When I was a kid in England, Purim was a holiday of masquerades and Hamantashen. And I remember one year my costume consisted of white Bristolboard (I was a pillar of salt, of course!) - but why the masquerade? Where did this tradition originate?

With this past Purim fresh in my mind, I turned to the Web for answers. A simple query via the Alta Vista search engine told me there were about 800 web pages I could explore on which I would find the word "Purim."

According to Ethiopian Jewry Halacha, Customs and Tradition, although rejoicing and drinking are mentioned in the Scroll of Esther, which is part of their Biblical canon, joyous activities are excluded from their celebration. But the "cahenat and elders [observe the] Fast of Esther for three days (eating only at night)."

Drinking? Is this a Purim mitzvah? How could I not know this! Rev. Geoffrey Shisler's Archives of the Rev, list three mitzvot: reading the Megillah, sending gifts of food to one another and giving charity to the poor.

But the Rev also tells us that because the Megillah mentions "feasts", it has become "customary to drink wine and other intoxicating drinks" and that some "say you should drink until you can't tell the difference between 'Blessed be Mordechai' and 'cursed be Haman!'"

So where did this curious juxtaposition of expressions originate? Calgary's Eliezer Segal tells us in Purim, Parody and Pilpul that it was the Jews of Babylonia who introduced the "more frivolous customs" - including the "encouragement of drunkenness!" The noted sage Rava evidently issued the dictum that "[a] man is obligated to get drunk on Purim to the point ..."

OK, so a man is obligated! And a woman? Well, it seems that we women are off the hook! I found the answer to this question in a discussion of Issues in Practical Halacha. Ladies, it seems that we are "obligated to hear the Megillah and to rejoice and partake of a festive meal ... for [we] were part of the miracle." But it has been "[ruled] that it is inappropriate for women to become intoxicated."

Although it does appear as though a man's obligation to drink to the point of being unable to distinguish between these two expressions would be met if he drank only to the point of falling asleep - because, once asleep, he would be unable to make the distinction!

Of course, my web research took me along some non-halachic paths as well! I decided to skip the Hamantashen recipes because I'm going to try the one Robin Leidner e-mailed me - and you can, too, if you like!

L.A. Johnson, got her recipe when unexpectedly asked to whip up some Hamentashen for a dinner party. An SOS e-mail to a Rabbi friend in New York resulted in a quick explanation of Purim, along with his recipe - and his mother's e-mail address if she had any questions!

Instead of repairing to her kitchen though, she dallied on the net. The ingredients she needed came via an on-line grocery store (which presumably makes "real-life" home deliveries!)

I took a few musical detours as well! Bill Averbach had sent me a note in January telling me about his Texas Klezmer group. One of their CD's has received international acclaim. A recent "re-release ... is selling like hotcakes or ... latkes." On Bill's web pages, you will find a sound-clip and all the words to Big Megillah. Klezmer with a different beat: you might call it "Klez-rap" music!

Hmmm ... maybe my next click will unmask the mystery of the masquerades!

*Hilary Ostrov is a Chartered Webaholic, who lives in New Westminster, BC. When not busy "surfing the net", she is a consultant and educator who offers Internet "driving lessons", hypertext authoring and design of World Wide Web "Home Pages", and computer-related training. She can be contacted via e-mail ( or telephone (604) 525-3055

Copyright © 1996 Hilary Ostrov

This article was submitted for publication and appeared in the The Western Jewish Bulletin, Vol. LXIII, No. 10


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