Friday, March 21, 2008

Seven days of Purim

We all celebrate Hanukkah for eight days, and Sukkot and Pesach for seven or eight days each. But somehow I seem to have been celebrating Purim for seven days, too.

Now, it is possible to celebrate Purim for two days, because it is celebrated one day later, as Shushan Purim, in cities that were walled in Biblical times. A friend in Israel told me that he planned to celebrate Purim today in Tel Aviv and then travel to Tzfat to celebrate Purim tomorrow.

But we don't live in a walled city. We ended up with seven days of Purim this year because of oddities of the secular, not the Jewish, calendar. One congregation here has a tradition of holding a dinner on the Shabbat evening nearest Purim, followed by a mixed-up Shabbat service, and our school always holds its Purim carnival on a Sunday morning.

This year the Friday nearest Purim is today, the actual day of Purim, so it would have seemed logical to hold the Purim-Shabbat dinner tonight. But for Christians today is Good Friday. A dinner tonight might have posed difficulties for intermarried families, and because all the public schools are closed today and some will also be closed on Monday and Tuesday, this is a weekend when families can travel.

Similarly, our Purim carnival might have been held on Sunday, when some families will be away for the weekend or spending the day with non-Jewish parts of their families. Accordingly, the Purim-Shabbat dinner was last Friday, and the Purim carnival was last Sunday.

The other congregation had its megillah reading last night, with a pizza dinner following. It was the best megillah reading in my recent experience, with enough silliness and participation by children to make it fun for everyone, but with megillat Esther read (mostly in English) in its entirety.

It is possible to criticize either moving part of the Purim celebration to Shabbat or deliberately avoiding overlap with Christian holidays, but I think that such a criticism would be misguided.

Although I disagree with the now largely abandoned practice of shifting the observance of so-called minor holidays to Shabbat or the weekend, we do our selves no favor by being so rigidly purist as to ignore either school vacations or non-Jewish holidays when we schedule celebrations that are not obligatory parts of the observance. So I am happy that one congregation held its megillah reading on erev Purim and read the megillah in full, but I don't object at all to holding a dinner or carnival on other days.

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