Tradition and Culture

We are a new, experimental committee chaired by Ritch Yanowitz and Marin Greene. We are reimagining and reconsidering many of the ways we approach Jewish culture and tradition. We are working to make services more accessible (logistically and spiritually) for more people and taking innovative steps to connect BHSS congregants to Jewish practice and community.

Purim ~ March 17

Purim is a joyous Jewish festival commemorating the survival of the Jews who, in the 5th century BCE, were marked for death by their Persian rulers. The story is related in the biblical Book of Esther.

Purim celebrates the victory over Haman, who had planned to destroy all the Jews in Persia. It was under King Ahasuerus that his advisor Haman plots the exterminations. But Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai saved the Jews from destruction. Purim has become a festival that is a thankful and joyous affirmation of Jewish survival.

In Israel, children and adults wear costumes everywhere for at least a week. On the streets, in restaurants, at school. Wearing costumes for Purim originated at the end of the 15th century in Italy. It was introduced to Middle Eastern countries during the 19th century.

The story of Esther is read from the Megillah. This began in the early Medieval times and was to be read in any language that the audience understood. Haman’s name is said 54 times and each time his name is spoken, the audience is to make noise to blot out his name. This is traced to French and German rabbis in the 13th century.

Eating and drinking is encouraged to “where you cannot distinguish between good (Mordechai) and evil (Haman).”

FOOD TO EAT

1 – Hamantaschen-representing the 3 corners of Haman’s favorite hat. Supposedly taking a bite out of the cookie is in defiance of bowing down to Haman and preventing him from carrying out his evil plan. Haman had required everyone to bow down to him. Mordechai refused because he was Jewish. Haman then wanted him dead along with the Jews of Persia.

The king had not known that his Queen, Esther, was Jewish. She had to tell him in order to have him help to save the Jews. The king had Haman hung from the gallows that Haman originally built to hang Mordechai. Haman’s 10 sons were also hung. They had been killed in battle against the Jews.

2 – Nuts, Seeds, Legumes and Green Vegetables– Esther had no kosher food in the palace, so this is what she ate.

3 – Kreplach– Ashkenazi Jews ate “Kreplach”, a dumpling filled with meat, which represents the “hidden” God. Often associated with Purim.

Purim and the Song of Songs are the only Hebrew scriptures that do not contain a single reference to God, who seems to have been “hiding behind the scenes”.

In the 3rd century CE, Rabbi Joshua ben Levi began the custom of reading the Megillah on the eve of Purim. He obliged that women should attend the reading because it was Queen Esther who made the miraculous deliverance and because women were also threatened by Haman’s decree.

In the 5th century CE, there became a custom to burn an effigy of Haman on Purim. While it was prohibited in some countries, it continued in Iran and in remote Kurdistan communities thru the 1950s.

PURIM SPIEL is a comic dramatization to convey the saga of the Purim story. This began in the 18th century in Eastern Europe. Purim plays had evolved into broad ranging satires with music and dance. Today Purim Spiels are anything related to Jews and Judaism that brings comic relief and cheer to the audience.

Purim is more of a national holiday, rather than a religious holiday. Recently the prayer “Al Hanissim” (for the Miracle) has been added to the Amidah and in Grace after meals, during Purim. During morning services on Purim, the Torah is read. The reading is from Exodus 17:8-6. It describes Joshua’s victory over the people of Amalek with the sword. Amalek was said to have been related to Haman, thus this choice of reading. The day after Purim (the 15th of Adar) is known as Shushan Purim. This is the day when the Jews of Shushan, the capital of Persia, celebrated their triumph. However, while the Jews were saved from annihilation plotted by Haman, they still remained subject to Ahasuerus. Thus, the redemption represented by Purim was not complete.

Greetings for Purim: Chag Purim Sameach (Hebrew) OR Freilichin Purim (Yiddish) OR Purim Allegre (Ladino)

Passover ~ Friday, April 15 – Saturday, April 23

Passover (Pesach) is a major Jewish holiday, which celebrates the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. It occurs on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan.

Passover has been celebrated since at least 5th century BCE (May 4, 1451 BCE). The Israelites exited slavery in the 1200’s BCE. Pesach means to ‘pass over’. The meal, known as the seder, retells the story of Exodus and God’s liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. It is a celebration of freedom through God’s divine intervention and deliverance. Hag Hamatzeh (Feast of Unleavened Bread) and Yom Ha Bikkurim (or First Fruits) are mentioned in Leviticus 23 as separate feasts. Today, Jews observe all 3 feasts as part of the eight-day Passover celebration.

THE STORY OF PASSOVER

Joseph, the favored son of Jacob was sold into slavery in Egypt. Joseph was put in a high position, second in command to the Pharoah. Joseph moved his whole family to Egypt. This was 1706 BCE. 215 years later, the Jewish population had grown to two million people. The new Pharaoh, who had no memory of what good Joseph had done for Egypt, was afraid of the power the Israelites would have. So, he forced them into slavery, oppressing them with harsh labor and brutal treatment.

God had a plan to rescue the Israelites through Moses. When Moses was born, the Pharoah had ordered that all Hebrew males should die. To save his life, Moses was hidden in a basket and placed in the Nile River. The Pharoah’s daughter found the baby and adopted him. Later, Moses fled to Midian after killing an Egyptian, whom he had witnessed brutally beating a Hebrew slave.

God appears to Moses (in the burning bush) and tells him to talk to Pharoah to “bring forth my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt”.

Moses finally obeys God. He and his older brother, Aaron (a prophet/High Priest) appear before Pharoah and demands that he “let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness”.

The Pharoah refused, and eventually God sends a series of plagues. In the midst of each plague, the Pharoah promises to let the children of Israel go, but retracts after the plague has ended. With the final plague, God promised to strike dead every first-born son in Egypt at midnight on the 15th day of the month of Nissan. God told Moses to have each Hebrew family slaughter a lamb and put some blood on their doors. This way the Hebrews would be spared.

The Pharoah ordered the Israelites to be set free and allowed their passage out of Egypt. As Moses was leading his people out of Egypt, the Pharoah changed his mind and had his army chase the Hebrews. The Israelites made it through to safety, and the Pharoah’s army drowned.

Here’s what was happening in the world at that time:

  • Egypt is the undisputed power
  • The King of Athens is present and is part of Greek Mythology (Cecrops)
  • Mayan civilization develops in Belize
  • The 1st ruler of the Shang Dynasty begins ruling (1600 BCE)
  • Beginnings of Persia takes place
  • Ancient Chinese art of Astronomy is recorded
  • Lyrical poetry among Greeks begins, accompanied by other stringed instruments or a lyre

There is no evidence or mention of Moses in Egypt or in the Sinai

To contact one of our Tradition and Culture chairs, click on their name.

Marin Greene    Ritch Yanowitz