What’s that? Special Purim Edition

This 15th-century illustration marks a special moment in the history of Purim celebration. Image courtesy of Shalom Sabar.

This week stroumjewishstudies.org is inaugurating a new occasional blog series, “What’s that?” We ask experts in Jewish Studies to identify an object (a text, ritual item, artwork, etc.), locate its historical context, and explain why it is significant for understanding Jewish history and culture.

Expert: Professor Shalom Sabar, art historian and folklorist

Object: Miniature from a manuscript of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah. Original in Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Cod. Rossiana 498.

Origin: Northern Italy

Year: ca. 1470

Why does it matter? This is the opening page for Sefer Zemanim (the Book of Holidays). It shows the holidays of Sukkot and Purim, characterized by mixed dancing and costumes. This is the earliest depiction of people wearing costumes on Purim, and in fact it dates to approximately the time this tradition is first mentioned in rabbinic literature (or perhaps even earlier than the written sources).

Click here to read “Purim Unmasked,” an interview with Shalom Sabar about unusual Purim folklore around the world.

Click here to view a gallery of illuminated megillot (Esther Scrolls).


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Hannah Pressman

Author:Hannah Pressman

Hannah Pressman is Content Manager for stroumjewishstudies.org. She earned her Ph.D. in modern Hebrew literature from New York University and focuses her research on autobiography, translation, and secular-religious dynamics in Israeli culture. A native of the Southeast, she loves living in the Northwest.

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