Purim, Parody, and Pilpul

How this festival became a time for merriment and satire

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To German Jewry we also owe the adoption of the Hamantasch, an adaptation of the German mahn-tash ("poppy-pocket") pastry, given a new meaning for the occasion.

Our custom of sounding noisemakers at the mention of Haman's name is also a version of an old practice, which took on different forms through the generations. The earliest sources (from the writings of the Babylonian Ge'onim) speak of burning effigies of Haman on a bonfire. In medieval Europe children would write Haman's name on stones or wood blocks, and bang them until the name was erased.

In our observance of Purim we are thus drawing from a long line of historical precedents and developments.

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Eliezer Segal

Dr. Eliezer Segal is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary. A native of Montreal, he holds a PhD in Talmud from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of Holidays, History, and Halakhah, and many of his writings can be found on his personal website.