Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Very Disappointing, Purim as a Secular Holiday

Tonight's IBA Israel English TV News went to a popular (I'd even say trendy) religious girls high school and interviewed some of the students about Purim.

Purim is a very important holiday.  I admit that it does fit the Jewish Holiday Joke:
"They tried to killed us.  We won, so let's eat."

It's the only Jewish Holiday that has no direct contact with the Land of Israel.  The story takes place in Persia, around the Court of King Achashverosh.  King  was very Ronny Reagen in that he delegated authority, though he didn't have Reagen's ideology to keep him focused.  When one of his top people reported insubordination by one of the ethnic minorities, he gave him full responsibility to handle the issue.  That was Haman whose final solution was to destroy every living Jew, from baby to elderly.

The Jewish People were saved due to the brilliant teamwork of Queen Ester, Mordechai and of course G-d working undercover, mustar, hester pannim.

Now, how did the students in this religious girls' high school answer the question:
"What does Purim mean to you?"

They talked about costumes and acting crazy.  They sounded more like secular kids in North Tel Aviv than religious girls in Jerusalem.  It's a very superficial Purim for them.  Honestly, I don't know if the kids in Shiloh are educated any better about Purim.

Something very surprising went through my mind as I listened to the girls talking about Purim. L'havdil, very different, to differentiate... In Christian countries like the United States Xmas is like a national holiday, with all the shopping, parties, vacations etc.  There are people who claim that it's just a "secular holiday," or the celebrations are, even though it's an extremely significant one in the christian calendar.  As a deeply religious, spiritual person, I respect other religions and I'm sad to see religious holidays deteriorating into just commercial and secular celebrations.


Keli Ata said...

Sadly kids will be kids. Equally sad is that like adults they tend to revel in the victory of Purim and forget the true meaning behind it and its implications today.

Religious holidays--of all religions--have become secularized. It's all about money, days off from work and school, and food and drink.

OT: But I've always found two things intriguing about the Purim story.

The first is the king all of a sudden pondering what he did to properly thank Mordechai. The other being Esther asking to find favor in the eyes of the king.

There's a prayer that includes that--asking Hashem that we find favor in the eyes of all we encounter--Jew and non-Jew.

It's in the traveler's prayer, too.

I dunno. I just think it's something people tend to overlook and forget to pray about.

Hadassa (a.k.a Esther) said...

Batya, as the expression goes, let your ears hear what your mouth says. You used the word "trendy". I would not expect girls at a trendy school, even a religious one, to give deep answers to the question posed. They answered like children in pre-school would, and the pre-schoolers I know would answer more after they mentioned the costumes. Were the girls native English speakers? Were they being interviewed in their native language? Could that have had an effect?
Keli, as Batya mentioned, the name Esther has the root "hes-ter, to conceal. There is much more that is hidden in the Book of Esther than is in the "simple" text. A good commentary is a must. Me'am Lo'ez is a great commentary on Tanakh in Hebrew, and has been translated into English. I've read only the Passover Hagaddah in English so I can't vouch for the translation of the Book of Esther, but I do recommend giving it a try.
Happy Purim to all!
Hadassa (a.k.a. Esther)

Sammy Finkelman said...

I think you are right - and I got this idea myself this year simply from looking at the designs on Gragars sold in Eichlers.

The gragars don't show scenes from the Megillah, like they did in the 1960s. They don't even show the word Purim maybe with a design like they did a few years ago.

Now with the newest ones it is something more like a clown costume.

Yes, people are losing the whole idea of what the purpose or reason of the holiday. The whole idea that the holiday is about anything is maybe getting lost with some people. And this is very bad.

I suppose it is not being taught.

Or could it maybe have something to do with the possibility that the people TEACHING in the Jewish schools now had *parents* born after 1945? Does that cause something to be lost? Do they lose something because of what happened in the Twentieth Century and decide not to talk about it?

Or is this going on maybe with all the holidays?

Or does it merely have to do maybe with trying to change that into a children's holiday. It's OK with Lag B'Omer which isn't really anything. But not this.

Sammy Finkelman said...

About the King - he liked things that sounded good. That's why when an adviser offered a high faluting justification for permanently getting rid of Vashti he went for it.

He didn't kill Vashti by the way.

It is just that he couldn't take her back because he was a stickler for the principle put in by Cyaxerxes, who I think wa sthe grandfatehr of Cyrus the Great, before Persia conquered Babylon, that a decree of the king could not be revoked.

That actually was a safeguard against assassination. Even if you killed the king you still wouldn't revoke his decree.

That's why some decrees, like the one about Jerusalem in Ezra contained escape clauses.

The one of Haman did not have any escape clause but Mordechai and Esther figured out something: OK they made it legal to kill Jews on the next 13th of Adar - but now they would also make it legal for Jews to kill their enemies on the same day.

As for what actually happened - that dependeed on Mordechai's position. So it was the Jew haters who got killed.

Mordechai's decree said the Jews could take the property of the people they killed (like Haman's had) but they gave instructions to people not to do that. The decree had it of course to prevent accusations.

Herodotus tells of this busines sof a decree taht could not be revoked and. Of course Herodotus wrote his book - no doubt at the instigation of Egyptian priests - in order to write the Jews out of history: He writes he is going to tell about every people, and tehn he writes not one word about Jews and carefully carves the Jews out of history in some cases avoiding whokle subject matters. That's why "The Persian Wars" in not brought down to his own time. If he mentioned how the wars came to an end, he'd have to mention Mordechai! Theer is just a slight allusion to the "peace of Calias" because he wants to tell anecdote.

There are about 3 or 4 telling clues - almost private jokes - in Herodutis's book. He writes about there are people who know how important a cupbearer can be. That may be the biggest one. never a mention of Nehemiah of course.

He also has to give a different reason for the sudden end of Sancherib' offensive and not mention Jerusalem or Judea.

He also tells the story of the extreme extent to which teh egyuptians went to avopid fulfilling a prophecy of Jeremiah, at the end of Jeremiah Chapter 44, without mentioning the prophecy except I think for teh words "any prophet" Jeremiah had said the king would be deleiverfed into the hands of eople who seek his life. The Pharaoh lost power but for some time they avoided killing him just to avoid making that come true.

I should mention that if Ahaesvarosh = Artaxerxes then teh beginning of the Megillah makes sense. There was a second Artaxerxes who did not rule from Hodu to Kush (India to Ethiopia) because Persia lost control of Egypt around 400 BCE. And later it was recovered and a 3rd Artaxerxes ruled for a bit and then was succeeded by the Darius who lost to Alexander.

What this means is that the last change in the text of Megillas Esther was made before Alexander the Great Otherwise "the Arataxerxes who ruled from Hodu to Kush" would mean more tahn one individual. I don't Achashverosh means Xerxes at all.

Anyway Herodotus tells a different story about Artaxerxes I - I think the same king. Someone had shhot a lion - to save his life! The king eventually decided that he could mitigate the punishment.

There never was another king as foolish as this one in this way. It's the same king. He also got drunk.

Of course Jewish chronology is muddled and 163 or 168 years lost maybe on purpose. That's why we don't understand that Nehemiah 2:6 is referring to Esther. In teh Gemorah Riosh ahshonah 3a or b it is brought down that theer was acatulaly a tradition taht the word "shegel" meant dog. Another version has it right. But nobody oputs two and two together.

Batya said...

keli, hadassa, sammy, wow! Such great comments. I thank you all.

keli, yes the costumes are big business.

Hadassa, the school has a high proportion of English speakers, and the girls sounded very comfortable speaking it.

Sammy, goggers with clowns? How pathetic. Thanks for all the commentary.

And we didn't even talk about the food in Mishloach Manot not being on target as the true mitzvah, part of the meal.

goyisherebbe said...

Hadassa -- I agree with your emphasis on trendy. My daughters who studied at Ulpana Ma'ale Levona are a lot more focused on what things are really about.
Sammy -- It was more than 40 years ago that I read Herodotus at St. John's College's Great Books Program. With that challenge I will have to look again. I suspect that the anomaly of the Jewish people is just too hard for many analysts to deal with. Some more recent examples are Toynbee and Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations. It may not be willful anti-Semitism but just the elimination of data for which there is no explanation. But come to think of it Herodotus does include some pretty ridiculous stories. Gil Francisco-White on his HIR website explains Greco-Roman and neo-Greco-Roman anti-Semitism as quite willful.

Sammy Finkelman said...

Yes there was one gragar with a picture of a clown and the word Purim I think. Another had what looked like a drawing of a puppet - not really a person - leading anotehr one on a horse.

I think the way we giot here is from the idea of getting drunk of Purim -> merrymaking -> merrymaking like at weddings -> plays or scenes. And for some people it resembles Mardi Gras or some people noticed it happened at about the same time.

Sammy Finkelman said...

I shopuld also mention that Ezra 4:7 is a translation of ezra 4:6

That is, Ezra started writing in Hebrew. then he realizes he is going to quote a letter sent in Aramaic and he starts all over again in Aramaic.

What we have here is a very faithful copy of the original manuscript.

The Artaxerxes of Ezra 4:7 is identical with Ahasuerus of Ezra 4:6. And the Ahasuerus of Esther. He is also known (through the Greeks) as Artaxerxes I or Artaxerxes Longimanus.

The main events happened in 453-2 BCE I think. The 12th year of Artaxerxes. And indeed it took him a few years to get established on his throne.

Now Seder Olam has it differently.

Sammy Finkelman said...


Herodotus was later used - at teh time of josephus - to argue taht the jews were nio an ancient people - and didn't exist at the time he wrote (Some very secular Zionists took that position too)

I say it was *written* to make that argument - that that actually was the ENTIRE PURPOSe of his book - or why he was paid to do that. Now Heroditus would have thought the motivation very silly and so he put in some inside jokes.

Herodotus was actually criticized for a lot of things. theer is an essay - I think included in a book edited by Tioynbee - called "Is Herodotus Malicious?" Or "Of the Malice of Herodotus" It was written by Plutarch. Some say that this is someone else writing in the name of Plutarch. Whoever it was, he does not mention anything about the Jews but various Greek things.

For some reasons scholars seem interested in upholding the homnor of Herodotus. Now I think Herodotus put in a lot of accurate things but also inaccurate things - and especially he had to carve away anything that had to do with Jews.

In Herodotus (iii. 34) he mentions that the office of cupbearer at the Median-Persian courts was, one of great honor.

And he doesn't say why. He could only have been talking about Nehemiah. For those who knew they would see. His Egyptian paymasters would however not see any mention of Jews because he is talking about a different, earlier cupbearer, and just mentions that it is an office of very high honor IN PERSIA in passing.

This would not tell anyone about Jews who didn't already know it.

Now that other cupbearer would not have been so important, although it is true he had to be someone trusted because he could give the king poison to drink if he was not trustworthy. It is not hard to see how a Jew became the cupbearer after Mordechai was appointed second to the king.

There's a little difficulty in Ezra about the people who saw the first temple - but more actually with the way we have it in seder Olam because really Seder Olam contradicts the kusuvim.

Sammy Finkelman said...

This is what Wikipedia does with Plutarch"s essay:

[edit] On the Malice of Herodotus
In On the Malice of Herodotus Plutarch criticizes the historian Herodotus for all manners of prejudice and misrepresentation. It has been called the “first instance in literature of the slashing review.” [17] The 19th century English historian George Grote considered this essay a serious attack upon the works of Herodotus, and speaks of the "honourable frankness which Plutarch calls his malignity."[18] Plutarch makes some palpable hits, catching Herodotus out in various errors, but it is also probable that it was merely a rhetorical exercise, in which Plutarch plays devil's advocate to see what could be said against so favourite and well-known a writer.[4] (!!!)

There is probably nothing wrong with Plutarch's criticism. Herodotus's greatest crime against history of course, was to write the Jews out of it and as I said, taht was actually THE PURPOSE of his book - not so much his purpose but his patrons.

Batya said...

Sammy thanks for all the info, again.

goyish, I'd consider Ulpanat Maale Levona and the one on the news pretty extreme opposites.