Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Things about Purim that bother me

Well, the Purim season is off to it's traditional start: The price of wine has gone up, the mosdos are clamoring for support, and GH, our cranky, and foul-spirited-neighborhood Scrooge, has posted all the reasons why he thinks Purim is bad, bogus and unworthy of his attention and support.

A special note on GH's post: In the true Purim spirit, GH managed to deconstruct Purim (paragraph 1) while simultaneously claiming that only a skeptical blogger, unlike himself, (ha, ha, ha) would do something so foul and devious (paragraph 2). Of course, GH immediately went on to explain why Purim is the most-rotten of holidays, but isn't that the sort of slipperyness we've unfortunately come to expect from that blog?

Anyway, I suppose it's time for me to get in on the Purim fun, while first making clear that this post is from last year, and also, I don't care one whit about the origins of Purim: No matter what GH and his pointy-headed friends have to say about how Prim came into being, the fact is Purim has been around for a long, long time, and it's a day full of great fun.

Things about Purim that bother me
In no particular order

1) The Persian sources are't especially gap-filled yet they contain no references to the events described in Megilas Esther. There's no record of a King Ahashverosh, a Queen Vashti, a decreee to kill Jews, or of Jews killing thousands of their enemies. Why wasn't any of this recorded?

2) The names Haman, Esther and Mordechai sound suspiciously like those of Babylonian gods, making it possible that our story is a retelling, maybe a parody, of some ancient folktale or myth. In Persian mythology Ishtar is the goddess of fertility; Marduk is the chief guardian of the heavens; and Haman is the underworld devil. Is this a strange coincidance? A deliberate parody? Or (more) proof that the whole 'lo shanu et shimon/they didn't change their names' is just so much Haredi bushwah?

3) Esther is a Jewish woman, living well after the Torah was given. So what is she doing in a harem, paying no attention to dietary laws? And, is anyone else concerned that Mordechai seems to have been the original funny-uncle?

4) Late in the story, a guy named Hatach appears. Essentially, he's Esther's messanger-boy, yet the Rabbis insisted he was the very famous Daniel. Why is this necessary?

5) Early in the story, the King receives advice from a man named Me'muchan. The Rabbis insist that this is Haman. Why is this necessary?

6) The Rabbis also insisted the Vashti had a tail. WITN?

7) Hasidim, who are otherwise perfect in every way, and the apogee of authentic Judaism, make a fetish of mispronouncing Mordechai's name. Instead of Mor-DOH- Chai, they say Mud-cha. WITN?

A question I can answer: In the Megillah, Esther three-day fast is long before Purim, so why is Ta'anit Esther, the rabbinic fast day, on 13 Adar, the day before Purim?

Short Answer:
The Rabbis were shrewd at politics.

Long Answer:
Second Temple Jews had a holiday that the Rabbi's disliked, called Nicanor Day, which commemorated a major Maccabean victory over a Greek general named Nicanor. Nicanor Day was celebrated on 13 Adar. The Rabbis, who disliked Maccabees, too, turned Nicanor Day into a solemn fast day. (Four legs good! Two legs better!)