Tag archive for "Purim"

General, Parasha / E-Letter

Weekly parasha: Should we quarantine Purim for good?

7 Comments 18 March 2014

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.

PurimHaridim2We 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?

Jeremy Milgrom

 Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom



IMAGE: Wooden grogger displaying the hanging of Haman’s 10 sons. Purim Exhibit at Heichal Shlomo, Jerusalem. cc-flickr; Photo by ZeevVeez
IMAGE: Purim in Stamford Hill; cc-flickr, photo by Alan Denney
IMAGE: Purim Ramhash; cc-flickr, photo by Ron Almog

General, Parasha / E-Letter

Shabbat Zachor/Parashat Tzav: On Amalek, Amalekness, and the Meaning of Purim

1 Comment 12 March 2014

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. 


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Education, General

Purim is joy?

3 Comments 13 March 2012

How much is “Adloyada”?  | Purim carnival “Adloyada” in Givatayem, 2008. cc: wikipedia

Dudu Palma’s response to the post “What do we learn from the massacre in the Book of Esther: a public appealContinue Reading

Education, General

The Book of Esther – the Sub-Text version

No Comments 13 March 2012

“On Purim we wipe out Amalek’s memory as a part of a carnival. What is wrong with a little bit of humor?” | Jerusalem Purim street scene. cc: wikipedia

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


The evil in every one of us

3 Comments 06 March 2012

“I do not justify killing innocent people, but we have to defend ourselves and also keep our humanity” | “Davidster” (Star of David) by Dick Stins is a World War II memorial in The Hague. The text at the side (in Dutch and Hebrew) is from Deuteronomy 25:17,19 – “Remember what Amalek has done to you…do not forget.”

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.


Prohibited murder: Rabbi Yuval Sherlo regarding murder in the Book of Esther

No Comments 06 March 2012

Home made Haman’s ear By zeevveez cc: flickr

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

General, Justice in Israel, Justice in Israel-Negev Bedouin

The questions we grapple with on Shabbat Zachor

57 Comments 28 February 2012

“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” | Breastplate (of High Priest) cc: wikipedi

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.

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

“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”. Photo: Hamabara

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 KnessetHow 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.

YouTube Preview Image

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.”

Stay tuned                                                                               

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.

Shabbat Shalom,



Peace from the Inside Out

1 Comment 20 February 2012

First come the innermost pieces of furniture: the ark in which the tablets of the covenant will be stored. The Ark of the Covenant Is Not of This World By fireflythegreat cc: flickr

Rabbi Gil Nativ finds in parashat ‘Teruma’ the way to make peace in the world. The month of Adar that begins on Friday, contains joy and a new message.

People usually construct or purchase their home before furnishing it.  But when God instructs Moses how to construct the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary, in this week’s portion, Terumah, it is from the inside out.

First come the innermost pieces of furniture: the ark in which the tablets of the covenant will be stored [Exodus 25:10-22], then the table for the bread of display [23-30], and the menorah [31-40]. Only after does God describe the large tent in which these sacred objects will be placed [26:1-14] and the fence around the court which surrounds the tent [15-30].

The order of instructions, from the inside to the outside, teaches an essential lesson: Peace begins at home. We should first endeavor to live peacefully within our families before we make peace within our communities and then with our neighbors.  And peace in our immediate surroundings should encourage us to work for universal peace.

Peace within the family according to the Jewish tradition

Shalom Bayit, peace within the family, is an essential Jewish value. The rabbis showed the extent of its importance by teaching that God deliberately misquoted Sarah in order to maintain peace between her and Abraham [Talmud, B.M. 87a].

Moreover, it is said that God’s name should be erased in the bitter water trial to restore peace between husband and wife [Talmud Sukka 53b].  The goal of “the second coming” of the prophet Elijah will be to restore peace between parents and children [Mishnah Eduyot 8,7 referring to Malachi 3:23-24 ].

Moving outward, peace within each family may pave the way to peace among our people: We must learn to live together in spite of the many differences between our various parties and denominations. The biblical prohibition lo titgodedu (You must not cut yourselves) [Deut.14:1] is explained by the rabbis to mean, “You shall not form rival groups” [Talmud, Yevamot 13b-14a].

Like the fence that surrounds the perimeter of the Mishkan, the final goal should be peace among all nations, including the people of Israel. The dream of universal peace began with the prophecies of Isaiah [Chapter 2] and Micah [Chapter 4]. “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more,”.

Both prophets believed that international peace will be possible when all nations agree “to go up the mountain of the Lord… so that the God of Jacob will instruct them to walk in his paths…”And yet Micah added, even in those messianic times the nations will be free to worship their own deities – a vision of religious pluralism that seems to go hand in hand with universal peace.

Purim Parade By Flavio@Flickr. cc: flickr

The entire month of Adar reflects the joy of Purim | Purim Parade By Flavio@Flickr. cc: flickr

The message of joy of Purim

Our Torah portion, Terumah, coincides this year with the beginning of the month of Adar. The entire month of Adar reflects the joy of Purim, and tradition teaches that when the month begins, “joy should be increased” [Talmud, Ta’anit 29a].

In the story of Esther, the Jews wanted to retaliate against Haman’s intention to annihilate our people by annihilating all Haman’s descendants including his 10 sons. The rabbis, though, claimed that Haman’s grandchildren (literally: sons of his sons) studied Torah at Bnai Berak, meaning that the grandchildren of this master anti-Semite not only survived, but even converted to Judaism [Talmud, Gittin 57b, Sanhedrin 96b].

Making peace with long-time enemies is a great art. Greater still is transforming enemies into friends.  It can only be done through a gradual process of building mutual trust and reciprocity.  We Jews, like most other groups, have a long way to go toward peace. The month of Adar is a good time to begin.


In memory of my sister, Shlomit (Nativ) Sela, who passed away on the 28th of Shevat,  5761. Shlomit lived up to her name.  She lived in peace with both herself and those around her.

Justice in Israel

After Purim and Before Pesach Thoughts

No Comments 22 March 2011

It is written in Megilat Esther: “that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.” (9:22). The Rambam explains: the portions should include two different foods and it needs to be sent to at least to one person, and the Rambam adds that it is better to give more gifts to the poor, widows and orphans  and make them happy, then make big feasts and send portions to friends , because when you make poor people, widows and orphans happy you imagine the Divine spirit as it is written in Isaiah 57:15: “to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones”.

On Friday morning on the way to my son’s school I saw children with huge Mishlochei Manot and the same in my daughter’s kindergartens. I did not hear that either in schools nor in kindergartens teachers speak about gifts to the poor, widows and orphans. It is not an accident that the Megila combines the two kinds of gifts together. It is easy for us to implement the mitzvah of Mishloach Manot, it makes us happy to give our friends and relatives. To give the poor is much more difficult for most of us because we do not personally meat the poor and are familiar with the difficulties of their lives and therefore we intend to forget to give the poor gifts.

For us, who work in Merkaz Hadera and meet poor families on a daily basis who have to choose between paying the for heating and buying food, or buying medicine or paying for the electricity, it is hard to forget this. It is hard to return to a warm home with food and children who do not know what hunger is and to remember the families you know who are poor and need gifts.

I wrote a letter to the headmistress of my son’s school and asked her that next year they will also talk about gifts for the poor, not only about Mishloach Manot.

I pray that there will come a day when there will be not poor people in our country and in the world and everybody will be able to live in dignity.

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