Thursday, June 9, 2011

Costumes on Purim?

Costumes on Purim?
The Purim costumes-kosher?
urim Costumes & Imitating Pagans : The Legality of it all... What can educators do about it today?

> 1. How old is the custom of wearing costumes on Purim and where did
> it come from? What does RMb"M say on this issue?

Wearing costumes seems clearly to have originated in Catholic countries, as an influence by the festivities of Lent. The first among Jewish authors to mention this custom is Judah ben Eliezer ha-Levi Minz (d. 1508 at Venice - known as the "Mahari Minz") in his Responsa no. 17, quoted by Moses Isserles on Orach Chayim 696:8. He expresses the opinion that, since the purpose of the masquerade is only merrymaking, it should not be considered a transgression of the Biblical law regarding dress. Throughout the Eastern and Middle Eastern Jewish communities until one hundred and fifty years ago (from India to Morocco), these customs were unheard of.

Possibly, before the period of mourning between between Lent and Easter, during which they abstain from meat, Catholics from New Orleans (Mardi Gras) to Rio (Carnival) continue this wild celebration from old Europe. Besides gorging on meat (the reason for the word root "carni"), one of its old trademark customs from among the aristocratic "elite" of Europe, was the ballroom extravaganza: The "Ball" was a pre-Lent festivity, whose participants came in exotic costumes for disguise. This was a part of a wife-swapping game. The idea was that no woman should know who she went home with (the game was "lost" by one who ended up with one's husband). Barukh ha-mavdil bein Yisra'el la-goyim.

I heard that letters exist from the 17th century by a rabbi or two who protested this imitation by Jews of this costume nonsense. It wasn't long, however, before the commonfolk had their way, and the decrepid customs of the European ballroom entered Jewish practice. It seems that it really took off and became commercialized among American Jews, with their own annual "Purim Ball" extravaganzas and "Purimspiels." As this custom became entrenched in Jewish practice, it was not difficult for Jews to find even deep spiritual meaning, connecting costumes and disguises with the themes of Purim.

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