The Tradition of Wearing Disguises

The custom of wearing disguises on Purim is extremely ancient. It was particularly prevalent in Italy. As early as four hundred years ago and even earlier Rabbi Yehuda Mintz wrote in his "Responsa" that men should be allowed to wear women's clothing on Purim, although the Ashkenazi rabbis absolutely forbade this. Rabbi Yoel Sirkis (`Bayit Hadash") in Poland bitterly opposed the permission given by Rabbi Yehuda Mintz in relation to Purim disguises, which went against the verse in the book of Deuteronomy (22: 5):
            "a woman shall not wear a man's garment, nor shall a man put on a woman's garment".

He also cautioned against men wearing masks so that they not be recognized, this being forbidden both on Purim and at weddings. The book of customs of the Worms community describes the manner in which Purim was celebrated in the following way: "On the Shabbat before Purim, early in the morning, the young men go to a house far from the synagogue, where they put on the outer Shabbat coats called sidecoats, that have the right sleeve sewn. Each of them wears a pointed hat on his head. When they leave the house, they go in pairs, hand in hand. A servant boy precedes them, clad in a clown's attire, and he dances and acts the fool..."

In our times, the most conspicuous external revelation of Purim is the wearing of fancy dress, mainly by children, although adolescents and adults do sometimes dress up in public or to participate in a masked party. 


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