Op-ed: Purim is Day for Merry-making, Not a Pretext to Commit Murder.
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Op-ed: Purim is Day for Merry-making, Not a Pretext to Commit Murder.

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“The works of My hands are drowning in the sea and you are rejoicing?” With these words, God, in the view of the rabbis, rebuked the angels who were celebrating the Israelite crossing of the Sea of Reeds and the drowning of the pursuing Egyptians.

It is these words that come to mind in the wake of Baruch Goldstein’s insane and vicious murder of Arabs in Hebron on Friday, Feb. 25. And this midrashic amplification of the biblical text carries with it the message that we are all, Jew and Muslim, friend and enemy, the products of God’s workmanship.

The massacre and its subsequent approval by fringe elements within the Jewish community, which often spout religious pieties to justify their opposition to the peace process, bespeak a deep-seated rejection of this rabbinic principle.

As we consider this tragedy, we must never forget the human dimension.

First, there is the pain of the personal, innocent lives lost and human potential eradicated. There are also the deep wounds of the survivors who are forever scarred by their experience.

We must always remember that each of us was created in the divine image, and none of us has the right to diminish God by killing another, except in the most serious circumstances.

Beyond the personal, there is the collective damage that this incident will cause in exacerbating the relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel at a time when hopeful steps toward peace are being taken.

Clearly, time and place were factors contributing to the massacre.

Last Friday was not a random day on the Jewish or Muslim calendar. Friday is the Muslim Sabbath and this Friday fell during the holy fast month of Ramadan.

Purim, the holiday celebrating Jewish salvation from the machinations of their enemies, embodied in the villainous Haman, also occurred on Friday.

In attacking Arabs at a mosque in Hebron, Goldstein further violated the sanctity of a city sacred to Jews and Muslims alike and desecrated a Muslim house of worship.

The biblical Book of Esther, read on Purim, culminates in a classic reversal of fortune. Haman, the mastermind of the decree to massacre the Jews, is hanged on the gallows he had built for the execution of Mordechai, the Jewish leader who succeeds him as royal vizier.

The day Haman had chosen for the massacre of the Jews became a day on which the Jews avenged themselves on their enemies.

But the Book of Esther is neither a prescription for action nor a historic record. It is, most Bible scholars agree, a fantasy or myth. It writes large the story of the oppression of the Jews and provides a simplistic solution in which evil is avenged on the guilty, and on some of the innocent, as well.

Only a fundamentalist would confuse Purim, a day of masquerade and fun, with a call for a massacre. In fact, the very way in which Purim is marked demonstrates that the opposite is true. There is a call for action at the end of the book and it is to observe the holiday as a day “of feasting and merry- making, and as an occasion for sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor.”

In accordance with that prescription, Purim has become a day of feasting and merry-making, of masquerades and tricks. Only a person with a distorted sense of morality could make the Book of Esther the pretext for murder.

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