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Purim

Without a doubt, Purim is one of my favorite Jewish holidays.

Sarah Greenberg

Purim is a joyous holiday celebrating the story of the book of Esther and how she and her cousin Mordechai saved the Jewish community in Persia from persecution.

Tracy Wolf

On Purim, we celebrate the story of Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai, who saved the Jews of Persia from Haman’s plot to kill them.

Rachel Landman
The Banquet of Esther and Ahasuerus

Later this month, we will read and commemorate the story of Purim and celebrate Esther’s bravery with revelry and joy.

Jacob Kraus

On Purim, we celebrate a time of transition for the Jews, from “grief to joy and from mourning to a festive day—to make them days of feasting and joy, and sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor” (Megillat Esther 9). As we prepare for Purim, we look forward to a time of “feasting and merrymaking” (Megillat Esther 9:22). Indeed, Purim is a time to celebrate the fortitude and resilience of the Jewish people, focusing especially on the impressive role of women leaders that is unique in the Purim story and throughout our history. Yet, as we celebrate our triumphs over the injustices of discrimination and exclusion, we must also reflect on the injustices that persist in our world today.

A new report by the Women in Prison Project, an initiative of the Correctional Association of New York, reveals one such travesty, finding that people do not receive adequate reproductive healthcare while incarcerated. The report, titled “Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons,” is an in-depth study of reproductive health care in the New York state prison system. Over the course of five years, researchers interviewed 950 inmates, visited prisons across the state, conducted surveys and reviewed medical charts to reveal “a shockingly poor standard of care, the routine denial of basic reproductive health and hygiene items, and the continued egregious practice of shackling pregnant women during labor and childbirth despite a 2011 law prohibiting it.”

Jews across the world are getting ready to celebrate Purim. Already, there are many Jews, from young children to grown adults, planning their Purim outfits. Some will be characters from the Purim story. Some will be famous actors. Some will be fictional heroes and villains. And no doubt, many people will cross-dress and dress up as someone of a different gender. Most people will not think twice about whether their costume will be accepted on Purim, as it is almost expected that people will dress up for the holiday.

I have always loved Purim. I remember eating hamentaschen in my religious school classes (deciding amongst the apricot, poppyseed, chocolate or strawberry flavors), playing bean bag toss at the Purim carnival, and waiving the groger enthusiastically as my rabbis, dressed up in costumes to accompany the theme of that year’s Purim spiel, recited the name of Haman, the wicked villain who tried to kill the Jews.

I remember feeling so honored when I got to wear my own costume as part of the Purim spiel and read the megillah the year after I became a Bat Mitzvah. We are taught that Purim is a time for “feasting and merrymaking” (Megillat Esther 9:22). However, there are also a number of traditional obligations we have as Jews in addition to feasting and merrymaking, which remind us of the struggles for justice that continue year round.

Welcome to the Jewish Month of Adar! This month in the Jewish year we celebrate Purim by reading Megillat Esther, dressing up in costumes and sending our friends and families mishloach manot gift baskets. There are many ways to incorporate environmental themes into every holiday, from reading prayers for our earth in services to using recycled materials to make our costumes.

Though Purim is a time for costumes, carnivals and hamentaschen, the story also prompts big questions, like the use of the death penalty in our society. At the end of the Purim story, we see the death penalty carried out when Haman is hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai. This use of capital punishment is notable because though the Torah mandated death for some crimes, the rabbis of the Talmud intentionally made its application so complex and difficult, that it became virtually impossible to use. There is no justice in taking a life for a life, and we learn in Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 that causing a single life to perish is the same as “caus[ing] a whole world to perish.”