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Purim Gets Naughty

Women’s Purim costumes have gotten skimpier and sexier. I tried to buck the trend, but it didn’t go well.

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(Original photos Shutterstock)

In Tel Aviv, you don’t have to follow the Jewish calendar to know that Purim is coming up this weekend. All you have to do is venture outside, since this is the wonderful time of year when all the malls, markets, and main streets miraculously turn into sex shops selling naughty costumes, from sexy nurse to flirty she-devil, from Playboy bunny to S&M police officer, from Marilyn Monroe to ’80s Madonna—or plain old slutty-pirate, slutty-sailor, slutty-schoolgirl, or slutty-bride outfits, not to mention the even more to-the-point slutty-slut costume (it says “call girl” on the box).

Even though they typically dress as Dora the Explorer or Angry Birds rather than biblical characters, Israeli elementary-schoolchildren may remember that Purim is supposed to commemorate the deliverance of the Jewish people from genocide in the Persian Empire. But most secular Israeli adults don’t seem to care. In the weeks running up to the holiday, Israeli women buy form-hugging and more than slightly revealing costumes to wear to their annual Purim parties. Masquerading as some sort of stripper for Purim is not only the norm for non-Orthodox Israeli women aged 15 to 55; it’s almost mandatory—if only because it’s very difficult to find any other sort of costume for a grown woman in the shops. Even more traditional female costumes like princess, honeybee, or Little Red Riding Hood can only be found these days in their “naughty” version, incorporating a micro-mini or hot-pants, knee-high socks, and of course a sexy push-up bustier or corset. The more skin you show the better. Cutesy ears, whiskers, or a tail are considered a sexy bonus (therefore, seductive kittens or bunnies are especially popular). Peep-toe platform pumps are not included, but highly advisable.

And yet, I’ve been resistant to embracing the Jenna Jameson look. A few years ago I even tried to buck the slutty Purim trend entirely.

It didn’t go well.

Thanks to a healthy tendency for procrastination, my slightly confused sense of humor, and a bit of less-than-attractive miserliness, I informed my boyfriend that we were going to a Purim party dressed as settlers. When it comes to trifles like Purim costumes, he couldn’t care less and pretty much lets me do whatever I want. This time he actually thought it was a fairly good idea, probably mainly due to the fact that such costumes would be cheap and easy (pardon the pun) to put together. Visualizing ourselves as proud inhabitants of the occupied territories was easy enough, and so was finding (almost) everything we needed in our closet. Between me in my maxi-skirt, headscarf, and oversized green army parka, and my boyfriend in his baggy jeans, hiking sandals (footwear that is as reliable in hazardous situations as it is ugly), and an old plaid flannel shirt (stuffed in the back of the closet since the era of grunge), we were obviously not Brangelina. What we were, instead, was content. With our last-minute accessory purchases—a watermelon-patterned knitted kippah for him, a toy M-16 for me—we thought our costumes were hilarious, even a tad subversive.

We headed to the party, at some loft that belonged to a friend of a friend of a friend of someone with whom I once worked. It was one of those events where you don’t know more people than you do know, and you willingly commit yourself to a night of small talk with people who seem familiar but you don’t exactly remember from where.

This was not unusual for any soiree, all the more so for a Purim party, since all the guests were drunk, or getting there fast. Once a year it is considered a mitzvah to get smashed, and even the most committed atheist wouldn’t dare ignore the rabbinic saying that for Purim one should drink wine ad de-lo yada—“until one no longer knows.” The original idea might have been getting drunk until you don’t know the difference between the good Mordechai and the evil Haman, but not knowing the difference between the guy who works in the cubicle next to you and the one you briefly dated six years ago works, too. Obviously, the fact that everybody was in costume only contributed to the general confusion.

This is why at first it didn’t seem too strange that people came up and asked us rather suspiciously where we were from and how we got there. I didn’t even read too much into the fact that people actually believed us when we told them that we were Hanoch and Poriya from Har Gilo, and that Hanoch was the host’s cousin, twice removed. We kept up the charade for a while and quite enjoyed the compliment, regarding it as proof that our costumes were so good.

But at one point, I looked around me and saw that I was the only woman there who didn’t look like she just popped out of a cake. And then it dawned on me. The reason they thought we were settlers wasn’t that our costumes were so unbelievably believable. It was that nowadays, it is so utterly and completely inconceivable that a woman would actually deny herself this yearly free slutification-pass and dress like an observant woman in modest dress instead of a French maid with a lace garter on her exposed thigh, that I must have been the real deal.

The realization that there wasn’t room in Tel Aviv for a non-slutty Purim costume made me a little queasy (or maybe it was the punch). After that year’s party, I made a point of keeping my Purim festivities as innocent as possible.

Last year, I decided that the only Purim party I was going to attend was the one at my son’s preschool. And indeed, except for the occasional sugar rush, no one got too high and no one looked like they worked behind the viewing slot at a peep show. Surrounded by cute little lions and bees, Queen Esthers and Sponge-Bobs, all merrily munching on their hamantaschen while their obese-but-cuddly teacher, dressed in a cross between a Flamenco outfit and a muumuu, did her best to initiate a “Chag Purim” sing-along, I felt much better. For once, Purim felt like a fun family holiday and not like show-offy meat-market. That is, until my son’s preschool teacher cheerily said she was going to a Purim party that evening, smirking with glee as she informed us that she was going as a dominatrix.


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all headlining and so far from the truth. If you hang out with underdressed people throughout the year, why would holiday observance be any different.
slanted views of Purim in Israel distort the reality of what is colorful, fun and connected to the land and her history. Very narrow, subjective and skimpy.
jews who have a little knowledge and do little to expand their understanding as they mature can be expected to dwell on artificial issues and rely as usual on the sex card.
What you will see in Tel Aviv and Haifa and Beer Sheva are fun non-x-rated scenes
which will not make for headlines in any tablet- “A new read” on Jewish life is quite
the fiction –

    The entire Purim story took place in Iran. I don’t see how it is tied to Israel at all. In fact, it is one of the stories that should make the rest of us outside Israel proud because both Esther and Mordechai were diaspora Jews. They had the ability to return to Judea under the law of Cyrus the Great 100-150 years before the story took place, but they and their families chose to remain in Shushan.

      Laila Rasheed says:

      YO MICKEY,

      Its a MYTH!

      It NEVER happened!

      Its a FARCE!

      Its what Jews are good at!

      The Torah is FARCE!

      Check out the 2 sets of “BOOKS” (Commandments), and look them up in the Books of Exodus & Deuteronomy!

      Boy, YHWH or Moses would never make it as an accountant.

      This is the Greatest Jewish Joke of ALL Time.

      Jewish archaeologists are stating the Exodus NEVER happened.


      The Ten Commandments

      a book by Joseph Lewis

      An Investigation into the Origin and Meaning of

      The Decalogue and an Analysis of its Ethical and

      Moral Value as a Code of Conduct in Modern Society


      Freethought Press Association

      New York 1, N. Y.

      tony rebello says:

      Yo Mickey,
      Cyrus came along a lot later. Esther and Mordecai were not given their visas to return. Much to Haman’s misfortune.

        Just a bit of history. Sennacherib was Assyrian, while Cyrus defeated the Babylonian empire ruled by Nebuchadnezzar who defeated Judah. The Purim story happened under the rule of King Xerxes or his son Artaxerxes, which was well over 100 years after the end of the exile. This means that the Jews who were in Persia at the time chose to be there.

    mouskatel says:

    Um, the girls at the local Ulpana (religious girls’ high school) in town in Central Israel (not TA or J-m) were dressed pretty slutty as well. Religious Jews or “Jews who have a little knowledge” are not immune from sexy costumes.

At last Purim falls in the spring and so it lacks the deathly macabre character of Halloween. Jews of the ancient world were warned about imitating heathen copulation festivals like Mayhem, Easter and Bacchanal for the very reason you described. And ancient Israel freely accepted the decadence of Greece while Judeah maintained a modest (some would say moralistic) demeanor. The disagreement eventually became the wedge that drove both nations into oblivion. Today the exact same division is evolving between the “settlers” and Israel proper. I appreciate your observations on the subject and hope to read more.

    mouskatel says:

    At last Purim falls in the spring? It always falls in late winter/early spring. It’s always the 14 of Adar.

    Reptilian2012 says:

    You mean the division between 500,000 settlers, and the few mentally ill individuals who argue we should let the Arabs establish a poorly-guarded border within walking distance from Tel-Aviv?

    Please, Ms. self-proclaimed liberal Zionist, don’t ever drop by to visit.

    Politics aside, the nation of Judea is alive and well (it is called the Jewish People).

Bring the holiday to a more current aspect-I like it!

GSD1951 says:

I enjoyed the article. It is embarrassing that most of the comments became either political or religious, but I would love to have been able to see the wonderfully believable Settler costumes, and I fully appreciate the significance of it. I am a good deal older than Ms. Kessler and long past an age where I would be comfortable wearing a skimpy costume. It makes me grateful for the fact that I’m at an age of enjoying the peace and quiet at home over going to parties like the one described – it just feels too strange to be showing too much of my legs these days, and it is would be much more within my comfort zone to go to a party where people put some creative thought into costumes that can actually cover their bodies, without it being assumed that they got there by mistake.

Great piece! Love your writing.

T-bird says:


Purim in the US is best observed when it coincides with St Patrick’s Day (march 17). Jews can learn a lot from Irish about drinking.

erevrav says:

same leftist amalek shit that collaborated with shitler to get a bullshit medina

tony rebello says:

@Gnarlodious: the ancient Israelites were long gone before the Greeks made their debut in Canaan. It was the returned exiles from Judah who faced the Greeks who came in the wake of Iskander, triumphant over the Persians. :)

Chaya H. says:

This is delightful.


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Purim Gets Naughty

Women’s Purim costumes have gotten skimpier and sexier. I tried to buck the trend, but it didn’t go well.

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