Purimspiels & Where to Find Them

1. Background: On Purimspiels and Plays

It is generally thought that Purim parodies began as rhyming declamations in the 12th century, graduating to parodial tractates and books in the 13th and 14th centuries – and from there into plays in the 16th century. They may, however, have a far more sinister origin in the custom of hanging and beating of an effigy of Haman in the late Roman Empire (5th century), which were recounted by the Church as real crucifixions and served as the grounds for antisemitic attacks on synagogues and Jews.

The chronological context of the Purim parody's development would have been the stylised drama and morality plays of the Middle Ages, as well as other customs related to folk theater in various countries - such as strolling players and the more informal comi-religious dramatic troupes of "Mummers" (entertainers), clowns and bards, whose performances were held in wealthy private homes, in return for a fee. Parallels in the development of the Purimspiel can justifiably be drawn with the manifestations and trappings of the Carnivale in southern Europe.

From satirical treatises on Purim and absurd Talmudical pilpul, in medieval Italy and Southern France, there appears to be a development into grotesque parodies in the mid-17th century. In Yiddish theater particularly, Purim plays and spiels developed over four centuries into inter-connected and distinctive genres, retaining the flavor of and subject matter related to Jewish community life in northern and eastern Europe. 

The recognizably modern Purimspiel emerged in its dramatic-musical format in the 19th century, in Germany, influenced by opera and the changing perceptions of Jewish community life in western Europe. The subject matter similarly became westernized, both socially and politically: sometimes the spiel was almost indistinguishable from the formal Purim play or musical.

Since then, Purimspiels – whether in their minimalistic spoofs or at their most bombastic performances – have also tended to satirize contemporary political culture while continuing to take in the musical culture of their day – from opera through rock and pop to hip-hop. Whether amateur or professional, they have moved far from their theological and folkloristic origins, but continue to offer a vehicle for satire and comedy about Jewish life and major issues of the day.

In their credit, Purimspiels continued to be written and performed as interpretative Jewish fringe theater in times of repression during the twentieth century, thus retaining an essence of the original spiel: a humurous blast of the absurd in an era of darkness.

2. Best of the Web

A. History & Concepts

U. Calgary - Eliezer Segal: Purim, Parody and Pilpul

Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, NY - Rabbi Felicia Sol:
The Purimspiel: Exploring the Dialogue of the Hidden http://www.bj.org/par_01spring/purimspiel.html

Eclectica Magazine v7n2 - Barbara Cohen-Kligerman: Purimspiel in the DP Camp

Jewish Encyclopedia.com: PARODY
Jewish Heritage Online Magazine

Jewish Theatre: Low Culture in the Purimshpil

Judaism about com: Chronology, typology & 4 links

YTF - Yiddish Theatre Forum

Songs, Scenes & Parodies - Downloads

Akhlah: Purim Play for Children

Cantor Solomon: The Story of the Orphan Queen

Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, West Newton, MA: 1 FINAL SPIEL

Diaspora Yeshiva/Shema Yisrael: The Cyber Purim Play [16 scenes]

Steve Hausman: Esther's Tale

Jewish Reconstructionist Federation - Purim Shpiels:
Megillah summary in verse http://www.jrf.org/torahquest/purim/purim-rhymed.htm 
Here's looking at you, Esther [Casablanca spoof] http://www.jrf.org/torahquest/purim/purim-play.pdf

Kol Neshama's "Purimshpiel", Purim 2002

My Jewish Learning.com: Purim International

Nurit Reshef: Nurit's Purimspil
Ohr Somayach – Purim: Parodies of our Publications

Telshemesh.org - Earth-based traditions in Judaism: A Spring Purim Play
[mock trial] http://telshemesh.org/shevat/a_spring_purim_play.html  

Temple Beth El, Niagara Falls, NY, Ann Kushner: Estherella - a Purim Play

Rhyming spiel with Yiddish experessions http://www.torahtots.com/holidays/purim/purshple.htm 
Audio spiel http://www.torahtots.com/music/purimshpeil.ram
URJ: Songs and Parodies for Purim

Sales & Spielers

Belgrade Festival - Jedan Svet - One World: The Miracle of Purim. Poland, 2000. Film

Beth El Synagogue, Minneapolis. Script

Cantor Solomon: The Story of the Orphan Queen. Music CDs

Queen Esther Movie: One Night With The King

Singlish: 6 Purim Plays

Shoshana Silberman: Megillah story & 10-act play

The Story of Esther Theater, Los Gatos, CA [The Soviet Jewry Struggle]. Performance

Tel Aviv University, Ahuva Belkin - The Purimshpil: Studies in Jewish Folk Theatre. Book

Temple Beth Sholom, Southern California. Script

Temple Beth Zion, Buffalo – Dr Grant Golden: The GG Purimspiel. Script

Temple Rodeph Torah, Marlboro, NJ: Squanto Teaches the Pilgrims to Fish. Script

Amy Tobin: The Esther Show. Performance

Boris Yoffe -  Racine's treatment of the Biblical story [German/French]. Libretto
http://www.borisyoffe.de/englisch/oper.htm   - and www.esther-de-racine.com


Congregation Beth Israel: Purimspiel 2004, 2001

"The Cracow Wedding" Purimshpil. http://www.nyu.edu/classes/bkg/MK/MK_images/pages/purim.html

Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, Kol Halev, Cleveland: Purim Play images in slideshow http://kolhalev.net/gallery/slideshow.php?set_albumName=Purim2005

Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva, Edison, NJ: Purim Play by Mrs. Luban's Second Grade http://www.rpry.org/student/purim_play.htm

Rembrandt: Haman begging the Mercy of Esther

Ruth Taylor Jacobson: Stained Glass Artist 1. Masks for a Purimspiel http://www.ruthjacobson.com/purim.html

Temple Sinai: Purimspiel

Purim in Vitebsk [Russian]





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06 Feb 2007 / 18 Shevat 5767 0