Monday, March 21, 2011

Purim Roundup

A few thoughts on the after-eve of Purim:
  1. Recall last year's point about Quentin Tarantino's Purim-Shpiel. This year both my wife and I couldn't get the idea out of our heads while listening to the Megillah - and that's how the text should be read. I will write this up to a greater extent but it's a subtle razor's edge.

  2. We had the whole family over for the Seudah in our home (i.e. my parents + my brother and his kids) for the first time (we were together at shul seudahs before) and that's the way I like it. Wow, it's so much better. In future years, I look forward to the kids putting on skits.

  3. Sam Adams' Beer, even their Light Beer (which I drank this year) is really durn good!

  4. A sign of creeping assimilation, even amongst Orthodox Jews, is the identification of "Shlach-Manos" (the Yiddish form of Mishloach Manot... you can't really say "shlach-manot") as goyishe-style gift giving. It ain't. It's food. Two people I know gave me a note saying that they have given a donation in my honor to their favorite charity instead of giving me ShM. This may work for Xmas, Chanukah, or Festivus, but it's a totally ignorant way to deal with ShM. For two reasons.

    1. First of all, as my man Seinfeld also understood, giving to your own favorite charity is not a "gift" for another person. I guess it's striking out against materialism... but is it so bad to give people a plastic bag with some almonds and Hershey's Kisses? Moralists and Anthropologists have been through this: giving gifts are meant to be a sacrifice of yourself to bind yourself with another (cf. the korban olah). That's the meaning of generosity. If you invite someone to your home for dinner and say (with self-righteousness) that you have no food for them because, instead, the value of the food and entertainment was given to your favorite charity, Save the Spotted Sea Slug, then you have not been hospitable. You may have done a totally different mitzvah - charity - but you have simultaneously NOT done (in fact probably violated) the mitzvah of hospitality. It's unseemly, and actually not very generous, to commit an aveira on someone else's terms.

    2. What's really ignorant is that there's a whole other mitzvah to do on Purim which can fit this anti-materialistic/self-righteous impulse: it's called matanot l'evyonim. It's actually way more important mitzvah, and pretty hard to do, than ShM. If these people sent me the same card but saying that they gave MLE in my name then I'd feel much better about it.

  5. There's an odd phenomenon, noticed by my wife about Israelis in the US (parents of our kids' friends) who don't seem to celebrate Purim. I've noticed secular Jews ignore the holiday as well. My first reaction was: how could anyone not like Purim?! It's the day to legally/religiously eat junk food, get drunk, have fun at parties, dress in costume, mock your leaders, and learn Tanakh! It's the best day ever. So, yeah, after expressing that, I realized that all that greatness applies mainly to those who are religiously repressed for most of the year (it's one reason why people have applied Purim to Simchat Torah, because unlike other chagim, we have only 1 day of Purim - or as my rebbe in Hamivtar said, "you know Israel is better than Golus because in America you have two days of Pesach and one day of Purim and in Israel there's two days of Purim and one day of Pesach.")

    While it's possible that the secular Jews who scorn/ignore Purim are actually reacting to the messages of Purim - which is pretty anti-Zionist, anti-Diaspora, and anti-Secular - I don't think it's that deep. I think that secular Jews already celebrate Halloween, Mardi Gras, Saint Patricks, and - especially in free countries without state-sanctioned antisemitism - feel no need to have a Bakhtinian carnival. As such, I can make a dictum that the more secular the Jew, the more distant they are from Purim.

    And, true to the genius of the Megillah, is precisely the message of the book.
First pic from here of the Esther fresco from the Dura Europos Synagogue. Second pic from here.

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