Purim: A true shpiel

Anna Batler blogs about faith and feminism at http://sotah.net/.  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Anna Batler.

On Purim there is a “custom” to get so drunk that one is no longer able to distinguish between Haman, the arch villain, and Mordechi, the hero.   Within this is a hint at an alternative reading of the Book of Esther as a political satire and a comedy of manners.  This is a book of palace intrigue, hapless plots to assassinate a hapless king, and an hero who is hardly better than the arch villain.

Yummm...

This is Haman’s decree to kill the Jews:

“Letters were sent by courier to all the provinces of the king, to destroy, to slay and to exterminate all the Jews, from young to old, children and women, on one day….”

This Mordechi’s decree to kill everyone:

“The [king] has given permission to the Jews of every city to organize and to defend themselves; to destroy, to slay and to exterminate every armed force of any people or province that threaten them, along with their children and women, and to plunder their possessions.”

Both letters empower the population to abandon the rule of law.  The king, confronted by special interests, signs opposing bills –  government at its most hysterically ineffective.

It is clear from the start that the king cannot maintain the rule of law – not even in his palace. The Book of Esther begins with decree written upon the disobedience of Vashti, the queen who would not come to the king “wearing the royal crown” and presumably nothing else.  The King decrees that “all wives will show respect to their husbands, great and small.”  This decree would be seriously funny, even without mentioning that it applies to both “great” husbands and “small” husbands.

An ineffective government busies itself with legislating in its subjects’ bedrooms.

Today, the tradition of satire on Purim continues in the “purim Shpiel,” and yet it is often forgotten that the Book of Esther itself is a “purim Shpiel.”

So when you silently listen to every word of the megliah, take a moment, read and laugh a little.