Purim, the Symbol of Jewish Optimism
By SAUL KLELMAN
(Author of "Anthology of Rashi,"
"The Jewess," "A Scrap of Paper")
dren is entirely non-Jewish. They
further argue that it is unbelievable
that a Persian king would issue a
permit to a group of his subjects
of a foreign race to commit whole-
sale massacres on the people of
his own race. Even if such an act
were sanctioned by the ruler, would
not the Persians revolt against him
or wouldn't they commit reprisals
on the Jews? But there is no men-
tion of such revolt or of reprisals
recorded either in Persian or in
All our holidays, festivals, feasts
and fasts have either an historical
or agricultural basis, or both, with
the religious element predominat-
ing. For instance, in the Festival of
lianuccah, the historical event alone
forms the basis of commemoration.
the "Three Pilgrim Festivals" are
based on both the historical and
the agricultural elements. Passover
Another contention put forth is
refers to the deliverance of the
Israelite , from Egyptian bondage that the Hebrew style, diction and
of the Book of Esther
and also marks the season of the
first barest The Feast of Weeks are analogous to no other book of
commemorates the giving of the the Bible, and that there is no men-
Torah on Mount Sinai and the sec- tion of the name of God in the
ond harvest. Tabeenacles pertains entire book.
to the travels of our forefathers
If then the Festival of Purim is
through the desert and also to the thus stripped of its historical ori-
ingathering of the fruits. The High gin, it would obviously have no
Holidays are of strictly religious basis. Yet, the Talmud, our su-
character, devoted to earnest re- preme authority on religious
flection and solemn worship.
observances, states that after all
It is however difficult to include the other holidays will have ceased
the Festival of Purim in any of to exist, the Festival of Purim shall
these classified festivals because it still continue.
contains neither of their elements.
However, a rational interpreta-
It refers to no agricultural occur- tion of this Talmudical assertion
ence and is not a religious holiday, will give us the key to the real
judging by the freedom of action meaning of Purim and reveal its
permitted on Purim by our sages.
great significance. Purim is an
According to the Talmudical historical symbol to the Jewish
Rabbi, Rovno (Megila p.7), the people, a symbol of faith hope,
Jew is adnomished to "drink on confidence and eternal optimism.
Purim until he is unable to dis-
Whether written by Mordecai,
tinguish bet ween 'Cursed be the Jew, or not, whether the occur-
Haman' and 'Blessed be Mordecai.'" rences as related in the Book of
It is generally accepted that Esther are real or ficticious, the
Purim is an historical festival. But symbol of Purim and its signi-
the authenticity of the history of ficance are his torical truths, re-
, Purim. according to Biblical critics, peatedly exemplified in Jewish
,}wish and non-Jewish, is alto- history of the past, present, and
gether doubtful. A number or our will continue to be exemplified in
great Jewish thinkers believe that the future.
the Book of Esther could not have
Haman of the Book of Esther is
been written by a Jew.
but the prototype of the many
The story of Purim as related in Ilamans that have threatened the
the Scriptures is briefly as follows: existence of the Jewish people for
Haman. Persian Prime Minister, ' over three thousand years. The
and apparent anti-Semite, resolves Hamans have appeared in the
to destroy the Jews of the Persian forms of Egyptian Pharoahs, the
Empire. Esther, wife of the Em- Greek Appions, Russian czars, KKK,
peror, a Jewess, beseeches him to and their kind. Under the
save her people. lie grants her pretext of "patriotism", "religion",
request and decrees to hang Ham- "humanity", and other sacred
an and his ten sons. He also per terms, they have tried to annihilate
inits the Jewt;Jo stay in the city of us, but have utterly failed.
Shushan. the -seatof the govern-
The story of the deliverance of
ment. five hundred Persians. On the Jews through Mordecai and
the following day, the Jews are per- Esther signifies the indestructi-
mitted again to kill 75,300 non-Jews bility of the Jewish people. The
as a matter of vengeance for what institution of Purim as a day of
Haman and his followers had con- feasting, merriment and freedom
templated to perpetrate on the signifies the spirit of extreme opti-
misim expressed in "Gam zu
No . the critics hold that such a l'tovah" — whatever God does is
of revenge as slaying for the best.
multitudes of men, women and chil-
This folk song is illustrative of
the Jews' optimism freely displayed
in the synagogues and in. the Chas-
sidic "Kleizlekh' at the Purim cele-
I dismiss my foes,
Beat my Hamans,
Desert my worries today.
I amuse, rejoice, and dance,
And the day's glory ray.
Purim is an historical festival,
based on the history of the eternal
optimism of the Jew.
A Whole Megilla About Purim
day it was quite an important
So she invited the King and the
By DAVID SCHWARTZ
(Copyright, 1967, JTA, Inc.)
town. It was a center for rug-mak- wicked Haman to the dinner and,
There is a Yiddish saying: ing in Persia and noted for its after serving the gefilte fish, she
"Purim is nisht kein Yom Toy and halva industry. Its halva was sup-
kadohes is nit kein krankheit." posed to be tops.
Basically, this signifies that Purim
is not regarded as one of the im-
portant Jewish holidays. It is
nevertheless very close to the
hearts of the people.
On Purim you do not have to
stop work or recite long prayers
or ask for forgiveness for sins. All
that is required of you is to eat
some hamentashen, make a good
deal of noise when the Scroll of
Esther is read, send presents to
your friends, and do some drink-
ing. Most people find these re-
quirements not too difficult.
The big Megilla is about a
beauty contest winner, named Es-
ther. She was a poor orphan girl,
the niece of a man named Morde-
cai, living in Shushan. Maybe you
never heard of Shushan, but in its
By RABBI SAMUEL J. FOX
(Copyright, 1967, JTA, Inc.)
One day Uncle Mordecai said to
Esther: "I have just been looking
at some of the pictures in the
Shushan Daily News of the en-
trants in the national beauty con-
test. It seems to me, Estherke, you
are as good looking as any of
them. Why don't you enter it?
Even if you don't win the first
prize, marriage to the King, you
may get a television contract like
Esther was tired of the book-
keeping job she held down; she
wanted a change, so she decided
to try for it. Sure enough she was
chosen Miss Persia and became
Queen, and had her picture in all
of the newspapers.
Then, one day, Uncle Mordecai
came up to see her, all excited.
He told Esther all about the plot
of the wicked Haman to destroy
tho Jewish people. "You are Queen
new," he said, "and you must do
Esther didn't know what to do.
told the King all about Haman and
his plotting. And that was the end
According to the Scroll of Es-
ther, Haman's desire to destroy
the whole Jewish people was based
on his dislike of Mordecai, who
refused to bow to him. Very often
anti-Semitism, when traced to its
roots, is found to be due to a pre-
judice against a single Jewish in-
dividual. According to the Mid-
rash, Haman was a barber by
trade and it may be that Mordecai
never tipped him.
The word "Purim" means lots.
According to tradition, Haman cast
lots to set the day for the exter-
mination of the Jews, and it fell
on the day of the month of Adar
on which Moses died. Haman re-
garded this as a propitious sign
for him. What he didn't know was
that it was also on the same day
when Moses was born.
Perhaps the hardest requirement
of the Purim holiday is that of
drinking. Not that Jews are averse
to drinking. A good Jew welcomes
the Sabbath with a drink and
closes it with a drink and makes a
good many "lehayims" in be-
tween. But, on Purim, the rule is,
one must drink until one is unable
"to distinguish between the good
Mordecai and the bad Haman." .
For that, one must be quite
tipsy. However, the genius of the
Jew is such that he even attains
this height, when duty demands it.
What is Mishloakh Manot?
The Bible (Esther 9:19,22) in Then she remembered how the
describing the nature of the day Democrats and Republicans always
which is celebrated as Purim, des- held dinners when they were in
cribed it as a day (or days) upon trouble, to raise funds and appeal
which there is "sending of por- for support. "Yes," she said, "I
tions one to another." The Talmud will give a dinner." "The way to
and the codes interpret this to a man's heart is through his stom-
mean that every Jew is obligated ach," site said. She had a recipe for
to send two portions of meat, or gefilte fish that she was sure
two kinds of cooked foods, or other would knock the king over as they
kinds of food to his fellow Jew. used to say in Shushan.
Should he not be able to afford to
do so he is at least obligated to
exchange his meal with his friend.
It should be noted that this obli-
gation is in addition to the obliga-
tion of sending two gifts to two
poor people. So important was this
obligation (along with that of
sending gifts to the poor) that the
special meal of Purim was ex-
pressly postponed to late in the
afternoon, so that the people would
be able to spend time during the
day sending these portions and
Why was this practice or-
At least two reasons are ad-
vanced for this custom. One is that
it demonstrates a condition of free-
dom and relaxation. Whereas, dur-
ing the period of fright when the
Jewish people lived in the shadow
of extinction, they were silent and
isolated in fear, the coming of vic-
tory over their enemies ushered
•4:4 _11:;1411114t 11 '' ; '1 .--
BY HENRY LEONARD
in a mood of jubilation and fellow-
ship where the individual came
out of hiding and sought out his
fellow Jew with whom to celebrate
TOMB OF ESTHER AND MORDECAI IN HAMADAN, IRAN
and rejoice his salvation. In this
sense, the sending of portions from
Iran — Purim is with Western Jewry is the Joint
one to the other becomes a display
of unity among the Jewish people considered a minor festival in the Distribution Committee, which sub-
in contradistinction to Haman's Jewish religious calendar, a day sidizes the local school and oper-
accusation of isolation and divisive- when we celebrate a victory for ates a feeding program for chil-
dren, a kindergarten, and a mother
ness. Another reason for this prac- the Jews in Persia.
tice is mentioned in the name of
Purim is a minor festival—but and child health center, with
the famed Chofetz Chayyim. He not in Iran, especially not in Ha- United Jewish Appeal funds.
Hamadan is no longer an im-
was said to claim that this custom madan. For Hamadan, in the west-
was instituted to show that the ern part of the country, is the an- portant center in the life of Iran.
reason many Jews participate in cient town of Ecbatana, the north- Its Jewish community is not too
the original feast of Ahasueres ern capital of the kingdom of the prosperous and without outside
help might very well have disap-
(which was certainly not kosher) Medes and the Persians.
was not because they did not ob-
And in Hamadan is the tomb of peared like other small Jewish
serve the precept and condition of Esther and Mordecai, the heroine communities whose people migrat-
kashrut in their homes. They and hero of the Megilla. When ed outward to Israel or within
only did this because of their fear Purim comes, the city is flooded Iran to Tehran and other large
of the power of the monarch who with Jews from all over Iran mak- cities.
But not Hamadan. "The Jewish
might have turned against them ing an annual pilgrimage to the
should they have refused his hos- tomb. And in Hamadan during the community must live on in Hama-
its leaders insist. "We can-
pitality. They thus exchanged por- year the women meet every Thurs
tions of food of their dinners with day afternoon to decorate the not abandon Esther and Mordecai."
each other to show that in their tomb with flowers and to light
homes they fully observed kash- candles in homage to Esther, drink
"And this year's winner of the International
rut to the extent that any Jew tea together and read in Farsi
could eat the food prepared at the (Persian) translation, excerpt s
Purim Queen Esther Contest is Miss Aban Abdul
home of his fellow Jew. To this from the Bible.
day, then, such foods are exchang-
Hamadan is a city of some
Cep,. 1667, Day., Productions
on Purim Weekend
ed to demonstrate the universal 30,000 with a Jewish population of
observance of kashrut among the about 1,500. The only contact of
Pages 13, 28
40—Friday, March 24, 1967
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS Jewish people.
the Hamadan Jewish community
Hamadan, Where Purim Began:
Site of Esther and Mordecai Tomb