By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

As a child I was told that hamantashen, the word for the triangular cakes we eat on Purim, means Hamans pockets in Yiddish. This always seemed highly improbable. Why would we make fun of the villain of the Megillah by eating representations of his pockets, rather than, say, some other part of his dress or anatomy?

In fact, this probably isnt the derivation at all. Hamantashen were originally muntaschen, pockets of poppy seeds, the traditional filling. Today, most hamantashen are chocolate (at least in our house). At a certain point they were renamed after Ahasueruss evil vizier.

In Hebrew, hamantashen are known as oznei Haman, Hamans ears, which some may find distasteful although it makes more sense than the Yiddish, both geometrically and poetically.

Eating oznei Haman is of a piece with the mocking dressing-up, noise-making and lampoonery of Purim in general. Its fashionable to find this troublingly triumphalistic. I think it very healthy.

To share a world with people who declare unequivocally their intention to destroy you is undoubtedly stressful, then and now.

The fear of such threats can induce paralysis or denial. Laughing occasionally at those who make them is a way of continuing to live with clear-sightedness and optimism in such a world.

Last updated: 12:39pm, March 14 2011