To dress up, or not to dress up? That is the question.
While studying the source of “dressing up on Purim” and along with some reasoning and deduction, I came to a conclusion as to how the custom came about. To begin, I will make this disclaimer: I do not want anyone to think I am 100% positive as to the accuracy of this theory, because no one can be completely sure how it started, since there aren’t any reliable sources focusing on this question. Please keep in mind, should one show where I have gone wrong, I am always ready and open to reasoning.
When trying to find the source for an idea that started in any culture or religion (without direct information) we do the following. We try to see what the people were doing at that time frame and then ask: Can it be fair to make a logical reason and note a correlation-link to that which we are trying to find its source?
As an example, should in 300 years from now, someone want to try and find the source-as to why we started a minhag to attend Pesach programs or go on vacation to Florida or Arizona during Pesach. This minhag is something that our generation was mikabel upon themselves, while just a mere 50 years ago, going back over 2,000 years, no one entertained the thought of this lovely idea. The person researching this, will pull the old yiddish newspapers and see at a minimum 30-40 programs to anywhere in the world (I personally am waiting for a program to Egypt! Imagine going back to where it all started!) the researcher would note the following: the wealth accumulation of our generation… The people going regularly to hotels and having their conventions there… A large status and ego to do the same or outdo others. Keeping in mind, Yidden were going to hotels long before in Europe, however, it was only in the summer months where every “somebody” showed up at the Baden (whatever you call it) including most Rosh Ha’yeshiva’s and every Rebbe that had a total of more than 10 chassidem. However, that was only once a year and no one had the smarts to think of the great idea to go away for Pesach. Here in America we have: mid-winter vacation, work vacation, summer vacation, any other time we can get away for some R&R. At one point, someone came up with the idea… let’s kill two birds with one stone! Merge vacation with Pesach, all the while advertising, “be a true gentleman and don’t let your wife make Pesach.” At first, this idea was only to exotic places targeting the super-rich, but only a little while later it filtered down to the “local hotel” with the idea of “stuffing everyone inside as outside is still cold,” or “everyone stuffing their mouths with everything possible,” including Pesachdikeh hot dogs and pizza, and at the same time, throwing in a little entertainment. There you go! Now we’ve got ourselves a minhag! A logical researcher will be able to make deductions and see how it all started, even without someone writing directly as to the origins of this noble “minhag America.”
We now do the same than as that period. We look at what was being done at that time and place to try and figure out how it came about, was transformed, or even how it filtered down to become a new idea or custom. To claim, as Rav Yosef Misash, a’h (a brilliant Posik and thinker in Israel in the 1900’s) reasons, we picked this idea up from the promiscuous Italian carnivals and claims it is “Assur min ha’Torah.” It is like saying we took Mardi-Gras or the Halloween parade in the village and made it our minhag.
Something just doesn’t add up! Would the leaders have allowed this? Would the Ari’zl, who claimed Purim is holier than Yom Kipper, not have objected to it, if it came from these carnivals? (It was done in Europe in his times) why didn’t we implement these fun ideas on Chanukah? It’s a similar story of rescue!?
Here is where I came to a reasoning of “most probably” and later found several thinkers and/or researchers having reached the same conclusion – Let’s look at the “Purim Shpeil” – this was a minhag or something that was done for hundreds of years. In the beginning it was done as a local event, where each town had its own Purim play, acted out by the local boys or men. A while later, it became more professional, with talented actors trying to make money off of it.
What we see and understand, as a way to maximize their potential profits, these groups of actors that produced these plays, performed them the entire week before Purim, first in the surrounding small villages and then on Purim Day itself, in the big city. What they did was like all plays do – advertise themselves! Just as the lion king today has a guy dressed-up as a lion running around Time Square, handing out flyers to drum up interest, so did these actors (with no other way of advertising in those days), each one dressed up in their character’s costumes and walked around all day, talking with local people and kids, maybe doing a bit of acting, building up an interest in their play. This got the curiosity of the locals and most naturally, the kids. Once it was established and common seeing people dressed-up in the street, somehow, somewhere, it led to (possibly as a way to imitate them, or kids wanted to act out their hero etc.) for others to wear a costume or mask. Was it the kids at first and then adults, or the opposite? We cannot be sure. One can reason, it probably began with the kids and then as that became the normal, it carried over to the adults.
To sum it all up, we look at what was being done at that time and see if it fits, flows, and follows through to this new idea or custom. As opposed to, should someone want to argue, because these days people are going to hotels, then that is why “motorcycle riding” became popular, that would be a far stretch. However, looking at that time period we have a perfect correlation- people were already dressing-up on Purim due to the “Purim Shpeil,” it just progressed to include everyone!
Taking it a step further, it seems strange, almost every Posik (except the Remah and his talmud) that strongly attacks or vilifies this minhag, they keep berating and talking about “dressing-up like the opposite sex.” How many actually dress-up that way??
However, this also fits into our narrative; most people were poor and could not afford to pay the local tailor for regular clothes, let alone making costumes. However, since the kids were begging to participate in the fun and dressing -up. Let’s ask ourselves: What was the easiest and cheapest costume to make? Bingo! There you go – dress the boys with their sisters’ clothing, blouse, dress, stockings and all, while the girls will wear their brothers’ clothing. Also, a great idea to an adult who could not afford a costume from “Rubio’s Costume shop.”
Let us keep up this idea of fun and parting. Our religion, is not too entertaining at other times, while and this has become a popular custom by Ach’ynu Bnie Yisroel, let us keep this in all its blazing glory. Dress-up, go house hopping, kids should CLOP Haman with all their fire power ( except in certain shuls in Forshay where people, nebach, don’t have the patience or nerves to allow them to), party all night, collect for a mosed, or be the one doing the giving, enjoy the day to its full extent.
Don’t we truly deserve it?