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    Purim – the night of Sots


    Making a noise when Haman’s name is read out is an old custom that goes back almost to Talmudic times. In some places, however, people did not just “beat” Haman but burnt him in the form of effigies. This custom was known in Egypt, Iraq, Provence, Italy and the Caucasus.

    From the Middle Ages onwards, wearing costumes and disguises has been a popular Purim custom. This may be because the hanging of Haman was brought about by the intervention of the chamberlain Harbonah, who, according to tradition, was Elijah in disguise.

    Literary disguise was also popular in many places ­ parodies of the Haggadah and even the Yom Kippur piyyutim. In the 14th century Kalonymos ben Kalonymos compiled a parody of the Mishnah and Gemara, called Massechet Purim L’Layl Shikkurim. The latter phrase is a play on the words Layl Shimmurim – “A Night of Watching” with which the Torah describes the Exodus (Ex. 12:42). Jacob Israelstam, an Anglo-Jewish writer, translated Kalonymos’ title as “The Tractate of Lots for the Night of Sots”.

    Everybody knows about Purim foods such as Hamantaschen (and all the arguments about whether to fill them with “mohn”, jam or nuts), but there was a piece de resistance in the home of the Rabbi of Amsterdam in 1778 ­ a model of a royal court with figures of Mordechai, Esther and Haman, all in sugar.

    Back to Jacob Israelstam, whose advice is,
    “If a Jew is in the dumps, the way to cure ‘im
    Is to get him to take part in the celebration of Purim”.

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