Purim is called the “Jewish Halloween”. But that’s not quite right — it’s a lot more like Mardi Gras. The topsy turvy, costumed revelry celebrating religious victory is a lead up to Passover, a more austere holiday.
The key mitzvah is hearing the megillah, the reading of the Book of Esther, read aloud. We use groggers or other noisemakers to blot out of the name “Hamen”, the villain of the Purim story.
There is also mitzvah to drink on Purim, though it’s becoming more and more discouraged as our culture moves away from overconsumption of alcohol.
Did the Exodus actually happen? I appreciate Professor Richard Elliott Friedman’s take on this. I’ve been in his lectures on this topic a few times — I think his scholarship bears weight.
The Passover seder should be understood like religious/political dinner theater. The rituals like leaning on one’s side (or in a chair), eating the karpas and afikomen, are all nods at foreign imperialism. Makes the seder a bit more powerful now, isn’t it?
We should also focus each element of the seder on our personalities. What parts of us are in bondage hoping for freedom? What parts of us are wise, wicked, simple and unknowing? As we process through the seder, we process our spirits.
Let’s have some fun by focusing on how to host and participate in the Passover seder. Seder, by the way, means “order” — as we find an order for the ritual in our haggadah, the telling of the Passover story.
Most Progressive Jews tend to “sit out” Tisha B’Av. Here’s why:
The ninth day of Av [Tisha B’Av] commemorates the destruction of the two Temples and the Bar Kochba revolt that ultimately led to the end of Jewish self determination in this ancient land for close to 2000 years. It also marks the start of the First Crusade in 1096 where 10,000 Jews were killed in the first month with many Jewish communities being destroyed in France and the Rhineland; the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 and Spain in 1492; the beginning of mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, en route to Treblinka in 1942; and the AMIA bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed killed 85 people in 1994.https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/why-secular-jews-need-to-reclaim-tisha-bav/
Tisha B’Av is traditionally a day of mourning and fasting that commemorates major calamities over the course of Jewish history, such as the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem and the expulsion of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, among others. Traditional observance of Tisha B’Av focuses on fasting, prayer, and refraining from the activities prohibited on days of mourning.https://shj.org/living-humanistic-judaism/celebrate-holidays/tisha-bav/
The fast of Tisha B’Av lasts for around 25 hours, beginning during the evening before the Ninth (or Tenth) of Av. It is similar to Yom Kippur in the level of austerity required for observant Jews. The final meal before the fast commences often includes an egg or bread dipped in ashes and is eaten whilst seated on the floor. During the fast, eating, drinking, washing, wearing leather and sexual relations are all prohibited. Torah study, which is considered a spiritual joy, is also forbidden except for certain mournful texts. During services in the synagogue, ‘kinnot’ (sad poems) and passages from the Books of Lamentations are usually read. Even once the fast is ended, meat and wine are not consumed until the following morning, in acknowledgement that the Temple continued to burn throughout the night. Only on the following day is the sadness that started with Shiva Asar B’Tammuz finally over, and a more joyful season leading up to Rosh Hashanah begins.http://www.understandingtheology.org/2018/07/tisha-bav-commemorating-tragedy/
If you don’t believe that the Temple needs to be restored in our lifetime, then why observe the holiday? Many communities have transformed the holiday in to a time of reflecting on tragedy (especially the history of the Jewish people and current events) and taking time for a “good cry.”
Jewish Valentine’s Day!
Tu B’Av is another holiday that Progressive Jews (perhaps Jews in the Diaspora in general) tend to not get too involved in. This is sad — it’s a holiday of love, for goodness sakes.
Rabbi Wikipedia does a great job of explaining all this.
And here’s a little Hebrew learning and Israeli immersion for ya.