Costumes on Purim and Cross-dressing – By Rabbi Binyomin Radner

purim lakewood 2010 tlsThe Rema (Hilchos Purim O.C. 696:8) relates an incredible chiddush: He cites the work of the Teshuvos Mahari Mintz Siman 17 (Rabbi Yehuda Mintz, Italy 1400’s) that there was not only a custom for people to wear masks, but to cross-dress as well. Men would dress up in women’s clothing, and men would dress up in women’s clothing on Purim. There is no issur of Lo Silbash in this case since they are only wearing it with the intention of simcha, not for zenus. We also find a similar idea with regards to wearing kelayim dirabanan that this is permitted on Purim since it is only intended for simcha. Some argue that there is in fact an issur in this however the custom is to indeed allow it. More so, even if people grab from one another out of simcha there is no issur of lo sigzol.

Earlier on in Siman 695:2 the Rema also seems to give yet a fourth waiver for one who damages his friend out of simchas Purim that he is exempt from paying for the damages. This is based on the Terumas Hadeshen Siman 110 (Reb Yisroel Isserlin, Austria 1400’s.)

So at first glance it would seem that that the Rema, based on Mahari Mintz and on Terumas Hadeshen issues a waiver on Purim for 4 different things that would otherwise the rest of the year be considered sins:

1. Cross-dressing i.e. Beged Ish/Isha.
2. Kelayim Dirabanan
3. Lo Sigzol.
4. Causing damage to another.

And equally remarkable is that 3 out of these 4 are issurim dioraysa and yet are still waived on Purim! How feasible is it that issurim could just be waived in honor of Purim? Perhaps it is such an important mitzvah to be happy and get drunk on Purim that the Rema wanted to ensure that people would go all out with their quest for happiness and not have to worry about the outcome?

And so accordingly many of the great Poskim go to town with the Rema, literally:

Mishna Berura (s.k. 30) cites the Bach (Y.D. 182: d.h. Veyaish) who felt quite differently about this. Bach writes rather strongly that on Purim there is no temporary waiver for any issurim whatsoever. Anything which is assur the rest of the year is just as assur on Purim as well. If a man wears a woman’s clothing or if a woman wears a man’s clothing even if it is on Purim, there is an issur dioraysa just as there is the rest of the year. And in fact quite possibly according to some shittos he will be liable for lashes as a result. He also cites the Keneses Hagedola and Shelah who were against the practice.

Be’er Haitiv (s.k. 13) cites the Devar Shmuel (Teshuva 247) who was also against the practice of cross-dressing.

The Bach cites the words of the Teshuvos Rabi Yehuda Mintz Siman 15 d.h. Al Davar who gives a waiver for cross-dressing in honor of simchas Purim. Mahari Mintz argues that just as there is an exception made for grabbing, so too cross-dressing is similar and has a temporary waiver on Purim.

Bach takes strong issue with this rather liberal waiver, and argues that this viewpoint is dismissed by the words of Rabi Elazar Mimitz, Sefer Yeraiyim Siman 96: 385-386 Mitzvas Lo Yilbash (a talmid of Rabbeinu Tam in France in the 1100’s,) who holds that cross-dressing is forbidden even if it is just happenstance e.g. for simchas chosson vekalah. If cross-dressing is not even waived for simchas chosson vekalah then certainly it is not waived for simchas Purim either. More so, even if the Chazal would want to attempt to waive the issur dioraysa of cross-dressing for Purim, they would not have the authority to do so! The waiver would be ineffective. As a general rule the rabanan cannot waive an issur dioraysa. So, the issur dioraysa of cross-dressing is in full force on Purim and there is no waiver whatsoever.

The Bach felt so strongly about this that he goes so far as to say that if the Mahari Mintz would have only seen these words of the Sefer Yeraiyim on this topic then he never would have said that cross-dressing is permitted on Purim. He only said that because the Yerayim was not available to him. After all, this period of time was centuries before the printing press.

Furthermore, to derive a proof to the waiver of cross-dressing from the waiver of grabbing things on Purim is totally inconclusive even if there is a waiver for grabbing. With grabbing at least you have the concept of hefker bais din hefker, which could justify why the rabanan have the authority to waive the obligation of paying for one’s damages. Whereas with cross-dressing this is totally irrelevant and so there is no such waiver for it. So to draw a parallel between the 2 is incorrect as they are not really analogous to each other.

As a way of possibly justifying in some way the practice of cross-dressing on Purim, Bach mentions that the Gemara, Shabbos 148:B states, “Mutav sheyihiyu shogegin ve’al yehiyu mezidin.” Better that people should do the wrong thing by mistake thinking it is permitted, than to do the wrong thing deliberately. This, he says, applies to dioraysas as well! This is the only way to give the benefit of the doubt to those who engage in cross-dressing on Purim, that they simply don’t know any better. A G-d fearing individual should ensure that the members of his household do not violate issurim even for Purim and even for simchas chosson vekalah.

Now, despite the Bach’s somewhat strong feelings on this topic based on the words of the Yerayim, it is interesting to note that the actual text of the Yerayin is itself debatable!

Harav Avrohom Abba Shiff from Minsk, in his Peirush Toefes Re’aim on the Sefer Yerayim, writes that even though this is how the Bach felt on this matter, the text in our version of the Sefer Yerayim does not even have the examples of simachas chosson vekalah or of simchas Purim!

So whereas the Bach writes so strongly against the viewpoint of the Ri Mintz based on the writings of the Yerayim, opining that perhaps the Ri Mintz did not have access to the Yerayim, the Toefes Re’aim argues that the Bach’s version of the Sefer Yerayim was not authentic! And that the Yerayim never even specified that cross-dressing was forbidden on Purim.

The Taz (Y.D. 182:4) acknowledges that the Rema permits it, yet still agrees with his father-in-law the Bach on this topic that the practice of cross-dressing on Purim is to be discouraged.

The Be’er Hogolah also says that many gezairos and churbanos came about through this practice, and one who puts an end to it is praiseworthy.

The Teshuvos Harambam, brought in beginning of Sefer Maaseh Rokeach, is commonly quoted by many as being against the practice of cross-dressing for any reason, without exception.

Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 696:12) writes that these practices mentioned by the Rema, of donning costumes made of shaatnez and of cross-dressing were done in the days of old, they are not done nowadays. In our times, if one would damage another on Purim he would be obligated to pay for his damages. The Rema was only referring to his generation, not to our times. We are not on the madreiga to be able to rule that the damage inflicted on Purim was from simchas Purim any more than being from regular simchas hezek which happened to have taken place on Purim.

Harav Ovadya Yosef (Chazon Ovadya – Dinai Mitzvas Simchas Yom HaPurim, Siman 14) writes that there is nothing wrong with dressing up on costumes on Purim, but is also very strongly against the practice of cross-dressing on Purim. He goes with the same line of thinking as the Bach, taking strong issue with the heterim of the Rema. And much like the style of Maran he cites multiple proofs from multiple meforshim with the sources as backing to this. Among the Teshuvos that Maran cites against cross-dressing include the Nivchar Hakesef Siman 15, Chidah -Shiyurei Bracha Siman 182:3, and the Keseh Eliyahu O.C. 696. The Sefer Chayim Ad Olam Page 32:4 is even more opposed to cross-dressing on Purim than the Bach is, arguing that there is no justification whatsoever for the practice. We do not apply the expression of ‘Mutav sheyihiyu’ to issurim dioraysa, and so the practice should be protested and otherwise discontinued entirely. Maran goes on to cite the Sifre Dibai Rav – Parshas Ki Saitzai, Chemdas Aryeh – Hilchos Megillah Chapter 30, Yad Haketana Page 280:B, Semicha Lichayim O.C. 1:11, Tochachas Chayim – Parshas Beraishis etc.

Also in Yechave Daas (5:51) Harav Ovadya adds that for chinuch it should not be done with small children either. (This is also a subject of debate.)

Notwithstanding that the Rema seems to be a daas yachid, the Levush Hachur (O.C. 696:8) in fact rules like the Rema with all 4 above-mentioned waivers. Elyah Rabah (O.C. 696:15) in his Peirsuh on the Levush, makes a compromise of sorts; with kilayim dirabanan perhaps we can be lenient, but with cross-dressing which is dioraysa we should be stringent.

The Sefer Benai Yissaschar (Chodesh Adar Maamar 8) cites the Sefer Eileh Hamitzvos of the Maharam Chagiz – The custom of dressing up on Purim is not for naught, it is a zecher to that which the Talmud Megillah 12a tells that the Benai Yisroel only bowed down to the tzelem in the days of Nevuchadnetzar befnim, so too Hashem only did with them bifnim. Meaning, they only bowed down to the statue of Nevuchdnetzar out of the fear of death, not out of sincere idol worship. So too Hashem punished them by frightening them with death in order to coerce them into doing Teshuva, not because He really intended to allow them to be annihilated. Therefore we wear costumes on Purim as a zecher to this.

Accordingly, it seems that although Rema permitted cross-dressing on Purim, the consensus of the majority of the Poskim is that the custom is perhaps an issur dioraysa which is not waived on Purim and is to be discouraged.

So the final breakdown in a nutshell is:

Costumes on Purim are fine as long as cross-dressing is not part of it, as according to the vast majority of Poskim cross-dressing should not be done even on Purim.

We will conclude with a reminder from the Rambam , Hilchos Purim 2:17 that it is much better to increase one’s level of matanos le’evyonim than to increase one’s seuda or mishloach manos. For the greatest and most glorious happiness of all is to bring happiness to poor people, orphans, widows and converts. One who brings happiness to those who are downtrodden is compared to the shechina.

A Freilichin Purim!!

Written by: Rabbi Binyomin Radner For any comments or questions please contact the author at [email protected]

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