Two Articles

Purim Costumes: Harmless Fun or Serious Legal Problem?

Purim Costumes: Traumatizing Children

Lecture from Moreh r. Michael Bar Ron on Authenticity of Purim Costumes

Drinking on Purim: Issues


Purim Costumes & Imitating Pagans : The Legality of it all... What can educators do about it today?

> 1. How old is the custom of wearing costumes on Purim and where did
> it come from? What does RMb"M say on this issue?

I do not know when exactly the custom began, but wearing costumes seems clearly to have originated in Catholic countries, as an influence by the festivities of Carnival & Lent. While some see references to this practice in the book "Eben Bochan" (~1322: Kalonymus ben Kalonymus ben Meir), the first among Jewish authors to fully address the issue is Judah ben Eliezer ha-Levi Minz (d. 1508 at Venice - known as the "Mahari Minz") in his Responsa no. 17, quoted by R. Moses Isserles on Orach Chayim 696:8. He expresses the opinion that, since the purpose of the masquerade is only merrymaking, it should not be considered a transgression of the Biblical law regarding dress. I know by having done considerable amount of asking elders of different ethnic origins, that throughout the Eastern and Middle Eastern Jewish communities until one hundred and fifty years ago (from India to Morocco), these customs were unheard of.  

A righteous, older convert from Christianity who researched the subject, taught me more about what is well known:   Before the period of mourning between between Lent and Easter, during which they abstain from meat, Catholics from New Orleans (Mardi Gras) to Rio (Carnival) continue this wild celebration from old Europe.  Besides gorging on meat (the reason for the word root "carni"), one of its old trademark customs from among the aristocratic "elite" of Europe, was the ballroom extravaganza:  The "Ball" was a pre-Lent festivity, whose participants came in exotic costumes for disguise.  This was a part of a wife-swapping game.  The idea was that no woman should know who she went home with (the game was "lost" by one who ended up with one's husband).  Barukh ha-mavdil bein Yisra'el la-goyim.

I heard that letters exist from the 17th century by a rabbi or two who protested this imitation by Jews of this costume nonsense.  It wasn't long, however, before the commonfolk had their way, and the decrepid customs of the European ballroom entered Jewish practice.  It seems that it really took off and became commercialized  among American Jews, with their own annual "Purim Ball" extravaganzas and  "Purimspiels."   As this custom became entrenched in Jewish practice, it was not difficult for Jews to find even deep spiritual meaning, connecting costumes and disguises with the themes of Purim.

To my humble understanding and that of the Hakham who showed this to me years ago:  As unpopular and horrible as this may sound to many, it seems that dressing up in costumes on and around Purim is none other than the transgression of a negative commandment, "buHuqotheihem lo telekhu"--not to imitate gentiles (especially idolators) in their customs or dress.  It is not the imitation of  something with a practical function, such as the way we fasten our shirt buttons or our belts are buckled; rather it is something purely "cultural". Neither can one claim (such as many do regarding the long black frock-coats, Hamburger hats, and white shirts garb that European rabbis naturally adapted to imitate the Christian clergy) that this is a custom or dress that has since been abandoned by the non-Jews and is now recognized as distinctly Jewish look (HaShem YeraHem).

It should be noted, Borukh HaShem, that here in Israel, some traditional schools of Hassidim do not engage in this.  Their yeshiva boys have a simple dress theme every year that is only marked by a wearing Turkish hat.  The only pervasive Hillul HaShem (especially according to RMb"M) to which I've found little exception among different groups, is the public drunkenness, even among young teens. 

I hope I didn't upset anyone by my stance on Purim costumes, but truth is truth.   I believe the day we cease to pursue the sometimes-bitter truth in our service of HaShem, we are finished, Has wa-Shalom. 

If any of you with children in Jewish schools feel that it would put too much emotional pressure on the child to reveal this to them, know that my two eldest sons, aged 8 and 5 1/2, were taught the truth about these matters (with great sensivity) from the age of two. Until the age of four we did not send them to pre-school the day of the costume party.   From the age of five we do send them, preparing them well ahead of time, giving them plenty of positive reinforcement before and after. Borukh HaShem, they are normal with many friends.  They don't look down on the Jewish world around them, but--being educated correctly--rightfully feel sorry for them.   Not only do they not miss it one bit, but my brave five-year-old explained the halakhah to his kindergarten teacher!   Best! of all, B"H, their teachers respect us.  

In short, people can make excuses if they want to, but for whoever is willing to work hard enough to serve HaShem properly, my personal experience shows that HaShem clears a path.  Ba li`taher, masayye`in otho  (hilkhoth tashuvah, 6:10).

Also, please also provide the link Rav Eli`ezer Tavor found that proves even the pagan sources of it all:

[The concept of "hiding" (as it pertains to Ester or others) was never (originally nor historically) used as a permission to masquerade. Today, this reason has no binding legality in a post-Sanhedrin world. At the very least - if we can't stop kids kids from dressing up, we can (at least) insist that they choose a Jewish theme.] - although this is not the answer. Site Admin Comment

New idea being floated: Masquerading Started Kosher in Germany?

Here are the problems with this new, creative theory:

1- Italy wasn't the only Catholic (or even non-Catholic) European country that practiced Carnival (Mardi Gras) throughout the ages. It was strongly practiced every where in Europe, even in Germany. There is no evidence (soft or hard) that this idea started as a kosher-minhag in Germany - that had nothing to do with the Carnival all around them. The synchronization of these practices with Christianity is so strong (in method, annual timing and appearance), it screams of diffusionism. To call this an independent coincidental development, while ignoring the loud revellry (literally) that was in your face (pardon the pun) at that time is non-sequitur.

2- The (~1333ce) reference to Purim in Eben Bachen confirms (not detracts) from the fact that these things were already occurring back then, which makes sense - and it is thus no surprise. There was Catholicism back then - even in Greece. If  1330ce is close to the time when the grip of Catholicism on Europe was as strong as would ever be, why should anyone blink an eye when we hear about European Jews aping Catholic behavior in the year then?! Was there ever a time when the Jews were under GREATER pressure to mold their behavior according to the custom of their Catholics hosts?? 

3- The rulings on the subject of masquerading in the 1500s didn't prove anything. On the contrary, it proves that the Rabbis of that time knew they had an issue on their hand that needed to be addressed. Regardless of whether they addressed it correctly or not (obviously I think not), it doesn't take much thinking to understand why they felt the need to address this issue in the first place. Does it? Walking in "their ways" is issur, no matter how fun it might be.

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Attention Parents: Forcing Costumes on Babies Can Ruin Purim

by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu

( Purim is a happy and joyous occasion for Jews, but forcing babies and small children to masquerade in unwanted costumes can cause them trauma, according to psychologist Shlomit Kanotopsky.

“Parents who buy costumes for babies often do it for themselves," says the psychologist, who works at the Ziv Hospital, located in the northern Galilee city of Tzfat. She suggests parents be especially sensitive to children’s fears and trauma that can develop by wearing unwanted costumes, which parents sometimes insist on to justify what often is an expensive purchase.

Masquerading is a tradition on Purim, when Jews celebrate the topsy-turvy story in the Book of Esther (Megillat Esther), portraying the downfall of the evil Haman who prepared to annihilate Jews in the kingdom of Persia. Queen Esther ”unmasked” Haman’s intentions at a reception she arranged with him and the king.

Adults and older children know Purim as a happy occasion and enjoy masquerading, but many little children cry and suffer from trauma during the holiday, says Kanotopsky. She explains that changing identities is not always good for little children, who are in the process of developing their own identities and need a stable environment.

Trauma and fears from wearing unwanted costumes can affect their self-esteem and security, she adds.

“It is important not to force children to dress up,” according to Kanotopsky, who suggests that parents help get their children acquainted with a costume several days ahead of time and then “let the children play with it” without dressing up.

“If the costume threatens the child, parents should wait until next year and then perhaps he or she will accept it with joy,” she advises. “Sometimes, parents buy costumes because that is how they want to see their child, who is not always interested in the same costume, causing a real crisis.”

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Regarding my take on drinking for the Seudah, I adhere to RaMb"M - whose Mishneh Torah is the most accurate, unchanged, extant preservation of Jewish law we have (in my humble research). In the Mishneh Torah, he writes the following (parenthesis are mine):

"What is the nature of our obligation for this feast? A person should eat meat and prepare as attractive a feast as his means permit. He should drink wine until he becomes intoxicated and falls (down) in a stupor (and thus goes to sleep). (Hilchoth Meghilla-Chanukah 2:15)"

.  "עד שישתכר וירדם בשכרותע" could mean "until he and falls asleep in drunkenness".  It does not say "fall down", but this is probably the general idea. This is shown by usage of the same term (in other places in MT) for people who have literally fallen into sleep involuntarily.  The examples below are when one is trying to read the meghillah, and trying to say the Shema`. 

In Hil. Meghillah 2:5

ה  הַקּוֹרֶא אֶת הַמְּגִלָּה בְּלֹא כַּוָּנָה, לֹא יָצָאכֵּיצַדהָיָה כּוֹתְבָהּ, אוֹ דּוֹרְשָׁהּ, אוֹ מַגִּיהָהּ--אִם כִּוַּן לִבּוֹ לָצֵאת בִּקְרִיאָה זוֹ, יָצָא; וְאִם לֹא כִוַּן לִבּוֹ, לֹא יָצָאקָרָא, וְהוּא מִתְנַמְנֵם--הוֹאִיל וְלֹא נִרְדָּם בְּשִׁינָה, יָצָא.

Hil. Q'Shema` 12:2: 

יב  קְרָאָהּ סֵרוּגִין, יָצָא; אַפִלּוּ שָׁהָה בֵּין סֵרוּג לְסֵרוּג כְּדֵי לִגְמֹר אֶת כֻּלָּהּ, יָצָא--וְהוּא, שֶׁיִּקְרָא עַל הַסֵּדֶרקְרָאָהּ מִתְנַמְנֵם, וְהוּא מִי שְׁאֵינוּ לֹא עֵר וְלֹא נִרְדָּם בְּשִׁינָה--יָצָאוּבִלְבָד, שֶׁיְּהֶא עֵר בְּפָסוּק רִאשׁוֹן.

So we need to understand Hil. De`oth as meaning, whoever gets drunk in general, except for Purim.  Otherwise, Rabbenu would have put in "ba-khol maqom" (meaning "in every place"), which he DOES NOT.  "Bakhol maqom" is a very important phrase which Rabbenu uses in a few places in M.T., such as by "qeri`ah `al birkayim", the color of tekheleth in every place (3i3ith, and bighde Kuhunnah), etc.  However, even on Purim, a hhakham must be careful not to get drunk in front of `amme ha-aretz.

That being said, my teachers who all live by RAMBAM, said one has to understand RAMBAM in context, in terms of knowing the ENTIRE Mishneh Torah, before deciding things out of context. From what I have learned, in almost every other location in MT, RAMBAM says that Torah stands 100% against recreational drinking or getting drunk!!! Making a Qiddush on Shabbath is not getting drunk. That being said, telling us to drink this much is a very unusual departure for him to record - and as an obligation at that! Bottom line, it is clear that the intent of this day is to drink (more than one would usually drink) - and to ultimately fall asleep.

ONE FINAL NOTE THOUGH: Dr. and Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon only mention the use of WINE here. From a health perspective, I have seen the dangers of alcohol poisoning that comes about when people MIX liquors. In my opinion, the safest way to fulfill the Miswah is with wine (provided they we have no allergy to nitrates). People should be very wise to the dangers of OVER DRINKING - that can occur. Vomiting while lying down can kill a person - although a person should never drink that much to begin with. Thus, its much safer to drink Wine - without mixing with other alcohols!

And yes, we do know that "harder" alcoholic beverages did exist in those times, as is evidneced by the reference to other alcoholic beverages (non-grape) for Nazirim (Hil. Naziruth 5:1):

א  שְׁלוֹשָׁה מִינִין אֲסוּרִין לַנָּזִיר--הַטֻּמְאָה, וְהַתַּגְלָחַת, וְהַיּוֹצֶא מִן הַגֶּפֶן בֵּין פְּרִי בֵּין פָּסֹלֶת פְּרִיאֲבָל הַשֵּׁכָר שֶׁלִּתְּמָרִים, אוֹ שֶׁלִּגְרֹגְּרוֹת, וְכַיּוֹצֶא בָּהֶן--מֻתָּר לַנָּזִיר; "וְשֵׁכָר" (במדבר ו,ג) זֶה שֶׁנֶּאֱסַר עָלָיו בַּתּוֹרָה, הוּא הַשֵּׁכָר שֶׁלְּתַעֲרֹבֶת הַיַּיִן

So it's clear that people had and were getting drunk with other hard drinks as well.  Rabbenu dawqa speaks of WINE.  


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