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Purim again!

by: Rabbi Jeremy Rosen - Last updated: 2005-03-25

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

I’m still in Purim gear! This year the regular Purim is on Friday.  Shushan Purim (for cities with walls from the time of Jericho) would usually fall on the next day, but this year is postponed until Sunday because Shabbat and Purim are ‘not allowed’ to compete with each other.

Nevertheless, Shabbat also has features of Purim for Walled City Denizens, in the prayers and some also have their special Purim festive meal on Shabbat. So Purim gets three days of festivities this year.

There is something called “Purim Torah”.  Under the guise of giving a serious Torah discourse, one says something way off-the-wall or amusing, because on Purim we shouldn’t take anything too seriously. In my yeshiva in Israel many years ago the Rosh, the Dean, pointed out that after Esther is chosen to be Queen, in Chapter 2 of the Book of Esther, it then says, ‘And when virgins were gathered in a second time.’ It does seem strange, if the purpose of gathering virgins in the first place was to find a queen, and they’ve found one, why go on?

‘Well,’ he said, ‘it’s like Israel today. They set up a government department to do a job, but just because the job has been done you can’t disband a government department. The politicians wouldn’t allow it. So they keep on going, even when there’s absolutely no need.’ He was of course talking in the light of experience of Israeli bureaucracy where at the time there was, for example, a Ministry of Education, a Jewish Agency Department of Education, a Department of Education for the Diaspora, and a Torah Education Department and a Torah Education for the Diaspora, all functioning with their offices and secretaries and political appointees and placemen and tea ladies and chauffeurs and cleaners and doormen. I gather it is marginally better now.

They did a time and motion study of the system and called the first employee in and asked him what he did. He said, ‘I clock in at 8 and read the morning paper till 11. I have tea at 11 and then from 12 till 3 I read the afternoon paper and then I go home.’

They called the second employee in and asked him what he did. He said, ‘I clock in at 8 and read the morning paper till 11. I have tea at 11 and then from 12 till 3 I read the afternoon paper and then I go home.’

So they fired one of them because there were two people doing the same job.

Israeli bureaucracy and corruption reminds me of Shushan at the time of Ahasuerus. Slip a note under the counter and you can have whatever you want, and there’s a nice trade in Eastern European virgins. 

But I read in the times this week that Britain has fallen to eleventh place in the corruption league. (Norway is at the top, but who wants to live in Norway?) Oh how the mighty have fallen! And there’s a nifty trade going on here in Eastern European virgins too, according to convictions announced this week.Nothing much has changed in the two thousand years since the first Purim.

And, of course, the association of Haman with Amalek, the symbol of illogical, prejudiced hatred keeps on coming back as we witness a rise in anti-Semitism, regardless of what the ‘justification’ is.

We may not always be a loveable bunch and we are certainly far from perfect, but we do seem to attract hatred beyond our numbers and beyond all logic and have done for thousands of years. I once heard the late Rabbi Lord Jakobovits define anti-Semitism as ‘hating Jews more than is absolutely necessary.’

So it is heart-warming that, despite it all, we celebrate Purim as a day of fun and delight. Our religion has its serious side, and there are even the odd doses of self-denial, but, by and large, it’s about enjoying life and being grateful for what we’ve got. And this enables us to take even the most serious aspects of religion light-heartedly sometimes.

And did you know that the ten sons of Haman were hung on a tree (Eytz in Hebrew) and ten Nazis were due to be hung (but Goering took a cyanide pill) and the American hangman was called Woods (Etz can mean “tree” and “wood” in Hebrew)? And that Himmler is reported to have said that the Jews would make a second Purim out of the day, and that the special Hebrew letters that stand out in the way the names of the ten sons of Haman are written in the Megillah come out (with a little fiddle and adding a few thousand years) to the equivalent of 1946 when they were strung up after Nuremburg? And the Talmud in Megilla refers to ‘Germamia of Edom destroying the world’?  Let’s forget for the moment that Edom was Rome, and the reference is to the eastern outpost of the Roman Empire, and that there was no Germamia in Edom times. And, besides, why no mention of ‘Deutschland uber Alles’?

There are some evangelical sorts of Jews who think that this proves something. Of course it doesn’t but its fascinating nevertheless and certainly good for Purim Toirah. Faith should not be based on dodgy ’ proofs’ but rather on experience, feeling and atmosphere and I’d like our faith to be judged by Purim!