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.

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Read more at Tablet

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

 

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism