Known as a time for fun and frivolous behavior, Purim in recent years has also become an occasion for youth – especially religious youth – to drink to excess. No good can come from this, said Yossi Vardi, the head of the Ariel youth movement, and in a letter to the heads of other youth organizations in Israel, he appealed to the to lay down the law as emphatically as possible, and let their charges know that drunkenness is unacceptable.
The custom to drink on Purim is actually derived from Jewish sources, with the Talmud stating that an individual “must become intoxicated until he cannot tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman,” the respective hero and villain of the Purim story, as set out in the Scroll of Esther (megillah).
In Talmudic fashion, the meaning of the statement has been hotly debated, with “purists” saying that it refers to drinking alcohol, specifically wine. Others say that the meaning of the Aramaic word used is not at all clear, and that a person could fulfill the requirement of not being able to differentiate between Haman and Mordechai in many ways, such as by taking a nap for a few minutes on Purim.
Clearly holding the latter point of view, Vardi said that the issue was not only one of the debilitating effects of alcohol on the body, but also on the psyche – because many youths use Purim and the “commandment” to drink as a way to escape reality, something that could extend to the rest of the year.
“When we drink, we try to imagine ourselves as different people,” Vardi said. “It's like putting on a costume, another popular Purim custom. As long as the costume is external to us, there is no need to worry, but when that costume is internalized and we lose connection with reality, it is a big problem,” he added.
Another Purim custom that Vardi hopes to discourage with his letter was the use of firecrackers on Purim. This, too, is based on Jewish tradition, but tradition “gone wild,” said Vardi. During the reading of the Scroll of Esther on Purim, it is customary to make noise when the name of Haman is mentioned, the idea being to “erase” the name of an arch-anti Semite. Firecrackers make a lot more noise than the traditional gregger or grogger - the toy that is traditionally used to make noise during the reading - so kids and teens seeking to stand out gravitate to them, and use them outside of the reading as well.
The problem with firecrackers, of course, said Vardi – besides the fact that they are illegal – is that they are dangerous. “Every year we unfortunately hear about children who are hurt by firecrackers, sometimes seriously,” Vardi said. “As educators, we are responsible for the safety of thousands of children, and we must ban the use of these dangerous items,” he added.