Purim is, for me, a very special holiday. It was the first one I'd ever observed in more than a perfunctory fashion - I'd met jonbaker the previous November, and he'd given me a tin menorah and a tape but I was too embarrassed to light candles in front of my parents, so I didn't. But by March, I was ready to try something especially a holiday that had no special restrictions, and which included a big lunch with a bunch of friends and a walk through my old neighborhood.
This year officially began in synagogue. After I got home from work yesterday, I put leftover stew in the oven (after sprinkling the top with dried cherries and pine nuts) and changed into my costume. There is no religious significance to costumes. They're just *fun*. I wore my bodice dress and chemise combination, with a brown lined net snood that matched perfectly. I was going to paint my face green like Fiona from Shrek but decided against it. If I didn't do a perfect job, I'd look awful, and it might get on my dress. So. I went as a Scadian - clothing that *looks* medieval but really isn't. As the sleeves were plain muslin and it was getting a bit chilly, I also wore my green cape - the red one would have been too heavy. Notice that the costume was things out of my own closet that I'd wear on other occasions.
I picked up my Megillah - in this case, a tall and thin leather bound book, with about 32 pages, printed in a large and elegant Hebrew font that resembles STAM, the calligraphy used in writing religious scrolls. It's beautiful. My husband got it for me last year, and everyone who sees it is duly impressed.
A "Megillah" is the Biblical book of Esther. During services it is read from a scroll written according to all the laws of scroll writing - the proper parchment, ink and calligraphy, although Megillah scrolls can be illuminated, unlike Torah scrolls, or the tiny ones used for mezuzot and phylactories. It is permissible for someone listening to the Megillah to follow along using a book, as I did or even to use a translation as they follow, but the person (and I'm using "person" as opposed to "man" on purpose here) reading must use a kosher scroll and chant it in Hebrew or, according to Orthodox rules, neither the reader nor the congregation have fulfilled the requirement of hearing the scroll read. Many men, Jonathan included, use an actual scroll to follow the reading. Jonathan's been talking about getting me *my* own. Megillah scrolls cost upwards of $500. Women very rarely, if ever, use them.
But. They can. I know of several groups that have women's megillah readings, where the reader and the congregation are all female. This is permissible because men and women have equal obligation to read/hear the Megillah, and therefore a woman can chant to women. It's even possible she could do it for men, but there are modesty issues. Among other issues.
My own opinion? On the one hand, I would *love* my own scroll. It would be *wonderful*. On the other, it would be very ostentatious, especially here in America where no one uses the paper scrolls I saw in Israel when I was there the first time. And it is very expensive. So. We're talking.
And I wholeheartedly approve of women's megillah readings, although I've only been to the one.
The reading went very well. The reader was clear and read at a reasonable speed, and I was able to follow until the very end, when I started to get tired. I was not the only one in costume, and people seemed to think I looked pretty in my outfit. The break fast (we fast on the day before Purim because Esther did. I don't fast because I fast badly and I was working that day.) was hamentashen (three cornered filled cookies, traditional on Purim) and orange juice, and we got our basket of synagogue mishloach manot.
Mishloach manot is the requirement that one give one gift of two ready-to-eat foods to a friend. This is a primary mitzvah of the day. The others are to hear the Megillah read twice - once in the evening and once during the day, to give charity and to have a festive meal during the day. Customs are to drink heavily and to give "a shekel and a half" to the synagogue as symbolic of the donation all were required to give before Passover. This is done by using three silver halfdollars. One "buys" them with $1.50, picks them up and puts them down, although it's not uncommon to donate more. I certainly did.
Many synagogues use mishloach manot as a means of fund raising - you submit a list of synagogue members, and pay $5 a head, with some discounts for quantity, and in return everyone gets *one* basket of goodies and a sheet of paper with the names of those who paid to...have their names on the sheet of paper. We gave to twenty people that way. 18 people did the same for us. It's possible to have reciprocity, but we chose not to do so. There is a question if this actually counts towards the mitzvah, and we did *not* count it as such, but it did simpify things, and it was good to give money to the shul.
This year, the sugar laden goodies were in a lovely basket suitable for holding mail. As we couldn't eat the goodies, we were pleased with the basket.
We came home, I got back into 21st Century clothing and we ate dinner. Eventually, we made up four bags of fruit, nuts and cookies to give away, and then went to sleep, because we had to be in synagogue at 8AM.
Except we got there at 8:25, which was when they were scheduled to reread the Megillah. Nope. Still working on the service. This was fine; we both caught up and our friend Noach, his baby daughter carried on his chest, read very well, and very quickly. Even so, I was a couple of minutes late for work. I put a large bag of goodies that I'd thrown together for my office (including the stuff we couldn't eat from the shul stuff - everyone recycles goodies) onto an empty desk and that was that.
I did leave work an hour later so we could have the festive meal - in this case, Chinese, plus we got a bottle of wine, and drank about half. Then we came home at about 7PM.
Or, rather, I did. He decided to call on friends. He's still there. :) I just hope Dovid isn't getting him drunk.