Divre Harav/Words from the Rabbi – March, 2012

Purim is the quintessential children’s holiday, right?  It’s the Jewish version of Halloween, when we dress up in costumes and and make lots of noise during the synagogue service and get treats, right? No wonder that Purim in many synagogues is attended primarily by families with grade school age children.  As the children age out of the years when they look cute dressed like Esther, a Disney princess, Haman, or the season’s hot villain or superhero (Darth Vader, Spiderman, or Superman), they stop coming.  The parents, who are only coming because their children look so darn cute in their costumes, also stop coming.

Purim is in fact not a children’s holiday, but an adult holiday. Not along the lines of a recent article in the Jerusalem Post, which reported on an Israeli retailer trying to shake things up by selling adult oriented Purim costumes. Don’t all nurses wear fishnet stockings?  Shouldn’t every cat costume come with a bondage mask and whip?  Wouldn’t a police officer costume be incomplete without a latex bodice?  And for the ultimate in bizarre religious syncretism, how about dressing as a sexy Santa for Purim?

Like all sophisticated Jewish experiences, Purim is an adult holiday that makes room for children. The story of Purim, a provocative piece of literature, raises questions about the lengths we should go to fight evil, the limits of taking revenge, and the extent to which we should hide our Jewish identity in the public sphere.  The book of Esther can be read as a revenge fantasy or a fantasy of what we would do if only we had the power to shape the world in our favor.

The news coming out of Persia these days is awfully dark. It’s not hard to find articles coming out of Iran baldly stating the desirability of a world without Jews and giving legal and moral justification for taking steps to annihilate Israel.  Just in case the lesson of the 20th century has begun to fade, Purim is a reminder that Haman is not a relic of some dark day in history, but rather a living threat in our world today.

A strong religious practice does not hide us from the reality of the world, but neither does it constantly beat us over the head with it. The function and purpose of Purim is to give us momentary relief from hatred and violence, to allow us to experience a moment of pure joy unadulterated by evil and suffering. This is something, I would argue, that adults need much more than children.  I hope you will join your Ahavas Israel family on Wednesday evening, March 7, for our Purim celebration.