The Purim Shpil

The name of this set of festive and often parodic popular events is composed of two words: one in Hebrew, “Purim”, which denotes the spring holiday from which the events arose, and the other one in Yiddish, “shpil”, which means “game, (theater) play”. This centuries-old Jewish carnival tradition aims at reenacting, often humorously and with ironic allusions to the life of the communities in which it takes place, the founding event of this holiday which is described in the Old Testament Book of Esther. It has all the components of a good popular drama full of suspense and dramatic turns of events: desire, love, jealousy, betrayal… as well as the delicate balance between the political and personal lives of world leaders and their impact on people, oppression and liberation. All’s well that ends well, whence this uninhibited festival which provides a real sense of relief.

It might seem strange to use the word “carnival”, a term which denotes the period preceding the Lent, to describe this tradition. But the Purim shpil and the Carnival share not only a sense of mockery and satirical challenge to authority and traditional social values, but also their close proximity in the calendar year: Purim is one month prior to the first day of Passover (in 2014 it fell on March 16), Mardi Gras six weeks prior to Easter (in 2014 it was on March 4).

The texts of this section are speeches which were delivered at the presentation of the Purim Shpil UNESCO project at the Paris City Hall, on December 12, 2013.