The 700-Year History of the Purim Parody

March 20 2019

Since the holiday of Purim, which begins this evening, traditionally has a carnivalesque atmosphere, it has given rise to written and theatrical parodies of traditional Jewish life and scholarship. Michelle Chesner describes some early examples:

Purim is unique for the lively parodies that were and are produced in honor of the holiday, which celebrates the hidden and the unexpected. Masekhet Purim [“Tractate of Purim”] is probably the most famous of these. It was originally written in 14th-century Italy, but it was copied, printed, edited, and added to many times over the centuries. It is written in Aramaic and Hebrew, in the style of the Talmud itself, with additional parodies of the major talmudic commentators, Rashi and Tosafot.  . . .

Another “tractate” that was common for Purim was Masekhet Shikurim (“Tractate of Drunkards”). Because of the injunction that one should drink on Purim until unable to tell the difference between “blessed be Mordecai” (the hero of the book of Esther) and “cursed be Haman” (the villain), drunkenness is a common feature of the various Purim parodies. . . .

An Italian poem uses a different literary genre for its Purim parody. This manuscript’s title translates as “Give honor to the beautiful Purim” and seems to parody the Italian tradition of a “wedding poem,” treating the holiday as if it were a bride. The end of the poem describes itself as a “pretty song to be sung in the evening and the day of Purim.”

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Columbia University Libraries

More about: Jewish humor, Purim, Religion & Holidays

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat