The Jewish Mardi Gras

March 13, 2014 | By

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The Jewish Mardi GrasWhat is it about the depth of winter that makes us want to don a mask, grab a flask, and get lost in a crowd? From 16th-century Venice to contemporary New Orleans and Brazil, cultures around the world abandon their norms for the wilds of masquerades.

Never ones to miss a party, Jews have a masquerade ball of our own. We can thank the savvy and cunning Queen Esther for that. Each year we recall how she saved her people from destruction by hiding—and then revealing—her identity from her husband, the Persian King Ahasuerus.

Nowadays, her story is often retold in the form of a Purim shpiel, or folk play, that uses satire and parody to disguise contemporary social issues in the guise of the Purim story. Now that’s meta.

But lest you think Purim is all just bible and politics, there’s also a tradition to drink so much that we can’t tell the difference between the hero and the villain of the story. So if you needed a reason to enjoy some schnapps, remember that the Talmud told you so. (Though like any Talmudic tradition, there’s plenty of debate about that, too.

The most playful Jewish holiday is coming up this Saturday night, March 15th, so we suggest you get cracking on that Purim shpiel, pronto!

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