Battle of the Joyous February Celebrations: Purim vs. the Super Bowl

February 3, 2013David Stanley

It's February, and I take issue with T.S. Eliot. It is not April but February which is the cruelest month. Cold, dark, and brutish, with none of the celebratory feel of December and January, spring feels months away during February. Thankfully, February has our greatest secular holiday - the Super Bowl - and our most gleeful Jewish holiday, Purim.

Why is Purim the most gleeful? It is the only holiday in which excess is not merely allowed, it is mandatory. Our people were saved because a drunken King Ahashverosh ticked off Queen Vashti and life became tenuous, again, for the Jews. To celebrate, the Talmud states that one should drink on Purim until he can no longer distinguish between the phrases arur Haman (cursed is Haman) and baruch Mordechai (blessed is Mordechai). Similarly, should you wander through New Orleans near the Superdome after today's big game, you will find that many fans are unable, courtesy of their beverage choices, to tell the difference between "Ravens Rule!" and "Niners Rock!"

For me, in a match-up of the 49ers vs. Ravens, there is no rooting interest in the game. Rather, my real interest is in the food. If one was to have a Se'udat Super Bowl, I think you'd find a cheeseball, wings, ribs, brats, and chili on the Super Bowl seder plate - plus a big glob of guacamole in the center. At the se'udat Purim, hamantaschen, dried fruit, nuts, and even kreplach might be traditional, but this choice is a no-brainer for me: I love my Mom's hamantaschen, but I opt for the Se'udat Super Bowl. On the other hand, I don't see much difference between Purim masquerades and the crazy face/chest-painted/costumed fans at a typical football game…

And then there's the noise! I remember being quite young and going into the sanctuary of my congregation for our Purimspiel. I was handed a grogger, or noisemaker; the tradition was explained in religious school, but I never expected we would be given them in a service! Yet here we were, 40 or 50 kids, all expected to make a boatload of noise at the mention of Haman. Expected? Torah said we must: "Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek" (Deuteronomy 25:19). On the Super Bowl side, I have this vision of some moron going to the Ravens' end of the field. He holds up a bullhorn and starts chanting, "Let's go, Niners! Let's go, Niners!" I suspect being drowned out by Raven fans might be the least of his worries; he'd be too busy dodging half-eaten hot dogs and flying beer to try it again.

If this Purim vs. Super Bowl megillah were cast as a roman à cléf, I envision King Ahashverosh as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Vashti is a famous singer, forced by Ahashverosh to lip sync, against her will, the national anthem. We can cast your favorite team's head coach in the role of Mordechai, and the other head coach as Haman. But who is our heroine? Who is our Esther? What woman shall ride to the rescue? Help me out.

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