Thursday, February 25, 2010

Kosher Minhagim

A Guest Post By E. Fink

On VIN there is a pinned article by Rabbi Hoffman about the origins of wearing costumes on Purim. Rabbi Hoffman cites one of the earliest source for this custom, the well-known responsa of Rav Yehuda Mintzt from the 15th century permitting a man to dress like a woman on Purim. He then cites Moritz Steinschneider who attributes the custom to the influence of the Carnival.

There are two lines that seem to contradict one another in the article.

First Rabbi Hoffman says:
"But out minhag did not come from the Roman Carnival. It is not that we believe that cultural diffusion does not exist. We do."
So it seems like he holds that minhagim can come from all sorts of places. A practice can become "Jewish" if Jewish people accept it, find meaning in it and it becomes part of our culture. Just, he has a theory that Purim costumes are Jewish in origin, not borrowed.

Rabbi Hoffman is very honest in expressing incredulity that the custom is older than a few hundred years. He cites some Chasidic sources that apply deep meaning to the custom and is skeptical that such a recent custom is so deep.

Rabbi Hoffman then offers his theory. It is based on a possible error that non-Torah scholars made when reading a piyut. They thought the piyut refers to Jews dressing up in costume on Purim. From there the custom took off and spread.

The end of the article is the part that bothered me. Rabbi Hoffman contradicts himself.
"The origin is a kasher minhag b"Yisroel from German Jewry".
In other words, a minhag based on an erroneous reading of the piyut is somehow "holier" than a custom that was purposely borrowed from the neighboring non-Jews and elevated into a spiritual practice. Why is an erroneously generated minhag more kosher than a minhag that started out on loan from the umos haolam? And as he said earlier, we know that there is diffusion, so why deny it here?

Further, even if this "mistake" actually happened, isn't it likely that the custom only took hold and "stuck" because of the Carnival? I think so.

Sometimes and in some ways Rabbi Hoffman offers a fresh voice of reason, but in this case I think he nailed some points, but in the end he missed the boat.


If you think about it, Rabbi Hoffman's proposed source for costumes on Purim is also borrowed from the Umos Haolam. We are borrowing the costume wearing from Amalek!!! Haha!

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