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The Many Masks of Purim

Purim is a revelrous Jewish holiday. It’s traditional to feast, drink, give gifts of food to friends and to the poor, and dress in costume. While the Judaica shops are full of Queen Esther, Mordecai, King Ahasuerus, and Haman masks, … Read More

By / February 27, 2009

Hide Your Identity With A Venetian Mask

Purim is a revelrous Jewish holiday. It’s traditional to feast, drink, give gifts of food to friends and to the poor, and dress in costume.

While the Judaica shops are full of Queen Esther, Mordecai, King Ahasuerus, and Haman masks, you won’t find much for adults. Sure, you can go in drag but consider a Venetian mask. Italian Jews in the middle ages were the first to adopt the custom of dressing in costume to celebrate Purim. The Italian Jews were inspired to wear costumes by the Roman Carnival, naturally. But the custom spread and stuck, likely because it is so appropriate for Purim. Hiding our identity by dressing in costume is a way for us to experience the Purim story. The story is chock full of people mis-representing themselves and concealing their true identity. Esther is the major incognito who conceals her Jewishness from the King and becomes Queen. Of course, later she reveals she is a Jewess to save her people from Haman’s plot to kill the Jews. Other cases of mistaken identity include Mordecai (Esther’s uncle and informant) hiding his language abilities and thus eavesdropping on the plot for Jewish extermination; Mordecai was able to listen with ease because the conspiritors felt free to discuss: they thought he didn’t know their language. Then Haman (the King’s right hand man and striving Jew killer) is mistaken for Mordechai and thus, as it’s discussed in the Talmud, Haman’s daughter dumps her chamberpot on top of her own father’s head! Oops. Shakespeare must have gotten his inspiration from the Purim Megillah.

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