Hebrew In Israel | Purim – Learn Torah

purim, esther, jewish feasts, jewish festivals, jewish holidays

Hebrew In Israel | Purim – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi 3 comments

Why is Purim misunderstood?

Before reading this it is important for the reader to understand that sometimes one must be critical of things.  When I see what some people do with Purim, it shows how little they focus on the meaning of what happened.  None of what I say here is intended to offend anyone, but rather to give a better understanding of how Purim is misunderstood.

We find in the book of Esther the following:

לְקַיֵּם עֲלֵיהֶם לִהְיוֹת עֹשִׂים אֵת יוֹם אַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר לְחֹדֶשׁ אֲדָר, וְאֵת יוֹם-חֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר בּוֹ.  בְּכָל שָׁנָה, וְשָׁנָה. כַּיָּמִים, אֲשֶׁר נָחוּ בָהֶם הַיְּהוּדִים מֵאֹיְבֵיהֶם, וְהַחֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר נֶהְפַּךְ לָהֶם מִיָּגוֹן לְשִׂמְחָה, וּמֵאֵבֶל לְיוֹם טוֹב; לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתָם, יְמֵי מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה, וּמִשְׁלֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ, וּמַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים

to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor“. Esther 9:21-22

The focus here will be on the words משתה, שמחה  and יום טוב.

שמחה is from the root שמח which means to be happy.

משתה is from the root שתה which means to drink. This word usually means in this context that when having a feast one is also drinking wine, but the amount is not disclosed in the text.

יום טוב is composed from the word day and good which in this construction means a festive day.

When the text is speaks of a festive day, we must combine all the details into one larger concept.  What we learn from all the details is that the day is festive and joyful one, and when one does the eating part of the feast, he or she is to involve wine in the process.  However, nowhere in the text do we find anything that says one must get drunk or dress up!  The dressing up part of Purim is never mentioned in the text, and therefore is an extra idea that was added at a later stage, and might give a direction of investigation.

What went wrong?

Unlike what many might know about Purim practices, we know as a fact that many get drunk during Purim.  This practice is based on an entry in the tractate of Megillah which was unfortunately misunderstood.  It is not uncommon for entries to be misused by the general public, and in time to turn into Halakhically “based” practice which rabbis will have to argue about.

I want to propose here that Purim was unintentionally changed into a Greek feast of Dionysius. When looking into the practice of the Drama/Comedy of the Greeks, one finds many elements which are the same:

·Dressing up and making a mockery of things

·Excessive drinking

·Public performances and parades

·Groups of drunks making fun of people

All of these elements are found both in Greek and Purim celebrations, and represent in my eyes a problem ( Zagagi, 2005, 46-48).  The practice of dressing up, as far as anyone can tell, is not mentioned anywhere in the Talmud or the writings of the Geonites, hence it is not an early practice and probably dates to late medieval times.

I will add that testimony from Rabbi Clunimus Ben Clunimus (1286-1328) who wrote a parody “The Purim Mask” where he described dressing up on Purim in non Jewish clothing.  Later in time we hear from Rabbi Yehudah of Mintz (1408-1508) who writes as a response to the objection that rose that there is nothing forbidden.  Unfortunately he was in the wrong because he described men dressing in women clothing and visa versa, which is prohibited in Deuteronomy 22:5.

Drinking in the Talmud

Another source for problematic behaviour is the Talmud.  We find in the Talmudic text מיחייב איניש לביסומי—One must be “drunk”.  However this is a mistranslation/misunderstanding.  The word for drunk is רוי, while ביסומי is not drunk, but cheerful (Sokoloff, 2002, 1064;224). It is important to note that Aramaic dictionaries tend to interpret the root בסם as “intoxicated”, but this interpretation is influenced by the traditional interpretation, and is a secondary meaning derived from the subject at hand. The main meaning is “sweetened”, meaning something which if fragrant, which is similar to the used in Hebrew מבוסם- one who is fragrant with wine but not drunk. Based on the above it would be safer to say that one is not to drink till they are drunk, but to drink until they are tipsy and happy. 

A second issue can be found elsewhere in the Talmud. When reading closely, we can see that the Talmud does not support this idea of getting drunk.  Immediately after the statement by Rava, the Talmud tells a story about Rabba and R.Zera that demonstrates that one is not to be drunk because it can cause harm to others.  When the Talmud wants to reject a statement, sometimes it would give a story that stresses why the above statement is wrong (Megillah 7:b).  This editing concept is known as “Ma’ase Rav Listore“—an action of a rabbi to contradict”.

Another point is the declaration of a feast day in the times of Ezra:

וַיֵּלְכוּ כָל-הָעָם לֶאֱכֹל וְלִשְׁתּוֹת, וּלְשַׁלַּח מָנוֹת, וְלַעֲשׂוֹת, שִׂמְחָה גְדוֹלָה:  כִּי הֵבִינוּ בַּדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר הוֹדִיעוּ לָהֶם

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them“. Nehemiah 8:12

We find in this passage several elements which are the same as Esther:

·Drinking

·Sending gifts

·Great joy

When seeing these points we cannot ignore the similarities between Purim and a Torah feast day, which raises serious doubts about the way Purim is celebrated today.  Being drunk does not seem to be the description of a Torah feast (remember the words of the high priest Eli to Hannah), and drunkenness is found to be a negative idea in Proverbs 23:29-35. 

Purim was made into a feast to celebrate the help of The God of Israel to his people in the Diaspora, and should not be reduced to a feast of drunkenness.  We are to give thanks to The Creator with a lifted cup of wine for his love and kindness to His people. 

כּוֹס יְשׁוּעוֹת אֶשָּׂא וּבְשֵׁם יְהוָה אֶקְרָא

I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of YHWH

 

Originally Published:  26 February 2015

 

Bibliography

זגגי נטע, יוון הקלאסית, רעננה, 2005

תלמוד בבלי, מגילה ז ע״ב

Sokoloff Michael, A Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, Ramat-Gan, 2005

 

3 comments

Sarah Yocheved

February 25, 2018 at 6:20 pm

Thank you, Yoel, for your due-diligence in discovering and sharing this Truth regarding Purim Festivities. While I’ve always felt that there was something wrong with this celebration, I thought it might somehow be connected to Mardi Gras since it comes around the same time of year, with similar silly, drunken behavior, parades, and festivities. Even the same decorations and colors are prominently used–purple, green and gold. I appreciate your clearing that up for me. But will Jews be willing to change, to return to the original intent of Purim Observance?

Mitch

February 25, 2018 at 11:34 pm

Awesome! Very informative!

Debra Forsman

February 26, 2018 at 1:15 pm

Thank you Yoel. So glad to see that someone is teaching common sense here~getting drunk hurts yourself and others even if you do not immediately see the results. Just wait for it because its coming! This advise is from someone who use to drink pure hard liquor like it was water and chase it with beer. When I saw what that lifestyle was doing to my family, I quit drinking. I can’t even remember the last time I drank anything with alcohol in it.

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