An Admission to my Friends

I’ve been posting to this blog for several years now, and I’ve acquired a certain sense about those of you who take the time to read it—you’ve been receptive and accepting to most of what I’ve written and are generally a tolerant and non-judgmental group. It’s in that light that I’ve decided to go ahead with this post.

It’s at this time and in this forum that I’m choosing to make a startling revelation about myself—something that only a very close circle of family and friends have ever known, but that I’m sure many of my congregants, colleagues, and other friends have clearly suspected over the years. As time passes, it becomes more difficult to hide these things. And until now I’ve resisted stating it outright because there has always been a certain expectation for me as clergy to adopt a particular persona and do a bit of playacting in front of people.

But after this blog post, there’s no going back—so here it is:

I hate Purim.

I despise it. It’s a vile, abhorrent, objectionable, misogynistic, senseless, and absurd holiday that has taken on an incomprehensible level of popularity. Its customs make no sense, it glorifies violence, and even its signature Jewish food is a piece of dough filled with prune which inexplicably represents a guy’s ear.

The story of Purim—that is, the sanitized, kid-friendly, Berenstain Bears version—is well known to all. But in fact, the Scroll of Esther contains not one sympathetic or heroic character. Wait, I take that back. Vashti is like a breath of fresh air—but she was on the phone to her agent the minute she read the script and convinced them to write her out of this horrifying story by the end of the first chapter. Even God—who was previously known for talking Abraham into brutally murdering his son, for punishing King Saul for demonstrating an ounce of hesitation before committing total genocide (and upon which this story is based), and most famously for deciding to see how much tragedy Job could take just to f*** with him for fun—even God sits this story out.

Mordechai is our hero? This conniving, plotting, and let’s face it, kind of creepy guy engages in a well thought out path of palace intrigue simply for his own self-gratification. It’s not written in the text, but I have no doubt that he first pretended to collude with Bigtan and Teresh and stage-managed the entire plan to kill the king. Then he ratted them out to the authorities to create a paper trail of his nobility. He proceeds to orchestrate a needless conflict with Haman—who was not a nice guy but who never even had the Jews on his radar. Most baffling, he manipulated (I’m really trying to avoid using the phrase “pimped out” but apparently I can’t) his teenage niece or cousin to use her body to seduce the middle aged king and establish a presence for Mordechai in the royal palace.

Later, Mordechai’s long game pays off. In a bit of literary slapstick, it is he instead of Haman who is paraded around on the horse wearing the fancy shmancy clothes. And Mordechai loves every minute of it. No false modesty—“oh please, no, I was just trying to save my people, oh you guys…”—he absolutely revels in his plot coming to fruition.

A few other questionable tidbits:

The king’s original decree to let Haman kill the Jews had already been dispatched across the land and couldn’t simply be cancelled on short notice. So the Jews were given free rein to rampage, pillage, and otherwise eradicate anyone they decided might pose a potential threat. They ended up slaughtering 75,000 people.

Haman’s infamous ten sons were hanged—we all know that part. But that was apparently not enough of a never-mess-with-Mordechai-and-his-family-again message: we read later that the ten sons were impaled. So yes, their corpses were removed from the gallows and then impaled upon stakes for the public to see. Ya know, just in case there was any doubt.

The entire story sounds like it was written by a bunch of college-aged interns sitting around a conference table. At one point a senior writer comes in, reads a draft of the script, and berates them: “This is what you’ve come up with after 2 weeks in here? There’s not even a moral here, there’s no message! What’s the message?!” So the writers throw in a couple non sequiturs and unexplained sentences in Chapter 9 saying that this dubious holiday should include exchanging food portions with other people and giving charity to the poor—with absolutely no connection to any event that had taken place elsewhere in the narrative. Basically, what Jews should be doing everyday anyway, but they couldn’t think of anything else.

The final chapter is like a sorry epilogue to this mess. The big climax? King Achashverosh imposes a tax upon his entire kingdom. At least there’s a dose of reality somewhere in this book.

This may have all made some kind of sense in past generations. I personally would be happy to excise Purim entirely from the Jewish calendar. I would like to pass on making a joke out of attempted genocide and over-the-top violence. And I would prefer not to send the explicit message (yes, explicit, as in make sure you dress up just like her) to young Jewish girls that their highest aspiration is to be pretty, win a beauty contest, and then allow all of the men in their lives to parade their sexuality around in order to further their own political needs.

So, yeah, Happy Purim. See you in a couple of weeks. Oh, and I’m not dressing up this year either.

Cantor Matt Axelrod has served Congregation Beth Israel of Scotch Plains, NJ since 1990. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and a national officer of the Cantors Assembly. Cantor Axelrod is the author of Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider's Guide, and Your Guide to the Jewish Holidays: From Shofar to Seder.

3 comments on “An Admission to my Friends

  1. Susan Stein

    This is great!!! I could never understand why so much that happened was considered good. Love that you wrote this! I will miss the cold pizza and the raspberry hamantashen this year though. Hope all is well! Susan Stein

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  2. Mark Arnold

    Well, I’m glad these are not immoral people of my religion you’re writing about! Oh, they are? These are Jewish people? Well then, You must be misinterpreting the story. You’re not? Hmmm….

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  3. Pingback: The Great Purim Controversy Continues… – Cantor Matt Axelrod

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