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Purim, the Invention of Anti-Semitism, and the Celebration of Jewish Creativity

The Book of Esther represents a turning point in Jewish history: the demonization of the Jews

By Yaakov Elman|
Purim is the closest Judaism gets to carnival. We are enjoined to get bashed and boozed, tight and tipsy to the point that we cannot distinguish Haman from Mordecai. Or, as Rabbi Pinchas Stolper put it, “the ‘goyish’ character of the celebration of Purim must appear to any newcomer … as uniquely alien to the Jewish spirit.” In Pahad Yitzhak Purim, Quntras ha-Reshimot 5, Rav Yitzchok Hutner reports on a European Purim custom whereby “Purim players” would enter a house and sing: “Today is Purim, tomorrow is out; give us a drink and throw us out!” And he reported that a certain great scholar forbade that jingle to be sung before him.

Two months ago we turned to Rav Yitzchok Hutner’s understanding of Hanukkah within the context of Jewish history; for Purim we would like to turn to the same source—his magnum opus, Pahad Yitzhak, but in this case, with the indirection appropriate to the occasion, to one of his discourses on Yom Kippur, since, as he reminds us (in the volume on Purim) “Yom Kippurim is ke-Purim,” Yom Kippur is like Purim; that is, there are similarities between the two days that are worth exploring. As Rav Hutner explained, Hanukkah marks one watershed in human history: the rise of individualism, and the effect that had on the Jews and their understanding of the Torah, which became an increasingly human document—with God’s approval. According to Pahad Yitzhak, however, that process began earlier, with the return of the exiled Judeans and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple under Persian auspices and the direction of Ezra and Nehemiah—and under the influence of another watershed event, which we commemorate on Purim.

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