Costumes

Costumes are a great example of how Jewish holiday traditions have evolved over time. The use of costumes was initiated by the Ashkenazi community in the late 15th century (likely with inspiration from the European Carnival celebration). In the Sephardi community, however, there was no tradition of dressing in costume on Purim. When the two communities came together in Israel, dressing in costume was an issue of debate between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities, but over time, as we see in modern day Israel, the vast majority relish the opportunity to take part in this fun tradition.

Purim party 1865

Purim party today

  1. Above are just two of many examples of photographs comparing old and new Purim celebrations. Print out a variety of depictions of Purim costumes from different time periods and ask your learners to compare and contrast what they see and some of the ways people celebrate.
  2. Design your own costumes! Costumes are an expression of oneself. Use everyday items to have the students express themselves through the construction of a costume. For inspiration, see Hanoch Piven and/or this article from MyJewishLearning.

Shushan Purim

Why does Jerusalem celebrate Purim one day after everywhere else? At the end of the Megillat Esther (מגילת אסתר, "Book of Esther"), the Jews in Shushan (the walled capital city of Persia) fought their attackers for an extra day. As a result, they started celebrating a day after the other Jews scattered across Persia. Centuries later, the rabbis in Israel decided that if Shushan got special status, then similarly walled cities in the Land of Israel (like Jerusalem) should too. Today, Jerusalemites use it as a reason to get two days of celebration while most others celebrate just one.

  • What other Jewish holiday celebrations vary in length depending on one's location?
  • What was the significance of a walled city in the ancient world?
  • Why do you think the rabbis wanted to honor Jerusalem with an extended celebration? In what ways do we honor Jerusalem today?

Music

In the Sephardi tradition, the father of the house would sing special Purim songs during the holiday feast. These songs (coplas de Purim or "Purim Couplets") had a very specific structure which came to be known as estrofas purímicas or "Purim stanzas." They became so popular in Spain that Sephardi composers would actually use them as foundations for other songs. As with all Jewish holidays, there is a modern repertoire of Purim songs every Israeli child learns in elementary school. Today, the real tradition of music on Purim in Israel is seen in all of the concerts and parties planned across the country.

An example of one of these special Sephardi songs sung on Purim:

 

  • What instruments do you hear? Do you hear any sounds that you might hear in Israel throughout the year?
  • If you were to compose a dance to this song, what would it look like and why?
  • What songs do we associate with Jewish holidays, traditions and celebrations?
  • Compare this song with other songs sung on Purim in Israel. What do you notice? What similarities and differences are there in the tunes?

Food

Food plays a big role in Purim celebrations. One of the four traditional laws of Purim is to have a celebratoryseuda (סעודה, “feast”). The rabbis’ discussion of this feast gave rise to the conclusion that adults should drink until they don’t know the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai” (Megillah 7b). In Aramaic, the phrase “until he doesn’t know” is written ad d'la yada (עד דלא ידע) which is the origin of the name for Israel’s famous Purim parades, the Adloyada.

And of course, who can forget Oznei Haman (אזני המן, “Haman’s Ears”) or in Yiddish, hamantaschen. Where did they come from? Tasch means "purse" in Yiddish, so a cookie called “Haman’s Purse” with sweet filling might refer to the lots Haman drew from his pocket to choose the date of the Jews’ destruction, a date which ended up being a sweet celebration. The Hebrew “Haman’s Ears” might allude to Haman’s evil nature, implying he had pointed ears. Oznei Haman from certain European communities were traditionally savory, made with cooked onions and kasha. In others, the filling was covered by dough to symbolize how Esther hid her identity in the Purim story. In Israel today, you can find Oznei Haman of every variety. Like many holiday traditions, the story, the name, and the food itself have all evolved and adapted over time. 

  • How else does food play a role in Purim? What is different about the role of food on Purim from other holidays?
  • Mishloach manot (משלוח מנות, lit. "sending portions") are the traditional packages of food that friends send one another on Purim. If you were going to send a mishloach manot to someone in Israel, what would you put in it and why? What would it look like? Would it be the same as a package you send to a friend in America?