Tag archive for "Purim"
With elections just two weeks away, Rabbi Ascherman, president and senior rabbi of RHR, shares his thoughts on Purim and the importance of knowing the difference between wrong and right. Continue Reading
Who is Amalek? How must we remember him? What does it mean to truly “blot him out”? Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish, member of RHR and founding director of ICCI, on Purim and the curse of Amalek. NOTE: This post originally appeared on Rabbi Dr. Kronish’s Huffington Post blog.
In this week’s parasha, Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom adds to last week’s commentary on the problematic nature of Purim, and questions if it should even be celebrated in a “religious” context at all anymore.
By Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom
Culinarily, Judaism’s delights go by many names: Purim’s special baked goods are called Hamentaschen (derived from the German Mohntaschen, “pockets of poppy seed”), Orecchi D’aman and Ozney Haman. You don’t need more than basic Italian and Hebrew to realize how low this holiday has brought us: if you hadn’t lost your appetite hearing Esther requesting permission for the Jews of Shushan to hang (or possibly impale) Haman’s ten sons and enjoy another day of carnage, during which they killed 75,000 more people (defenseless, to be sure, as “no one stood up to them” – chapter 9, verse 2), knowing you’ve been eating someone’s ears is sure to make you sick to your stomach. Then again, drinking to excess, some people’s way of observing this holiday, has been known to produce the same result, and I find that just as revolting.
Last week’s Torah teaching by my friend and colleague Rabbi Moshe Yehudai, which is still on the website, was an impassioned plea for a redefinition of Purim: that the memory of our close escape from genocide at the hands of Amalek and Haman should motivate a universal condemnation of genocide, that from “never again” to us, we learn “never again” to anyone. And since Purim leaves it mark on the Shabbat that follows it just as colors the Shabbat that precedes it, I’m devoting this week’s Parashat HaShavu’a teaching to follow up on Moshe’s theme with the suggestion that by cleaning up our act first, we will be in better shape to achieve his dream. A quick glance at this week’s Torah and Haftarah readings will help pave our way:
Some things simply cannot be said. When Moses tries to rationalize the deaths of Nadav and Avihu to their bereaved father, Aaron, in parashat shimini, the text tells us, vayidom Aharon – Aaron was silent (Lev. 10:3). No clearer rebuke to Moses’ insensitive pontificating could ever be written, and if that is the case for inopportune theodicy, it surely applies to the outrageous parody that the Book of Esther consists of.
We must be on constant guard against khilul hashem, the desecration of God’s name. This is the theme of this week’s Haftarah (Ezekiel 36: 16-38), which exemplifies purification from sin and the sanctification of God’s name. In our day, there was no greater khilul hashem than Purim 1994, when a kippah-wearing, Torah-educated Jew massacred 29 Muslims and injured more than a hundred while they peacefully prayed.
The joy of Purim demands that we purge this holiday of the xenophobia, the misogyny, and the violence of its texts. We can keep the foods, the costumes, and we should certainly preserve and increase the giving of charity, but no amount of commentary or rationalization can cover up the obvious meaning of the Book of Esther, whose toxicity inspired the above-mentioned atrocity in Hebron twenty years ago, and for which quarantine is the only solution.
What I’m proposing was inspired by a Catholic sister who observed the levity in the streets of Jerusalem over the weekend and commented that what she saw actually wasn’t religious at all. Indeed, the secular carnival of Purim-at-its-best is on the streets, while Purim-at-its-worst, let’s face it, is what we hear in the synagogues. Those of us inclined to liturgical reform could search for and/or compose alternative readings, but I think it’s simpler and cleaner just to join hoi polloi in secular revelry. Mardi Gras isn’t religious, although that’s how it got its start – why can’t Purim be the same?
The story of the Exodus we celebrate on Passover has become a universal story of exodus from enslavement to freedom, but has Purim become a universal holiday of the prevention of genocide? Rabbi Moshe Yehudai, Co-Chair of Rabbis for Human Rights, explains why he struggles to rejoice fully on Purim.
Dudu Palma’s response to the post “What do we learn from the massacre in the Book of Esther: a public appeal“ Continue Reading
David Sperber’s response to the post “What do we learn from the massacre in the Book of Esther: a public appeal“. Without cynicism I would say that I really love the modern Orthodox attitude in which we can all the time and openly say things that we do not really mean and a stranger will not understand it. Continue Reading
Rabbi Dubi Hayun’s response to the post “What do we learn from the massacre in the Book of Esther: a public appeal“. Regarding blotting out the memory of Amalek – Rabbi Hayun accepts the interpretation that Amalek today is the evil in every one of us, and the command of blotting out the memory of Amalek is to erase the evil in ourselves and become better people.
The response: Firstly, about what is written in the Megila that is seemingly very hard to absorb: how can we explain the massacre after the removal of the decree? The question is: was it really a massacre of innocent people or maybe it was self defense against people who did not hear about the removal of the decree and were happy to kill Jews? Again and again in chapters 8-9 of the Megila, there is a repetition of the self defense issue, as the approval of the king: “to stand for their life, to destroy, and to slay, and to cause to perish, all the forces of the people and province that would assault them, their little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey”, note that they only defended themselves and even did not take any plundering. And also: “And the other Jews that were in the king’s provinces gathered themselves together, and stood for their lives”. Will we even think to blame the partisans who fought and killed Nazis in the Holocaust?
In the frame of post modernism we blame ourselves for defending ourselves, and it is true that while fighting and defending ourselves there were those who hurt innocent people, and we should punish them, but we can not blame ourselves for being alive and we should not proffer our other cheek. I do not justify killing innocent people, but we have to defend ourselves and also keep our humanity. To my chagrin, the events in Syria and the silence of the so-called enlightened world strengthen my opinion that if we do not defend ourselves we will perish because the world will not help us. Regarding blotting out the memory of Amalek – I accept the interpretation that Amalek today is the evil in every one of us, and the command of blotting out the memory of Amalek is to erase the evil in ourselves and become better people.
A few days ago we asked “what do we learn from the mass killings in the Book of Esther” and we published a Call for Papers. Also, we sent the question to the Moreshet website’s Rabbi Yuval Sherlo. Rabbi Kobi Weiss read his answer and wrote his interpretation in the context of Rabbis for Human Rights. We would love to have a symposium that will offer us more answers for the imminent Purim holiday. Continue Reading
Last week we celebrated two important, if partial successes, and I want to connect those successes to the breastplate of the High Priest we read about in this week’s Torah portion and the questions we grapple with on Shabbat Zachor.
Firstly, The JNF confirmed statements we have heard in recent weeks that they will not plant in areas in areas where there are legal disputes over land ownership. This is only a partial success because much Bedouin land in the Negev has already been planted, it is not clear whether this is a general principle or only relates to four specific plots in El-Arakib, we aren’t sure if the commitment not to plant includes not preparing the land for planting, the Israel Lands Authority has made it clear that they still intend to plant, we can’t count on receiving justice in the Israeli court system, and the JNF/KKL has been unwilling to explain a brief but disturbing incident recently which seems to contradict this commitment. Nevertheless, this is a significant change from their JNF/KKL Chairperson Efi Stenzler’s declaration at a meeting of the directorate this past summer that the planting on the remains of El-Arakib would take place at the end of this rainy season, even if Beer Sheva District Court Judge Nehama Netzer issued a non-binding request not to plant before the court rules on the ownership dispute. (Unfortunately Judge Netzer recently again confirmed that her request is non binding, and that the State has a right to proceed.) However, the right wing sees this minor victory as traitorous.
Secondly, Amidar cancelled the eviction of Ovadia and Miriam Ben-Avraham scheduled for this past Monday. It was so wonderful to hear Ovadia say that he was again sleeping at night, and to celebrate with him on the very day he was to have been evicted. In the words of The Book of Esther, the day was “Transformed for them from one of grief and mourning to one of festive joy.” (Esther 9:22) . Again, this was a partial success. We have yet to deal with Ovadia and Miriam’s alleged debt, and many more evictions were scheduled this month in Jerusalem alone. However, as we are taught in the Mishna, “One who saves a single life, it is as if one has saved an entire world.” (Sanhedrin 4)
As I reflect on these two events, I not only think about the importance of making a difference for a single family or saving a single dunam of land. I also think about the breastplate to be worn by the High Priest, set with 12 stones. In this week’s Torah portion, Moses is commanded to make the breastplate as part of the vestments to be worn by Aaron in the Miskhan, the portable Tabernacle housing the tablets with the ten commandments, where Moses will speak with God, and where Aaron and his sons will serve God, “The stones shall correspond to the names of the sons of Israel: twelve, corresponding to their names. (Exodus 28:21)
I have always thought how wonderful it is that the High Priest serves God with all the tribes of Israel close to his heart. Yes, Biblical scholars have made careers out of analyzing the blessings and the rebuke for each of the tribes which Jacob and Moses each utter before their deaths, and how they reflect the power struggles between the tribes. However, in those most sacred moments when the High Priest would go into the inner sanctum of the desert Mishkan or the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem, each tribe had a place, and each was equally important.
In our world, we not only the twelve tribes must be close to our hearts.
The Bedouin of the unrecognized villages and those dependent on public housing are two of our forgotten tribes. Sometimes these Israeli citizens are demonized and blamed for societies ills, but often they are simply ignored. Who knows or cares that 30-45,000 Bedouin could be evicted from their homes if the Praver recommendations are adapted by the Knesset? How many people know or care that at least 40,000 people are on waiting lists for public housing and thousands in need are not even deemed eligible to be on the lists, while others dwell in homes in life threatening states of disrepair and hundreds are evicted every year?
In our Holy of Holies, every person counts, from Jerusalem to El-Arakib; from Tel Aviv to the South Hebron Hills. From Hadera to Silwan; From the Azrieli towers to the fields of Jalud.
When I quote from the Book of Esther, I also reflect on the fact that exactly a year ago my daughter became a Bat Mitzvah on Parashat Zachor and Purim, bringing up for me all the difficulties of celebrating the mass killing of even our enemies, and the challenge presented by the idea that the Jewish people must wipe out the seed of Amalek in every generation. I have always connected to the idea that we must battle, “Amelekiut,” the characteristics of attacking the weakest and most helpless members of our society and the use of eifah v’eifah (double standards). The Torah tells us that Amalek attacked the weak stragglers (Deut. 25:18). Because the verses from which the sages derive the prohibition against acting eifah v’eifah appears immediately before the mention of Amalek, Rashi teaches that when we act eifah v’eifah, Amalek attacks. I see “Amalekiut” in how we treated the El-Arakib’s and the Ovadiahs in our society. However, we know that the massacre by Barukh Goldstein on Purim is but one example of how our texts and our history can lead us to justify lashing out at real or perceived enemies, “Sweeping away the innocent with along with the guilty,” (Genesis 18:23), not to mention the fact that perhaps even the guilty could do teshuvah. We pray in the “Aleinu” prayer every day, we ask God to, “Turn to You all the evildoers of the earth.”
In the days leading up to Purim we will be asking both on our website and facebook how we honor our textual tradition and acknowledge our history of oppression without feeding an “Us against the world” mentality and the exploitation of our legitimate desire for security that justify the Baruch Goldsteins, Jewish exceptionalism and human rights violations.
On this Shabbat Tetzaveh and Zakhor, may we focus on purging the persecution of the weak and discriminatory double standards from our midst, thus rededicating ourselves to the building of a national Tabernacle of justice, and remembering to bring every human being into our “Mikdash Me’at” the Holy of Holies in our hearts.
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