants King Ahasuerus counts on strict weapons control to maintain control over his subjects. But under the beautiful and wise Esther’s influence Ahasuerus extends to the Jewish people in the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces in which they dwell, the right to bear arms, the right to defend themselves against their enemies.

Thus, the story of Purim ends in a bloodbath. The Jews do not sit down and enlighten their enemies about how we must all live together in peace, they do not form reconciliation committees, they do not call for a national conversation about Jew-hatred, they do not consider it a virtue to be tolerant of the intolerant, and they do not forgive their genocidal enemies.

The Jews who follow Mordechai and Esther take up their swords and fight. Because only a good man with a sword can defeat a bad man with a sword.

And even as the victorious Jews slog through the blood of their enemies, even as they celebrate their victory, and even as they give food baskets and charity to the poor, they know that this is not the end of Jewish history, it’s just another chapter that is fated to repeat itself over and over again — until the coming of the Messiah.

Karen and I wish all our friends and relatives a happy Purim.

A Jerusalem family in costume in celebration of Purim. H/T Israel Matzav

A Jewish family in costume in celebration of Purim. H/T Israel Matzav

It is traditional for Jewish children—and those who are young at heart—to dress up in costumes on Purim. Here’s a charming video showing residents of Jerusalem, the Jewish state’s eternal, undivided capital, celebrating Purim.

H/T Elder of Ziyon


Maayan Ariel is Alice in Wonderland for Purim.

Maayan Ariel is Alice in Wonderland for Purim.


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  1. A Bitter-American (clinging to guns and G-d)
    Posted February 25, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Dang, I’m gettin’ old. Them mall Santas look like babies.

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  2. Brianna
    Posted February 25, 2013 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    A Jewish friend of mine jokes that all Jewish holidays follow a very simple pattern: “They tried to kill us, we’re still here, let’s eat.” 🙂

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  3. Miranda Rose Smith
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    It was wonderful to see the streets of Bene Braq and Ramat Gan filled with children in costume, brides, chassidic sages, firemen, chefs, Scarlett O’Haras. I stopped by a friend’s house and her daughter was wearing a wig made of little bags of popcorn. I dressed up as a cowgirl.

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  4. LukeHandCool
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    “Mordechai did not graduate from an elite Persian university with a degree in Conflict Resolution. He studies Torah. He prays.”
    How old-fashioned. How wonderful. How beyond modern.

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  5. Posted February 24, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Another brilliant post, Robert.   Yes, an important message about the “right to bear arms” is embedded in Megillat Esther, but is all too often ignored.  
    Purim Sameach !

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted February 25, 2013 at 5:13 am | Permalink


      Thanks so much for the kind comment. And thank you and Eileen for hosting and sharing with us a wonderful Purim banquet. Next year in Jerusalem.

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  6. Posted February 24, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    You know what they say – They tried to Kill Us. They Lost. Let’s Drink!…. (err.. okay – it’s “let’s eat” but one must try and fill oneself with the Spirit of the occasion!)A Freilichin Purim to you of my Bits and Bytes World.

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  7. Bill Brandt
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    I like those costumes! And I am thinking – isn’t it amazing to realize that an event can happen halfway around the world and it is up for the world to see – the same day?
    How did all the elaborate costumes become part of the celebration?
    Because only a good man with a sword can defeat a bad man with a sword. …is the take home quote. 

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    • Larry
      Posted February 24, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      The artist, Jan Victors, most of whose work was on Biblical subjects and the majority of those from Torah, was a student of Rembrandt. There is similarity in the costumes and in the poses and in the looks on the subjects faces between the teacher and the student.

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted February 24, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink


      Great question about costumes. Here’s an excellent answer from the wonderful Chabad website:

      Dear Rabbi:

      Why is it the custom to wear costumes on the Jewish holiday of Purim?


      There are several reasons given for the age-old custom to dress up in costumes1 on Purim. Here are some of them:

      In contrast to the overt miracles of the holidays of Passover, Chanukah and other Jewish holidays, the miracle of the holiday of Purim was disguised in natural events. Here is a sampling of the story: The king wanted his wife to come to a party; she did not want to, and she was killed. Then an evil man wanted the Jews dead and plotted to accomplish this with the approval of the king. The king remarried, and his new queen happened to be Jewish, and arranged for the annulment of the decree. Only after the fact, when one looks at the entire story, does one realize the great miracle that transpired.

      The custom of wearing costumes on Purim is an allusion to the nature of the Purim miracle, where the details of the story are really miracles hidden within natural events.
      The Talmud writes that just as the Jews at the time pretended to be serving other gods, G‑d pretended that He was going to destroy the Jewish nation, and in the end He did not. Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapiro (1783–1841), known as the Bnei Yissaschar, writes that this is the reason we pretend to be someone else on Purim, since both the Jews’ and G‑d’s actions were masked by other intentions.
      We dress differently on Purim to minimize the embarrassment of the poor who go around collecting charity on this day—a day when we give charity to everyone who outstretches their hand.5
      To commemorate the dressing up of Mordechai in King Ahasuerus’s royal garments in the story of Purim.6

      For more, see Masquerade! and our additional articles on Dressing Up on Purim.

      Best wishes,

      Dovid Zaklikowski,
      Jewish Practice @ Chabad.org

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      • Bill Brandt
        Posted February 24, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        Thank you Robert – looking at the video I wish I had been there to participate!
        All interesting (and good) reasons – but the one about helping the poor is the Highest IMO

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      • Miranda Rose Smith
        Posted February 24, 2013 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

        Is it possible that the Jews took the custom of dressing up on Purim from the Gentiles who dressed up on Mardi Gras? The two holidays fall at about the same time of year.

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        • sennacherib
          Posted February 25, 2013 at 3:54 am | Permalink

          A Jewish Mardi Gras of ancient origins? I’ll get with Ashurbanipal and his
          Chaldean focus group, might have an answer soon if the signs are right.

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      • Brianna
        Posted February 25, 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        I was wondering as well.  Thanks Robert.

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        • Robert J. Avrech
          Posted February 25, 2013 at 8:05 pm | Permalink


          You’re very welcome.

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