Where Do Purim Costumes Come From?

March 4 2015

While feasting and intoxication on the holiday of Purim are discussed in the Talmud, costumes are not. Yet dressing up has been a standard practice for centuries. Shlomo Brody looks at its origins:

Purim costumes originated as a medieval folk custom in Ashkenazi lands, leaving rabbinic scholars to discuss the propriety of the practice. One prominent discussion was written by a 15th-century German scholar who had moved to Padua. He permitted the wearing of masks, despite the opposition of some earlier figures, and even justified men and women wearing clothing of the opposite gender, despite the biblical prohibition of cross-dressing. . . .

Where does the practice of dressing up come from? Some have speculated that it commemorates how Mordecai was dressed in regal clothing, a clear turning point in the plot of the Purim story. Others believe that hiding one’s identity symbolizes how God’s hand was involved in the miraculous salvation, even though His name is never explicitly mentioned in the text of the story. Noting that Esther similarly hid her own identity, Zohar Hanegbi further contends that perhaps the intention is to mimic the many costume parties in the story. Whatever its commemorative message might be, several rabbis and historians have claimed that this folk custom imitated medieval European Christian carnivals (e.g., Fastnacht or Mardi Gras) which took place at around the same season. If true, this would be akin to the development of the contemporary American custom of Hanukkah presents during the “holiday season.”

Still, many have had reservations. The 17th-century Italian scholar Shmuel Abuhab viewed the wearing of costumes as a form of debauchery that detracted from the religious joy that one should feel on the holiday. Some particularly discouraged the pious from donning costumes, while others, like Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, banned cross-dressing for all.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Ashkenazi Jewry, Halakhah, Judaism, Ovadiah Yosef, Purim, Religion & Holidays

Strengthening the Abraham Accords at Sea

In an age of jet planes, high-speed trains, electric cars, and instant communication, it’s easy to forget that maritime trade is, according to Yuval Eylon, more important than ever. As a result, maritime security is also more important than ever. Eylon examines the threats, and opportunities, these realities present to Israel:

Freedom of navigation in the Middle East is challenged by Iran and its proxies, which operate in the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf, and recently in the Mediterranean Sea as well. . . . A bill submitted to the U.S. Congress calls for the formulation of a naval strategy that includes an alliance to combat naval terrorism in the Middle East. This proposal suggests the formation of a regional alliance in the Middle East in which the member states will support the realization of U.S. interests—even while the United States focuses its attention on other regions of the world, mainly the Far East.

Israel could play a significant role in the execution of this strategy. The Abraham Accords, along with the transition of U.S.-Israeli military cooperation from the European Command (EUCOM) to Central Command (CENTCOM), position Israel to be a key player in the establishment of a naval alliance, led by the U.S. Fifth Fleet, headquartered in Bahrain.

Collaborative maritime diplomacy and coalition building will convey a message of unity among the members of the alliance, while strengthening state commitments. The advantage of naval operations is that they enable collaboration without actually threatening the territory of any sovereign state, but rather using international waters, enhancing trust among all members.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Abraham Accords, Iran, Israeli Security, Naval strategy, U.S. Foreign policy