I think that I won’t be surprising any Jewish readers when I say that Purim is one of the queerest Jewish holidays. From the story of Purim and Esther that includes many parallels to queer coming out stories, to the 16th century text of Rabbi Moses Isserles of Krakow proactively supporting crossdressing on Purim “for the sake of happinesswp_posts— and hence, same applies year round — to the many online guides to create queer Purim pastries, this holiday is Very Queer! After all, Purim is a holiday when we are commanded to do all we can to be happy, to show that happiness, and to share that with others; how is that not just a giant Pride parade?!
So, as an out and proud queer, poly demisexual, rabbi of trans experience, let me share some ideas of how we can use rituals to celebrate our queerness on Purim, looking at traditions from the past to create queer traditions of the future. I will share just a few, and as Rabbi Hillel teaches us: “the rest is interpretation, go and study,” or rather, go and create your own rituals.
A ritual for your Purim service:
Whether you attend a gender segregated service throughout the year (which I am going to be honest: I really don’t like them, but hey, Purim is no time for judgment), or a fully egalitarian one, our services themselves still tend to be gendered. I have been to hundreds of different synagogues and services, and I can count on one hand the services that truly avoided gendered language for God, divinity, or for people. Purim is an opportunity to “break down the mechitzah,wp_poststo break down the wall separating the genders, physically or spiritually. The Purim service provides an opportunity to dress up in all kinds of ways. How do you even enforce a gender binary then? When we are all masked anyway, what’s even the point?!
This ritual can take on a visual role: encourage the participants and the leaders to “mess with genderwp_postsin the way they present themselves, within the limits they feel comfortable in. More importantly, change the wording of prayers. Use feminine language instead of masculine, because hey, it doesn’t get much more feminist than the Purim story in the bible. Even more, use neutral God language. After all, the Kabbalists believed that at its core, the divine is genderless. If you don’t believe in traditional ideas of God at all then remember: the Esther story is the only biblical storybook where God isn’t mentioned at all. Lean into a godless service in the spirit of the Megillah! (And let me tell you a secret: by academic definition, I am a proud atheist. Yet, what is a rabbi for if not to redefine an idea of divinity that fits with atheism? So here we are!)
A ritual for your Purim costume party:
Beyond services, all these rituals and practices make a perfect Purim party. Encourage gender bending costumes. Create your own blessings or moments of gratefulness and reflection using gender neutral language. Take a moment in the beginning, middle, end, or any other point, to have participants choose a character of the story (or any other fictional character), and bend its gender and sexuality. This is a queer version of the Talmudic command: “One is obligated to mellow oneself on Purim, till they can’t tell the difference between ‘blessed be Mordechai’ and ‘cursed be Haman.’ Mix it all up — we’re literally told to do so on this holiday!
A ritual for sexual liberation on Purim:
A big part of the Megillah is a story of a very horny king. Yes, I am aware that the king is at best an ambiguous figure. However, I would dare to argue that the heroine of our holiday, Queen Esther herself, was polyamorous. I do not want to turn this into an academic essay, but following what the Talmud already says (Megillah 13a) that Esther was married to Mordechai, and later in chapter 8, Mordechai comes to the King, “because Esther told him who he is to her,wp_poststhis screams consensual polyamory to me. Maybe it was a throuple after all, but either way, it’s a relationship that will send sexual conservatives into a coma (to channel TikTok).
Given all that, let me suggest another queer Purim ritual: personal, consensual, sexual liberation, in what ever way makes sense for you. In Judaism we already know that consensual sexual relationships are a mitzvah, a good deed. We are already encouraged to engage in sexual pleasures on Shabbat and holidays, as a way to derive happiness. For Purim, the holiday where even the strict law code of Shulchan Aruch agrees to let go a bit of strict practices, let’s celebrate with queer sexual liberation.
If you and your lovers and/or friends are interested in group sex, carefully turn your Purim party into a holy space to do many “Mitzvotwp_postsof the sexual nature. (Autostraddle has published several articles about how to host your own play parties.) If you’re not interested in group sex, use Purim as a moment to explore with your partner/s. And if you’re looking for a more solo vibe, take the time on Purim to explore some exciting masturbation techniques or self love that you’ve been wanting to try (Autostraddle’s Elaborate Masturbation Guide might be able to help here!). After all, who can really argue that sexual pleasure isn’t a great way to fulfill the Purim commandment of Ad D’Lo Yada?
A ritual for community building on Purim:
If you’re uninterested in incorporating sex into your holiday celebrations, you can still use the holiday to connect with others. Purim can be used to host queer parties that encourage our LGBTQ siblings that aren’t ready to come out, that aren’t ready for queer sexual and/or gender liberation yet, to “come outwp_postswhile staying hidden. Host a masquerade, focus on queer liberation, and encourage people to be out, while hidden.
No matter which of these rituals you choose to lean into on Purim this year, remember: who we are as proud queer Jews is not something that is just okay; it is beautiful. A Happy Purim — Simchat Purim!!!
This year Purim begins at sundown on Monday, March 6.