My Purim Rabbi’s Hat

I liked the Rabbi’s hat I put on when Parashat Mishpatim needed a commentary that my Rabbis were about to miss. Now, when Purim is about to descend upon us, I feel compelled to put on my Rabbi’s hat again.

Throughout my upbringing — and I am sure it has been the same for you — Purim meant fun, parties, clowns, masks and noise makers (groggers), a sort of Jewish Halloween, save for the costumes being less scary and a bit more civilized.

In the past few years, however, I have come to see a profoundly personal meaning in the story of Purim, especially in this powerful message that Mordecai sends to Queen Esther: “Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the King’s palace” says Mordecai. “For, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.”

It has been several years now that this breathtaking message of Mordecai, not the Purim parties, has come to my mind whenever the story of Purim is narrated. So much so, that I began chanting it to myself whenever I had to utter words or take action that involved risking career opportunities or social acceptance. Personally, I have drawn tremendous courage from the fantasy that some 2,600 years ago, a wise Jew experienced a similar predicament and concluded that the decision was not entirely theirs: “Who knows, perhaps you were destined for this very moment.”

More recently, since the rise of academic McCarthism, I have started using Mordecai’s words on friends and colleagues who remain silent upon seeing their students intimidated by BDS cronies or seeing their junior colleagues “cancelled” or interrogated by various vice-squads.

Mordecai’s words resonate in my ears when I explain to colleagues: “We owe our academic stature to many who spoke out in such crises before. It’s now time for us to pay back our debt to the community by making our voices heard, despite the risks involved, or we’ll all perish.”

It’s now time for us to pay back our debt to the community by making our voices heard, despite the risks involved, or we’ll all perish.

I remind my academic friends that only 60 years ago, Ivy League universities had quotas on Jewish enrollment, and that these quotas were lifted by hard-working members of the Jewish community, many of them volunteers, who wrote letters, petitioned lawmakers and pressured university administrators to make admission equitable to all. Those volunteers expected our voices to be heard in the protection of their great-grandchildren on college campuses, currently facing the worst crisis since the days of quotas.

And it goes way beyond academia — be it business, arts, writing or the law, we owe part of our professional success to community support, and such support comes with expectation and responsibilities. We are expected to make our voices heard in support of those who are more vulnerable to the storm.

And when we hesitate, let us remember Mordecai’s words: “And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.”


Judea Pearl is a UCLA professor and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (www.danielpearl.org), named after his son. He and his wife, Ruth, are editors of “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” (Jewish Light, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

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