It’s mid-February, and time to start thinking about Purim! Purim starts March 4, 2015. (Don’t worry–if you’re here for Jewish Disability Awareness Month resources, I’ll be posting later this week about Purim in particular!)
If you’re a secular or humanistic Jew, what’s in it (and out there) for you?
As always–see if you can’t find a community to celebrate with. The Society for Humanistic Judaism and Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations both have pages on their websites to help you find communities that might be near you. Many of these groups hold Megillah readings, Purim carnivals, costume parties, and other events, which are for many the most fun Jewish celebrations of the year.
But wait–there’s more!
As always, there are books to read. Arthur Waskow’s “Seasons of Our Joy” has a chapter on Purim that examines its historical, literary, and natural roots, including the idea that Purim, like Fat Tuesday and similar days in other cultures, is a kind of eruption of “spring fever” during the cold of winter. The various volumes in the Jewish Catalog series also have plenty of hands-on learning that children and families can do together, including making the popular Purim pastry, hamantashen.
If you’re a Bible or history buff, Purim is a pretty interesting holiday. The names of the characters sound in the names of non-Jewish gods and goddesses in ancient Mesopotamia: Mordechai sounds quite a bit like the Babylonian god, Marduk, and Esther sounds quite a bit like Ishtar, a Babylonian goddess of fertility, love, and war. Ishtar is itself a cognate to the name of the goddess Astarte.
In other words, Esther was a culturally profoundly challenging book for later rabbinic Judaism, and not only for that reason. Esther is the only biblical book that does not ever mention any deity by name (unless we’re reading Esther as a Persian or Babylonian tale). This was troubling enough to many Jews, even as early as the Hellenistic period that followed the death of Alexander the Great, that Greek-speaking Jewish communities developed supplemental texts as insertions.
In other words, the tale we tell at Purim–the Megillah–is one of the surest signs of the very human nature of Judaism in all its forms. The Purim story is also regarded as one of the most egalitarian stories in the fabric of the biblical text, as the hero of the story is Esther (though there’s plenty of effort by male characters to manipulate Esther’s actions).
So see if you can’t find a community and have some fun!