An important feature of the Purim celebration is the Purim banquet (se'udah), when inebriation is encouraged. In general, a certain amount of levity and popular amusement was permitted on Purim, and masquerades and satirical Purim plays(Purim shpiel) became a widespread feature of the celebration in medieval times (possibly under the influence of the Christian carnival). In the State of Israel, Purim is a carnival time, and the occasion for the adlayada[1] procession.

The frivolous nature of the day inspired the writing of Purim parodies, of which we bring four examples. The following selections are taken from Prof. Isaac Davidson's book (Parody in Jewish Literature, 1907, 1966). For a general introduction on parody in Jewish literature see Prof. Davidson's article in the Topsy-Turvy section.

In the 12th century that Menahem ben Aaron wrote Hymn for the Night of Purim, which was embodied in the Mahzor Vitry.[2] It parodies the Hymn for the First Night of Passover by Meir ben Isaac, imitating its diction. The parodist has no other aim than to dress a wine-song in the garb of a religious hymn. The message of the song is that on Purim, one must throw off all care and anxiety.

Hymn for the Night of Purim: stanzas 1-3;10
This night is a night for drunkards,
a night for wine and drinking and rejoicing...
On this night all creation is intoxicated...
and woe betide the man, who should put forth
his hand for the bitter water....

It was not until the middle of the first half of the 14th century, that parody became a distinct branch of Hebrew literature. Between 1319 and 1332 three parodies[3] were written which raised this form of satire into an art. Megillat Setarim (Scroll of Secrecy), parodies Megillat Esther (Scroll of Esther):

What is meant by Megillat Setarim? Translate it the Scroll of Purim. But why did they call it the Scroll of Secrecy? Because the pious men of old handed it down in secret to their pupils and did not make it known to any one unless possessed by a good spirit and under the influence of wine....

This parody [like others] meant nothing more than that the Talmud, like any other great work of literature, had to pay the penalty for its popularity. Still, the more conservative elements were indignant, and looked upon these parodies as vile profanations. Their antipathy for this class of literature in general was perhaps intensified by passages like the following:

Rabbi Abraham was wont to say:
"I have a tradition from my great grandparents,
that whoever has no share in the pleasures of this life
will have no share in the pleasures of the future life;
but he who enjoys this life,
will likewise enjoy the life to come."

3In an anonymous Massekhet Purim, which was perhaps written in Provence during the 15th century, it is related - in Talmudic diction - that every Jewish town elected a Purim King a month before Purim and invested him with full power over the lives and property of his subjects. The most interesting feature of this parody, however, is that it gives a Biblical origin for the game of dice.

Rabbi Shigga'on (Lunatic) said: "Behold I am almost seventy years old and I was never privileged to understand why dice should be played on Purim, until Rabbi Badai (Fiction) expounded [the passage in Esther 9:27]: "The Jews ordained and took upon them" . Here is written instead of . This [strange spelling] is to indicate the spots on the six sides of the die in their proper order. (Hirek) points to the side with one spot, (Sheva) to the one with two spots, (Kubbuz) to the three spots, the and the to the four spots, the and the to the five spots, and the , and to the side with six spots.

4The parody (which had reached its climax with the early 14th-century Tractate Purim of Kalonymous) began its revival in Poland, in the latter part of the 17th century, with a new anonymous parody of the same name and character. In the first version, the parody has only one theme - the praise of wine and of those who drink it to excess on Purim.

"Said Rabbi Bakbuk (bottle): 'Whosoever drinks wine on Purim, and becomes as intoxicated as Noah the Righteous, will be protected the rest of the year from the evil effects of bad water. You may learn this from Noah the Righteous. For when the deluge came and drowned the whole world, even the giants, there remained no one in the world, excepting Noah, his wife and children and those who were with hi in the ark, all because he was destined to plant a vineyard and become intoxicated on Purim."

In all the later versions, the parody broadens out, and by means of Talmudic methods deduces from the Bible a number of fantastic laws for Purim, retaining all the while the seriousness of tone for which the Talmudic discussions are noted:

Mishnah: On the eve of the 14th of Adar water should be searched and removed from houses and from courtyards. All places where water is not usually kept need not be searched. Gemara: Where is the biblical authority for this law? It is found in the Scriptures 'So shall you put the bad away from the midst of you (Deut. 13:6), and nothing is bad but water; for it is written 'the water is bad' (II Kings 2:19).

The fifth and final version approaches nearer to the diction of the Babylonian Talmud, and is augmented with parodies of the three best-known Talmudic commentaries, namely: Rashi, Tosafot, and the Novellae of Rabbi Samuel Edels. In the early 19th century it superseded the Massekhet Purim of Kalonymous in popularity, and soon became the most widely known Purim parody.

Its most humorous feature is undoubtedly the relation which it establishes, in Talmudic fashion, between well-known historic events and the day of Purim. Thus, the Deluge came upon the earth, because that generation drank water of Purim. The night on which Lot was intoxicated by his daughters was Purim,[4] and so was the day on which Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, and the day on which Joseph made himself known to his brothers. Similarly, the day on which Miriam, the sister of Moses, died was Purim; for since it is said: "and there was no water for the congregation"[5] it must have been Purim. The generation that died in the desert will have no share in the future world, because they drank water on Purim, and finally, the day on which Sisera fled to Jael's tent[6] was Purim, and she killed him, because he asked for water.

footnotes [1]"adlayada" - Purim carnival, whose Aramaic name is derived from the rabbinic remark that on Purim a man should revel until he does not know ("ad de-la'yada) to distinguish between "blessed be Mordecai" and "cursed be Haman" (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 7:2). [back]
[2] Mahzor Vitry, an encyclopedic work including Midrashic excerpts, responsa, a commentary on Ethics of the Fathers, a treatise on the calendar, and the complete annual cycle of prayers together with a codification of laws related to the liturgy and the synagogue service. This work was compiled by the French scholar Simhah ben Shmuel (d. 1105) of Vitry, who was a student of Rashi, and published in 1893. [back]
[3] Massekhet Purim by Kalonymous ben Kalonymous; and the anonymous Sefer Habakuk ha-Navi (the book of Habakuk the Prophet) and Megillat Setarim (Scroll of Secrecy). [back]
[4] Gen. 19:33 [back]
[5] Numbers 22:2 [back]
[6] Judges 4:17 [back]



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