“The sexualization of Purim is partly just a matter of convenience”

The sexualization of Purim is partly just a matter of convenience. The easiest and cheapest way for Israeli businesses to stock outfits for this once-a-year surge of demand is to import those made elsewhere for Halloween, and many of these are risqué.

While characters related to the Purim story, or the Bible, are obvious choices for many diaspora Jews when thinking about costumes for the festival, they have become rarer and rarer in Israel as Purim stores here have become outlets for foreign leftovers. The common adult women’s outfits (some of the smaller-sized ones are being scarfed up by teens) have nothing to do with Jewish themes. They are cheerleaders and skimpy Alice in Wonderlands and anything that involves a corset.

The change in tastes for costumes isn’t just due to the market being bombarded with Halloween leftovers; it also reflects something happening on the side of the customers, namely a deeper change that is taking place regarding the celebration of Jewish festivals in Israel. With a huge selection of foreign television piped into their homes by cable and access to the Internet, people are more and more aware of the details of how life is lived abroad, especially in America.

Halloween is one of the big annual events on American sitcoms such as “How I Met Your Mother” and “30 Rock,” in which characters say in so many words that Halloween is a festival for women to dress sexy. For many Israelis, emulating what they see as the American way of dressing up is more natural than recreating traditional Jewish dressing up.

Jeffrey Woolf, an historian and expert on religious observance in Israel, remembers a day “when most people dressed as figures from the Purim story or as soldiers or charedim, or as contemporary local figures — I remember when people were little Moshe Dayans and Menachem Begins.”

Woolf says that he sees the sexualizing tendency seeping from adults even to preteens. “There’s a sexualization of children here, as well as an objectification of women,” he comments, noting that he has seen grade school kids dressed in “very sexually charged” outfits.

Nathan Jeffay, “Globalization and The Purim Costume”, The Jewish Week (10 March 2017), 30-31.