From Rabbi Birnholz

From the looks of things, it does not seem like it makes much difference what a Jew wears when it comes to playing the game of Jewish hide and seek through history. Consider this. Esther, in the biblical story about Purim, does not reveal her Jewish identity to King Ahasuerus.  Her uncle Mordecai tells her to hide it, probably fearing the King will not choose her as his queen if he learns of her religion. We do not know if this request involved visible signs of her Jewishness, but it may have.

On the other hand, her religious identity may not have been an issue because of another kind of cover-up. Since the women eligible for the king’s harem came from the most aristocratic (non-Jewish) families in Persia, it has been suggested that her parents had already given up their identity in order to “blend in.” Then the evil Haman comes along and wants the king to kill all the Jews precisely because we did not “blend in.” Obviously the Jews in Persia faced “an offer they could not refuse.”  Assimilate or be annihilated.

In the Middle Ages, our tormentors took the exact opposite approach to what we wore. They forced us to wear badges with a circle on it and don a pointy hat, so we could be more easily identified and singled out for persecution.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Chasidic Jewish men copied the clothing of Polish noblemen, hoping to blend in. They were eager to gain acceptance by looking modern like their gentile neighbors. Yet, a few generations later, when the clothing style of the noblemen changed, the Chasidim maintained the outdated look. Why? Because by then they feared assimilation and intentionally wanted to stand out.

But then the Nazis came along and decided we did not stand out enough. So, to more easily mark us for persecution, they made us wear yellow Jewish stars on our clothing.

Now, in France, rabbis are telling Jews to hide their faith by not wearing yarmulkes in public. The rabbis fear that by being outwardly recognizable in this way, Jews could invite anti-Semitic attacks.

No wonder we Jews wear masks and costumes at Purim. We want to hide from this no-win situation. Purim is the one time no one can tell us what we have to look like and the one time we do not have to decide whether to blend in or stand out.

The Jewish game of hide and seek, though, may in a twisted way serve a purpose. It could be an early warning signal that something is amiss in the world surrounding us. When we have to consider what to wear or not wear regarding things that identify us as Jews, it usually means Jewish survival is being threatened. Let us not shrug off these times as inconsequential. Let us view them with the seriousness they deserve.