Rabbis worried about excess Purim celebrations

During the time of Purim, this supermarket in Jerusalem dedicates entire aisles to the festival of Purim, when Jews are ordered to give and receive baskets of food called mishlo’ach manot. RNS Photo by Michele Chabin

JERUSALEM (RNS) – On Purim, a public holiday recalling the biblical story of Esther and the survival of the Jewish people in the face of an oppressor, Jews are ordered to give money to the poor and to give and receive mishlo’ach manot – gifts of food and drink.

Holidays begin Wednesday evening (March 20) at sunset almost everywhere in the world, but Thursday evening in Jerusalem.

During preparation and delivery mishlo’ach manot is an activity families look forward to every year, some say this tradition has gotten out of hand in Israel, with shops selling Purim costumes and accessories six weeks before the holidays and tempting people with expensive gift baskets and a dazzling assortment of junk food, containers and gift wrap.

“Some people spend a lot of money on mishlo’ach manot, and when that happens, other members of the community may think they won’t fit into society if they don’t give something of equal value, ”said Ronit Peskin, whose blog, Parenting penniless, focuses on the challenges facing families.

Leadership, when paired with peer pressure, “puts pressure on families, especially if they have lots of children. They have to give to every teacher and their children’s friends, ”said the mother of four.

The key, Peskin said, is not to remove the mitzvah from mishlo’ach manot.

The key is moderation.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men celebrate after getting drunk during the Jewish holiday of Purim in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem. The Jewish holiday of Purim celebrates the salvation of the Jews from the genocide in ancient Persia, as the Scroll of Esther recounts. (AP Photo / Oded Balilty)

Rabbi Andrew Sacks, head of the rabbinical assembly of the conservative / masorti movement in Israel, believes that Purim has become much more commercialized and that for some people alcohol “has become the star of the party.”

“It’s like the kiddush clubs in some synagogues, where single malt is served every kiddush,” Sacks said, referring to the consumption of hard alcohol after and sometimes during Saturday morning services. “It is not a good example to give to our young people.”

According to the Shulchan Arukh, the code of Jewish law, a person is required to drink enough alcohol on Purim to be unable to differentiate between cursing Haman, the wicked one on Purim, and the blessing of Mordechai, one of his heroes.

But Jewish leaders have become alarmed by excessive alcohol consumption during the holidays. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis recently (March 4) issued a joint statement on the dangers of getting drunk on Purim, Israel National News reported.

“From experience, often the consumption of alcohol leads to murder, as in cases where a person drives after drinking. This is known to cause many tragedies, ”the rabbis wrote.

“Doctors also say that excessive alcohol consumption, especially among young people, causes bodily and brain damage,” the rabbis noted.

Buyers choose Purim costumes for their children at a Jerusalem toy store. RNS Photo by Michele Chabin

While the Shulchan Arukh supports the drunkenness associated with Purim, the rabbis wrote, the Mishnah Berurah, another legal text, advises against getting drunk.

“Rather, we are commanded to enjoy (Purim) and be happy for the sake of Gd and gratitude for the miracles He has done for us,” the joint statement read.

Rabbi Peretz Rodman, who heads the Rabbinical Court of the Conservative / Masorti movement in Israel, said many Jews he knew were put off by what they saw as unhealthy Purim tendencies of eating sugary foods. the increased use of disposable plastics.

“In Israel, we are seeing a counter-trend, with many people giving only a very small mishlo’ach manot along with a note they gave to a charity, often in Leket, ”Israel’s national food bank and food rescue organization.

Many Jewish institutions use the holiday to raise funds on behalf of families in need. Through her appeals on Purim, Shira Hadasha, a synagogue in Jerusalem, was able to provide vacations for cancer patients and their families through partnerships with hotels and guesthouses.

Torat Reva Yerushalayim, an outreach organization in Jerusalem, will prepare 300 food packages for serving soldiers and the elderly.

“When we think of our homes and those of our friends, with their dining tables covered with Purim parcels, we have to remember that there are people who receive nothing at all and who would really appreciate a gift. delivered with a smile, ”said Sharona Halickman, founder and director of the organization.

Peskin agrees. She remembered that she had felt “different and friendless” as a child, especially on Purim, when her peers hadn’t given her mishlo’ach manot.

When she became an adult, she decided not to skimp on the command.

“I cry for all the people who will never get a sweet bite on their doorstep,” she said. “I want to make sure that no one is forgotten.”

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