Amid Frivolity, Women
Have Serious Purim Role
By HARLENE W. APPELMAN
Coordinator, Jewish Experiences
Recently, my husband was
asked to participate in what has
become Purim's great debate: which
has more merit, the latke or the
hamantashen? He agreed, and is
pursuing the construction of a solid
argument to defend the
hamantashen with great
This clearly illustrates one of
the important parts of Purim, the
spirit of the absurd and with it, the
permission to be foolish. If one
looks at this part of Purim in its
broadest sense, one might see that
this is the holiday that says, "Take a
break, it's important to have fun
with your family." How many of us
take the time on a regular basis to
act silly and really laugh with our
families? And yet there is all kinds
of research to suggest that laughter
leads to healthy relationships, and
some of our best memories are built
on a good joke.
The tradition of fun and satire is
emphasized in the synagogue or
temple during the Megillah reading,
and at home, at the Purim seudah,
a traditional meal for the whole
family where drinking, laughing and
good food to eat are the rule.
With all of its emphasis on
hilarity and rejoicing, there are
some serious issues that surface
with Purim as well. Purim
acknowledges, and even laughs at,
the vulnerability of life. At one
moment we see a satisfied,
assimilated Jewish community,
where one of its beauties can
become queen and wed the gentile
king, and at the next moment, it
finds itself on the edge of
Esther, as heroine, poses some
interesting points to ponder. She is
a humane heroine, not overly
anxious to put her life on the line. In
fact, when Mordechai urges her to
go and plead for the Jewish people,
THE JEWISH NEWS
20300 Civic Center Drive
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February 26, 1988
Associate Publisher Arthur M. Horwitz
News Editor Heidi Press
Jewish Experiences for Families
Advisor Harlene W. Appleman
Illustrator Neil Beckman
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 1988
she sends a messenger to
Mordechai explaining that he is
asking her to risk her life.
Mordechai's reply is a lesson
for all Jews in all their dwelling
places. He says, "Do not imagine
that you, of all the Jews, will escape
with your life by being in the king's
palace. On the contrary, if you keep
silent in this crisis, relief and
deliverance will come to the Jews
from another quarter, while you and
your father's house will perish. And
who knows, perhaps you have
attained to royal position for just
that crisis." (Megillat Esther 4:13).
Isn't Esther's hesitation, the
pause that many of us have faced?
How does Esther compare to
the modern heroines of our day: A
Hannah Senesh, who risked her life
to save her mother from a Nazi-
dominated Hungary, or a Golda
Meir who so carefully guided Israel
with a strong hand? Did those
heroines ever face that querulous
pause that Esther had to confront?
Does Esther appear to be shabby in
their light because she was so
Women, in general, have an
interesting role at Purim. One of the
commandments (mitzvot) of Purim is
that every man, woman and child
hear the reading of the Megillah.
Usually, women are not required to
fulfill commandments that occur at a
fixed time. This is to allow them
greater flexibility in caring for their
families. However, in the case of
Purim, because everyone was
saved, everyone is required to hear
the Megillah read. In fact, since
women are obligated, the Talmud
states that they may read the
Megillah for others, even men.
Purim is a cacophony of
opposites. During the holiday we
see men and women dressing in
each other's clothing, antics in the
face of the holy, and intoxication
encouraged until one cannot tell the
difference between Haman and
Mordechai (opposites in
themselves). Perhaps this holiday is
a key to how Jews have survived for
so long in the Diaspora.
What, indeed, has helped the
Jews to survive better than his
sense of humor and his ability to
laugh in the face of danger? In the
midst of the absurdity that is Purim,
perhaps the character of Esther
shows human frailty and our ability
to rise above it (with the help of
And by the way, which has
more merit, the latke or
In what year did the Purim story occur?
How many provinces did Achashverosh rule?
How many days did Achashverosh's feast last?
What was the date Haman chose on which to destroy the Jews?
What is the Hebrew date of Purim?
In what country did the Purim story occur and what was the
7. What other name did Esther have?
8. Who plotted to kill the king? Who overheard them?
9. Who was the king's chief adviser?
10. What other name is Haman called in the Megilla?
Who was Haman's wife?
Who tells Achashverosh about the gallows Haman had built?
Who is not mentioned in the Megilla?
How many mitzvot of Purim do we have and what are they?
Why do we make noise at Haman's name during the Megilla
These Purim stumpers were contributed by Flo Ziffer, who teaches at
Akiva Hebrew Day School.
ANSWERS ON PAGE L-7