Purim: A shiur from the Conservative Yeshiva in
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Anti-Semitism, Renewal and Purim
By Joshua Kulp
At the end of the Book of Esther, after the Jews have
been saved from Haman's evil decree, Esther and Mordecai request that the
14th and 15th of Adar be established as eternal holidays to be observed in
The response to this request is not recorded in the
Bible, but the Rabbis preserved several traditions which expressed the
hesitation felt towards the holiday of Purim. Read the following two
passages and ask why they felt such hesitation.
Babylonian Talmud Tractate Megillah 7a
Rav Shmuel the son of Yehudah said: Esther sent to
the Sages, "Establish me (my holiday) for the generations! They sent
back to her, "You will arouse the jealousy of the other nations." She
sent back to him, "I (my holiday) is already written in the chronicles
of the Medean and Persian kings.
Jerusalem Talmud Tractate Megillah 1:7, 70d
Eighty five elders, amongst them 30 prophets, were
distressed over the following matter. They said, "It is written (in the
Torah) 'These are the commandments which God commanded Moses' (Leviticus
27:34), i.e., these are the commandments which we were commanded by
Moses. Thus Moses said that no prophet is permitted to institute
anything new. Nevertheless, Mordecai and Esther wish to institute the
new holiday of Purim.
According to the first passage, the Sages feared that
by celebrating the incredible fortunes of the Jews they would arouse the
anti-Semitism of the rest of the world.
How has this fear been an ever present emotion in
Can Jews celebrate their religion and uniqueness
without causing jealousy and hatred amongst others?
Can we claim that God "chose" the Jewish people and
at times during our history brought salvation to the Jews without
becoming prejudiced against other people?
The second passage expresses a different fear about
Judaism, the fear of renewal. The Rabbis were not convinced that it was in
their power to create new holidays.
Why would they be afraid of new institutions or
holidays? Does a new holiday in some way impinge upon the sanctity and
uniqueness of the older traditions?
In our day, what new holidays have been instituted?
Have they always been accepted?
How might they still feel different from the old
With these two passages in mind we might want to
consider Purim in a new light. Purim is a holiday of Jewish renewal and
Jewish pride, one in which our ancient relationship to God gave human
beings the strength to save the Jewish people despite the inherent dangers
involved. Mordecai, Esther and the leaders of the time then had the
courage and healthy pride to create a new holiday, fostering a sense of
Jewish renewal, which would invigorate the Jewish people in every
generation to come.
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