When Purim rolls around on Wednesday, there is undoubtedly one would-be villain who will receive the lion’s share of the attention, and it won’t be Haman. Of course, we’re still talking about Haman, as we smash his name. But the character we won’t stop talking about is the one we don’t talk about. This is of course Bruno, from Disney’s new blockbuster movie, Canto.
Admit it, Bruno, you’re going to be talked about a lot when your song became one of the highest ranked disney songs of all time, especially when the song fits perfectly into a ready-made Purim parody song. When “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” had a big hit, all the rabbis on this side of Shushan started rewriting the lyrics, replacing “Bruno” with “Haman”. My favorite was produced by Beverly Hills Emmanuel Temple.
So there will be a lot of talk about not talking about Bruno this week.
But there’s another villain whose name keeps coming up, whose very name is just one word away from Purim. It would make sense to hear a lot about Vladimir Putin this week and his battle with the annoying Jew in the royal robe who thwarts him at every turn. There will no doubt be Putin masks and spiels featuring this lone outcast sitting behind a very, very long table. There’s a lot to parody when it comes to Putin.
But is that what we should do while the missiles are still falling? Should we pillory Putin this Purim?
The answer comes down to how we answer three questions:
1) Does Putin pass the meanness test? Let’s see… invade a neighboring country, causing the needless deaths of thousands of people? Bomb the hospitals? Poison gas…threatening nuclear weapons…killing innocent children? Eliminate the free press and free speech? Returns its economy to the Stone Age. I think we can say this safely, forcefully and without hesitation. Putin is mean.
We can tell. But should we to sing this? Should our mockery ring rafters?
2) Does Putin have redeemable human qualities? Or is it more complicated? Vlad has become such a cartoonish villain, the quintessential”Wicked, Wicked Man” this side old english drinking song has become a parody of politically incorrect Purim. But is there an Elphaba from “Wicked” waiting to burst out of her evergreen skin? I once asked if Haman was just misunderstood; we could ask the same of Putin. Has he been teased in gym class because of his size? Has anyone questioned their sexual orientation? And if so, should it matter? Doesn’t Jewish tradition teach us that no human being is totally bad or totally good?
It is said to drink on Purim until we can’t tell the difference between cursing Haman and blessing Mordecai. Such moral ambiguity finds its place in Judaism, which revels in the hidden complexities of life. And the two protagonists of this story have almost identical first names: Vladimir and Volodymyr. But even a bottle full of vodka could not blur the chasm of consciousness that differentiates the moral cores of Putin and Zelensky.
Putin may have been redeemable at one point, like, say, kindergarten â but no more. After what we’ve seen over the past few weeks, I can imagine the inevitable “would you kill baby Putin?” debates will arise in the near future.
A few years ago â and crimes against humanity â the Moscow time listed what they considered 10 good things about Putin’s Russia. They didn’t say “about Putin”, because presumably no one could come up with anything good to say about the man himself. But good things happened under his watch.
- For example, the Russian economy has prospered. But in recent weeks, Putin has brought about his total meltdown by underestimating the potential for coordinated global outrage. So, a “niet” on that one.
- It is true that, unlike the old Russian despots, at least he allowed people to leave. The problem now is that they can’t find a flight to take them. And many people, Britney Griner to Alexei Navalny, are not free to leave (but at least Navalny is free to express himself, and he does it). So, again, it’s a no.
- Also this: the food East much better than in soviet times â not exactly a high bar. But McDonalds has just declared Russia a ‘fry-free zone’ and the barista at Starbucks in Red Square will no longer miswrite ‘Vlad’ on the Prime Minister’s latte. And get this: No Coke AND no Pepsi. So that’s a big “Nyet” as far as food goes. Ever since my grandmother left Mother Russia a century ago and took her kugel recipe with her, it has never been the same.
- It is claimed that there is less anti-Semitism in Russia today than when Putin took power, which is hardly an achievement, given Russia’s history of hate. Less hate? Not if you’re gay or a journalist or have the surname of Zelensky. Between Russia and Ukraine, we know which country needs denazification the most.
- Oh, and finally, Putin loves animals. He saved some endangered cranes by personally piloting a hang glider to get them to safety. But those cranes are not Ukraine, which is also in danger, and we would prefer Putin’s planes to remain grounded there. (So ââwould that mean that Putin’s plane to Ukraine should stick mostly to the crane?) He also obviously loves his dogs. But contrast that with the terror he inflicted on animals in the Kiev zoo, and even this argument does not hold. If the best that can be said is that he is kind to animals, That doesn’t necessarily put him in very good company..
- But, to be fair, he did trains run on time. Oh wait. They don’t.
And finally, one more factor in determining whether we can parody Putin this Purim:
3) Has his diabolical plot been defeated? Unfortunately, we’re not there yet, although that in itself is not a disqualifier. Purim brought hope to many during the darkest times of the Holocaust, even in the camps, when no one knew how things would end, but no miracles were in sight. The Yad Vashem website presents remarkable objects, including a Scroll of Esther used in Terezin, and a picture of Hanna Szenes in Purim Costume in 1939. Holocaust survivors in the Landsberg DP camp in Germany made a fake headstone for Haman and Hitler right after the war. Some Jews even wrote a special scroll, like the Scroll of Esther, to celebrate the disappearance of the Nazis.
On substance, Vladimir Putin absolutely qualifies as a bona fide Haman for our times â and for all times. But for this Purim, I would stay away from Vlad. It’s okay to poke fun at a cartoonish villain who sits behind a 20-foot-long table, but not while people still suffer from his evil decrees. Until this war is won, and God willing it will be soon, there is nothing to celebrate. But once it’s over, we’ll be ready to stage the Best. Purim. Never!
Award-winning journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle owner, Red Sox fan and rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Author of Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi â Wisdom for Untethered Times and the forthcoming book, Embracing Auschwitz: Forging a Vibrant, Life-Affirming Judaism that Takes the Holocaust Seriously. Rabbi Hammerman won the Simon Rockower Award, Jewish journalism’s highest honor, for his 2008 columns on the Bernard Madoff affair, which first appeared on his blog and then were widely discussed in the media. In 2019, he received the top award from the Religion News Association, for excellence in commentary. Among his many published personal essays, several have been written for The New York Times Magazine and The Washington Post. He has been featured as a conservative representative of About.com in its “Ask the Rabbi” series and as “The Jewish Ethicist,” answering questions on the New York Jewish Week website. Rabbi Hammerman is an avid fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and all things Boston. he also likes a good Israeli hummus. He is an active Brown University alumnus, often conducting interviews with potential alumni. He lives in Stamford with his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist. They have two adult children, Ethan and Daniel, as well as Chloe, Casey and Cassidy, three standard poodles. Contact Rabbi Hammerman: [email protected] (203) 322-6901 x 307