Purim in a post-10/7 world


Right after 10/7, public intellectual Micha Goodman wrote, “We weren’t attacked by a local militia. We were attacked by the Persian Empire. We were attacked by Iran.” Sound familiar? Maybe eerily like the Purim story? This week, Mijal and Noam reflect on Purim and ask, how are we thinking about the holiday differently in the post-10/7 world?

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Noam: Hey everyone, welcome to Wondering Jews with Mijal and Noam.

Mijal: I’m Mijal.

Noam: And I’m Noam and this podcast is our way of trying to understand the Jewish world. We don’t have it all figured out. So let’s try to figure this thing out together.

Mijal: Our absolute favorite part is hearing from you. So please email us at And we’re actually gonna open with a listener question as always, we’re getting really good ones. Please keep them coming. And the following one, Noam, could totally be an entire whole episode.

Noam: I’m excited.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Mijal: Jack asks us, Mijal, what is your favorite aspect about the Ashkenaz tradition? Noam, what is your favorite aspect of the Sephardic tradition?

Noam: Okay, I’m gonna be serious here, because obviously my answer can’t be my palate, which is already Sephardic. That’s already who I am. Having said that, the aspect of the Sephardic tradition that I think is absolutely missing from the Ashkenazi tradition is something that the great Meir Buzaglo said, you know him much better than I do. I just read his works. You probably know him personally. 

Mijal: He whatsapped me this morning.

Noam: Okay, so there you go. So tell everyone who Meir Buzaglo is.

Mijal: Meir Buzaglo is a wonderful public intellectual in Israel, a professor at Hebrew University and one of the main thought leaders when it comes to Sephardic and Mizrahi Judaism and traditionalism. He also started something called Tikun, which is a big organization in Israel that tries to bring back a tradition of Jews from the Arab world into Israeli society.

Noam: Okay, so we could really have a whole separate episode on this. So I’m just going to tell you what my favorite thing is, and it comes from language from Buzaglo. The language is that Ashkenazim, certainly in the religious way of thinking, tend to view their religion as something that is one of obedience, that I have to obey this group of laws. Now, obviously, there’s a lot more to Ashkenazic tradition than that. But Buzaglo says that whereas Ashkenazim have a relationship to Judaism that is one of obedience, Sephardim have a relationship to Judaism that is one of what he calls faithfulness, or what I’ll call loyalty.

And obviously, we should not paint anyone, any group of people with a wide brush. I’m sure there are Sephardic Jews who look at their Judaism in an obedient sort of way and Ashkenazi Jews who look at their relationship in much more of a faithfulness sort of way. But that is broadly speaking a distinction that I’ve seen. And I think it’s really something I’d love to incorporate more into my life.

Mijal: Yeah, we should talk about this more. But I guess for me, when I think about Ashkenazi tradition, well, there’s some songs on Shabbat that I love, that I just really love and touch me in a strong way.

Noam: Do you wanna do karaoke?

Mijal: No, I’m not singing, I’m not singing. No, thanks, Noam.

Noam: No, okay, all right, just checking. I was just asking for a friend, sorry, okay.

Mijal: I’m good. I think I have like, you know the term like holy envy. 

Noam: Yeah.

Mijal: I think I have holy envy about how Ashkenazi Jews–

Noam: I lied, I lied, I lied, I lied. I have no idea what that term means.

Mijal: It’s envy, but like in a good way. It’s like, wow, like that’s amazing. I wish we could be as good in that way. It’s like in positive ways. I think that Ashkenazi tradition was able to create like a way of preserving texts and history in a way that Sephardic world didn’t do it. But we can talk about that at a different time.

Noam: So this sounds like a whole other episode. That’s interesting.

Mijal: Yeah. Okay Noam, so what are we talking about today besides first of Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions and gist?

Noam: Hmm. I think we should talk about the holiday that’s coming up this week. Purim. This year feels very different. You know, we’re going to do the whole, you know, the ma nishtana from Passover. Like what’s different about Passover? That line ma nishtana, what is different? It feels very applicable to Purim this year.

Mijal: How is this Purim different than every other?

Noam: How is this Purim different than every other Purim? So first of all, Mijal, just talk to me about the story of Purim.

Mijal: So the story of Purim. I’m going to describe it in the way that traditional Jews have told the story of Purim. It takes place in the period of exile between the destruction of the first temple and the second temple. And it’s when Jews are a small minority in the  sprawling Persian Empire. And basically we have a king, Ahasuerus. And he ends up having a second in command, like a sort of vizier, Haman, who has a personal grudge against the Jew Mordechai

Noam: Boooo.

Mijal: Thank you. And Haman basically convinces Ahasuerus to let him kill every single Jew in his kingdom. And then the story continues. Before that, Mordecai’s niece Esther is actually queen in the palace. No one knows that she’s Jewish. And she essentially ends up, together with Mordecai, deciding to intervene to save her people. She convinces the king, saves the Jewish people.

Noam: Everything you’ve said so far sounds to me like a story that is straight out of Hollywood. A group of people are meant to be killed by a Persian king who is manipulated by his top advisor, and a heroine comes in to save the day and make sure that her people don’t just survive but thrive. And it is through the handiwork of her relative, in this case, Mordecai, who makes all of this happen, and that behind the scenes, the author is making sure that we see that strings are being pulled to make sure that all of this does take place.

Mijal: Okay, so I’ll be, I’m giving myself permission to be dark here. I think that reading the story of Purim in 2024, it’s like you read this and you’re like, oh my gosh, there was this potential genocidal decree against the Jews and through all of these things they were saved. And we are celebrating, but we are celebrating knowing that there were many other times in Jewish history when that salvation didn’t come in that way. So it’s almost like reading Purim after the Holocaust, right? And the darkness is actually living in a world where Purim could happen. How is this something normal? How are we okay with living in a world where a single man can decide we’re gonna kill and slaughter and murder everybody. It’s almost like I want to engage in denial. Like this shouldn’t happen. This is not OK. Like, I hate this. That’s where the darkness of pouring for me, like really comes in and can be challenging.

Noam: Does it matter to you whether or not the story of Purim historically happened or did not happen?

Mijal: You know, you mentioned Buzaglo before. I’ll quote Buzaglo again. To me, it’s not even like a relevant question. I’ve inherited this story as part of my family’s tradition.

Noam: Right. Meaning, this is our memory. This is our story.

Mijal: Yeah, yeah, this is it. So do you find it dark at all or it’s only light for you?

Noam: I find it’s such a heavy holiday. I’m thinking about how the many rabbis have said about Purim that it is Yom Kippurim, the day of Yom Kippur, which is considered. It’s considered the most sacred day in the calendar. It’s a play on words, but it’s a day that is like this holy day of Yom Kippur is like Purim. Meaning that Purim’s essence is the highest of the high and it’s therefore very, very heavy.

And so Purim to me is this holiday in which we can celebrate a lot of different aspects. Aspect number one is as a Jew that lives outside of Israel, what does it mean to be part of society, be in the diaspora, and be part of civic society around us?

It also means that we wear costumes on Purim. And what I think about when we wear costumes is what does the costume represent? Is the costume that we choose to wear who we really are? Is it secondary to who we are? Are we often hiding ourselves in general? And on Purim, we bring ourselves out there. There is a tradition also to drink on Purim, to drink alcohol on Purim, if you’re over the age of 21. The idea is that when you drink something, wine, the Talmud says, secrets emerge. The line in Hebrew is, k’she’nichnas yayin, yatza sod. When wine comes in, who you really are comes out. And so therefore there’s so much going on with the story of Purim that I just laid out that. It is such a heavy and intense holiday.

And it’s a lot of singing. It’s a lot of dancing. It’s a lot of people coming together. And there’s so many things I could say about Purim that are so beautiful. But I want to pause on those things. That’s what I mean by the heaviness of it. Everything I just said right now is intense. It’s very intense. 

But I want to get to something that’s even more intense with why this year Purim does feel different. On Purim, the whole story is about this Persian king who is manipulated to wipe out the Jews. And I want to read you a quote from, I think it was Micha Goodman, an incredible public intellectual, who on October 12th, right, just a few days after 10/7, wrote the following. “We weren’t attacked by a local militia. We were attacked by the Persian Empire. We were attacked by Iran.” Wow. That feels like a story that is reminiscent of the story of Purim.

Mijal: Right. So, first of all, Noam, let me just respond to something about what you said about the intensity of faith and the customs and the hiding and then go back to Goodman. I think what’s complicated and intense about Purim is that the meaning is not clear. It’s kind of like what you were saying. Things are hiding.

Noam: Right, okay.

Mijal: And the first thing that you put here when it comes to 10/7 is you’re saying there’s something really compelling or provocative about the fact that we are right now, in a sense, in a civilizational battle against the Persian Empire, against Iran. And that’s at the heart of the story of Purim.

Noam: I think that’s a big part of it.

Mijal: I would say, yeah, I’m thinking a lot about what it means to be a minority, right? I think there’s something here in which the Jewish people are spread out and they are completely vulnerable at the mercy of the rulers that rule amongst them. That’s one layer I’m thinking about.

I’m thinking a lot about the place of politics because interestingly, the way that the Jewish people beat Haman is not so much with military might, like at the beginning of the story, but it’s through political maneuvering. So it almost gives us a prototype about what it means to survive as a vulnerable minority in the diaspora, right? You’re not necessarily picking up arms. You are trying to seduce and convince the king, the ruler to protect you.

I think the story of Purim brings up huge questions about the nature of Jew hatred and antisemitism. Why is it that Haman has a grudge against one person and decides just to go ahead and destroy the entire people? Yeah, all of those questions and more come up here.

Noam: Right. So in some ways, there’s an existential question about the antisemitism that exists. And we made a connection between the story of the Persian Empire from 2500 years ago and the Persian Empire funding Hezbollah and Hamas and the Houthis and all of the people who are trying to hurt the Jewish people. And there’s also another connection that is very, very dark, but the connection of Amalek.

And Amalek, just to explain, is considered the forever enemy of the Jewish people, the enemy of the Jewish people that would hurt the Jewish people when they’re at their most vulnerable. I just came across though, from a friend of mine, a friend of mine named Lisa Baratz actually sent me this idea from a midrash. And a midrash is a rabbinical exegetical commentary, interpretation.

This specific midrash is from what’s called Midrash Tanaim, which is from anywhere from 70 to 500 of the common era. Now Amalek in the story of Purim comes up because Haman is considered a Descendant of Amalek. You get it? So Amalek is this group of people who has this big initiative to hurt the Jewish people when they’re at their most vulnerable. Haman in the story of Purim is considered Amalek as part of one tradition. And now listen to this, okay? You know what Amalek did according to Midrash Taneim from 1,500 plus years ago. What Amalek did was, that Amalek made tunnels on their way in order to kill the Jewish people. I’m sorry for laughing, but that is wild to read something like that. I don’t, I’m not, I’m not one of those like, oh, it just, I never saw that.

Mijal: What’s that? You’re not one of those with what?

Noam: I don’t know what to do with that. I wouldn’t write my PhD thesis on this, right, I’m not saying anything scientific here. So all those haters out there relax, take a deep breath, but it is interesting to read that I think.

Mijal: It’s peculiar.

Noam: It’s peculiar.

Mijal: It’s interesting. It’s bizarre. Yeah. Can I tell you though something, Noam? So I feel like this year I am split between my shock and horror at this Amalek-like behavior that you just described in the Megillah, in the Scroll of Esther, because you have this – like the Midrash you just read, it’s basically just describing this terrible evil. Like they make a tunnel. They go after the most vulnerable. But I feel like I’m split this year between my horror at Haman and Amalek and my horror at the like silent majority that allows it to happen.

Noam: Yeah.

Mijal: Basically like, how much do we worry about the hatred of small groups versus how much do we remind ourselves constantly, this is not everybody, most people are good, most people are not trying to do this. And then you can have like one diabolical person and maybe like a small group of supporters that can basically, if they are allowed to do bad things by that broader majority, then terrible evil can happen.

Noam: Yeah.

Mijal: So I’m both thinking about the role of this Amalek-like kind of hatred. And also what does it mean that you have 127 provinces and an entire empire that allows someone like Haman to do it?

Noam: Yeah, yeah.

Mijal: It is obscene. That’s almost like what’s so bad about it. It’s not just the evil of Amalek, let’s say like the Nazis or Haman. It’s about all of the people that allow for that to happen.

Noam: Absolutely. So what do you see, Mijal, because what you and I have been describing so far feels very national. It feels like very collective. It feels very big. What do you see as the antidote to this desire to end the Jewish people. What is the antidote?

Mijal: Yeah, so I mean, I’ve been thinking about, it’s almost like I’ve allowed myself to lean into the darkness of like one evil man can do terrible, terrible things. And then the antidote is yes, one evil man can destroy, can bring an almost genocide.

Noam: Yeah.

Mijal: but one good woman can stop it, right?

Noam: Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. That’s good. Yeah.

Mijal: That’s the story. I think this is everybody’s favorite part in the Megillah, right, in which Esther’s in the palace, right? Nobody knows she’s Jewish. Mordecai has to let her know about this almost genocide.

So Mordechai communicates with her and the first thing Mordechai tells her is what Haman wants to do, what a man wants to do. And then Mordechai intervenes with her and asks her to act. And Esther has a very rational response, right? She says, I’m going to say it in my own words, but she says like, this king is a wife killer.

Okay, arguably, he already killed one queen. He’s not somebody who’s known to forgive mistakes. And there’s a rule, if I haven’t been called by the king in the last 30 days, I can’t just choose to go to him. He has to call me. And if I just go to him, there are rules and he could very easily kill me. Unless by some grace he decides to pick up his, give me all the English here, Noam, shavit?

Noam: Scepter.

Mijal: Thank you, scepter. And then almost like grant me grace and grant me life. So that’s Esther’s response. And she is giving a rational response. I think she’s speaking of somebody who’s being acted upon. She doesn’t have agency. She’s a little bit helpless. Like she’s just like one player in this chess game that somebody else is moving and she has a very limited room in terms of what she’s allowed to do, right? And then we have the famous, famous exchange what Mordechai tells her. 

Noam: You’re gonna say my favorite biblical verse of all time.

Mijal: Noam, I think it’s like half the people I know favorite biblical verse.

Noam: But, okay, but do they all have this shirt that says Esther 4:14?

Mijal: What are you… Okay, so that’s very cool. That’s very cool, Noam.

Noam: This is a shirt that says Esther 4:14, and in the back of it, that my wife made this for me, shout out to Raizie, step up, step up. So yeah, great, so yeah, by the way, okay, exactly.

Mijal: That’s very nice. Raizie, can you get me a shirt like this? If you’re listening. I like it more than the Curb Your Antisemitism sweatshirt.

Noam: I walk around with this shirts–listen, people have shirts that say Luke 3:16. So I have Esther 4:14. So I’m happy that it’s a very popular verse, Mijal, and I know that you’re not trying to totally take the air out from me, but yeah, I got the shirt, Esther 4:14, so there you have it.

Mijal: Noam, read the verse. Go ahead, read the verse.

Noam: For if you altogether hold your peace at this time, then relief and deliverance will arise to the Jews from another place. But you and your father’s house will perish, and who knows whether you will not come to the royal estate for such a time as this.

Noam: And you and your father will work. And who knows if such a time will come. Boom. Mic drop.

Mijal: Right. But, let’s say what we mean by mic drop. Okay. Noam, I’m reading this pasuk differently this year than other years. So give me your plain reading about what did, in your own words, what did Mordecai just tell us there right now?

Noam: What he told Esther is that you have a task and you have, I’ll use modern parlance, you have privilege. And because you have privilege, you have a responsibility. And the reality is whether or not you choose to take on this responsibility and hold yourself accountable, the Jewish people will existentially always exist and will always be okay. You could choose whether or not you wanna be part of the story or not part of the story.

I’m giving you the opportunity and you being in this seat right now gives you the responsibility and the accountability to do something that nobody else thinks that they could do. Esther, are you going to take this opportunity or not?

Mijal: Right. And the opportunity is to be the savior. Right.

Noam: The opportunity, Mijal, is to potentially sacrifice yourself. And she says that she says if I perish, I perish. That is possible. Her response is brilliant, by the way. I should have a shirt that says 4:16, not 4:14, because her response is just unbelievable. Because her response is everything. Many people are asked to step up. She says, I am willing to lose something, to sacrifice for something in order to do the right thing. And that’s why I think it’s remarkable.

Mijal: Okay, so yeah, well, let me say something first before we go to Esther’s response. I’ll tell you how I’m reading Mordecai this year, a little bit different than other years. So everything you said I agree with, I’m just adding a layer to it. I think part of what Mordecai is telling her right now and part of what we need to do post 10/7 is, I don’t mean to sound like cliche and whatever, but he’s almost asking her to transform into a different person. He’s inviting her to reimagine the way that she looks at the world. First thing he’s asking her, Noam, and this is so critical after 10/7, and for Jewish history, the first thing is, do you believe that revah v’hatzalah can come?

Do you believe that we can beat Haman? Do you believe that right? So it’s But he’s telling her the first thing is telling her it’s going to come you need to believe that is almost like a tool That is a weapon to believe that revah v’hatzalah will come is not something simple The easiest thing in the world is to raise up her arms say they are too many. They are too strong. We are too small this kind of change. So that’s the first thing and that’s that is so powerful and it is so radical and we underestimate what that means.

Noam: Right, right. Love it.

Mijal: Okay, the second transformation. I really think what he’s telling her when it says, who knows if for this reason you achieved greatness, you got this crown, you became this queen. I literally think he’s inviting her to actually see herself as this warrior queen who has agency. Like, until now she’s like this queen who is acted upon, right? Who has to submit.

Noam: Passive, she’s passive.

Mijal: She’s passive. She’s a pawn. She has very limited options as to where she can move. He’s telling her, it’s not only that you have the privilege to save your people, you can save your people. That is a radical form of self transformation.

Noam: Yep. I agree. I agree. 

Mijal: That means that we get to wake up and we say, I believe that salvation can come. And I believe that I can be part of this salvation. That is not a small thing. That is the antidote to Haman. Basically.

Noam: Yep, I love it. So one antidote to Haman is?

Mijal: One antidote to Haman is to believe that Haman can fall and to believe that I, myself, have the power to help bring his fall. That’s huge. 

Noam: Love it. What’s number two?

Mijal: Okay, number two. So we, we’ve spoken mostly about the theme, we spoke about customs, but we haven’t spoken about the commandments, the mitzvot, that are tied to the observance of Purim. And there’s basically four of them and they are instituted in the scroll of Esther itself at the end.

Noam: Okay, say the four.

Mijal: Okay, so I’m not saying them in the order they are written, but four of them are to read the scroll of Esther together as a community, okay, Megillah reading.

Noam: That’s one.

Mijal: The second one is to give matanot le’avionim, this is gifts to those who are in need, right? So anybody who’s needy, vulnerable, we give them gifts. We make sure they’re included as part of the celebration of the day.

The third one is mishloach manot. Mishloach manot is gifts of food that we give to our friends and relatives and community members.

And the last one is mishteh b’simcha, is actually like to have a celebratory meal.

Noam: A seudah. A big meal.

Mijal: Sort of a meal together. What’s fascinating and interesting about this is after they destroy Haman, they are instituted and you might even say, this is weird, why are this for the practices of Purim in light of this story? But they actually contain a message.

Noam: Yes.

Mijal:  Each and every one of this, each and every one of this is actually supposed to strengthen the bonds of Jewish peoplehood. Okay. All of them, all of them.

Noam: Yep, that’s it. Yeah, same page, same page. Yes.

Mijal: We are on the same page. Yeah. It’s about getting the Jewish people on the same page. Okay. It’s about saying you’re reading a shared story together.

Noam: Right. Well, there’s a line. The line, the antidote, what you’re saying, the antidote to Haman’s decree is knos kol ha-yehudim, is gather everyone together. That’s the antidote. Bring people together. And then how do you do that? Through these four different methods.

Mijal: And at the beginning, by the way, Haman, when he’s talking to Achashverosh, he says there’s this people who are completely dispersed, right? All amongst the nations and they are vulnerable.

Noam: Yeah, yeah.

Mijal: Yes. Yeah. And we can see a hint there about the weakness of the Jewish people, which is when we are not just dispersed, when we are divided. And we can see here, it’s almost like Esther and Mordechai say, we’re going to give you a recipe for strength, for potency, for resilience, which is, strengthen the bonds between all of you.

Noam, are you celebrating Purim differently this year? Not just in terms of the themes, but are you doing anything different?

Noam: I don’t think it’s going to be different in terms of kind, but different in terms of degree. I just think that, you know, every one of those four methods should be elevated this year. The way we treat our local communities through giving food and bringing joy to people through Matanot L’evyonim of bringing gifts to people who are less fortunate, strengthening the bonds there, of having a festive meal. I’m going to go harder in terms of that without a doubt. And in terms of reading the Megillah, of reading the story of Esther, of reading the story of Esther once at night and once in the morning and bringing everyone together, bringing everyone together, I think it’s going to be just elevated. That’s how I’m going to do it differently.

Mijal: Yeah, I think the main thing that I’m doing a little bit differently is, I think sometimes I get a little bit, you know, over the top, like Mishloach Manot, like sometimes people go a little bit like over the top–

Noam: Yeah, right, yeah, yeah. The term is extra. People are extra about mishloach manot. People should be extra about matanot l’evyonim, by the way. Yeah.

Mijal: That’s what I’m saying. So this year I’m actually, so, so I’m going to do like, I’m going to simplify my mishloach manot, uh, like fulfill the commandment, which is to send, you know, a couple of like food items to some people, um, in my neighborhood. Um, but then I’m going to like, you know, double down.

Noam: I wanna know, by the way, I wanna know who gets the Mijal Bitton mishloach manot, who these few people are.

Mijal: Well, it’s not going to be you, Noam, I’m just kidding. I’ll send you one. No, but actually I’m going to double down on matanot l’evyonim in Israel. Like send more money to Israel, send more money for Mishloach Manot in Israel.

Noam: Any suggestions? Any suggestions for people listening?

Mijal: There’s a million organizations, and I’ll give you one example. There’s an organization that my brother runs, Mishpacha l’Mishpacha.

Noam: Family to family.

Mijal: It’s like, it’s almost, yeah, it’s connecting American families to Israeli families and helping them form a relationship.

Noam: Oh my. Beautiful.

Mijal: And I’m literally like, I’m creating cards. There’s cards that you can get that say like, in lieu of a mishloach manot, I’ve given a donation in your honor to give a mishloach manot in Israel. So I think there’s ways to increase bonds here, while also remembering that our brothers and sisters in Israel are still at war. And that, I think, should demand a reconsideration of how we’re celebrating Purim this year.

Noam: Let’s do it. Let’s double down. We’re gonna put that in the show notes and everyone should make sure to have an incredibly meaningful Purim. If you’re Jewish and if you’re not Jewish, go to a party, check it out, umm, read the story of Esther. It’s all there. It’s all awesome. Mijal, I hope you have a meaningful Purim.

Mijal: Thank you, Noam, you as well. Talk to you soon.

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