The Complexities of Purim


Purim is a holiday whose meaning is shrouded in mystery. The only clear element is what we are commanded to do on Purim as set forth at the end of the Scroll of Esther: read the Megilla, hold a festive meal, and give gifts to the poor. This last mitzvah is not an administrative detail of a system of social justice. Yes, the Jewish people are commanded to pay a tax of half a shekel, as we read onShabbat Shekalim, the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Adar. But gifts to the poor are another matter; giving charity is an expression of the direct, mutual economic responsibility between people.

Seriously Laughing to Death: Couples’ Games and Masks in the Book of Esther


One way to read the Book of Esther is as a comedy laden with twists of fate evolving in fast motion. In this genre, the putting on or taking off of masks serves to unveil the characters’ confused identities. So does the Book of Esther, as implied by the paradoxical combination of the words hester (‘hidden’) and galui(‘revealed’) in its title Megillat Esther, lead us from the hidden to the revealed. As the plot unfolds, we see exposed a series of roles, stereotyped masks, identities and conflicts, and all this within a complex structure of couples.. The threat of death hanging over the characters lends the plot a tragic dimension, while removing or donning a mask becomes a way of survival. This, at a time of the ‘hiding of God’s face’ (hester panim) and in the midst of the bloody struggle depicted in the Book of Esther’s “serious comedy”. In this article I will trace some of the unveiling processes, even if not all of the masks will be completely stripped away.