Costly Damage to Property in the Course of Celebration by Gavriel Epstein


It is customary on Purim to dress up and rejoice in a comical fashion, often by acting in a manner which would be unusual or even taboo were it to occur at any other point during the year.  Many attribute the source of such merrymaking to the fact that, “Lo Higidah Ester Et Amah VeEt Moladetah,” “Ester did not reveal her nationality or her lineage” (Ester 2:10); we hide our identity in the same way that Ester does.  Alternatively, a possible source could be the fact that Purim should be, “Yemei Mishteh VeSimchah,” “days of feasting and joy” (Ester 9:22). However, the question arises every year of the degree to which this merrymaking is permitted. Can the celebration still be accredited to Purim if it comes at the expense of another’s property?

Regarding the general license to damage another’s property in the midst of the merriment for a Mitzvah, there is precedent in a Mishnah (Sukkah 4:7) which states that adults would seize and eat the Etrogim of children, which, as explained by Rabeinnu Ovadyah MiBartenura (ad loc. s.v. VeOchlim): VeEin BaDavar Mishum Gezel SheKach Nahagu Mishum Simchah,” “is not considered theft since it was customary for the sake of merriment.”  If one is not liable for an action in conjunction with the merriment of a Mitzvah which would otherwise be considered theft, one should certainly not be liable for a similar action which would otherwise be considered merely damaging, at least unintentionally.

However, the Mishnah Berurah (695:13 s.v. DeIm Hizik) qualifies the degree to which such damage is permitted.  He explains that while minor damage is generally accepted, major damage is not, due to the fact that, DiBeHezeik Gadol Makpidin,” “[people are] concerned by major damage,” and are unwilling to condone such damage to their own property, even within the framework of celebration. Therefore, costly actions such as throwing food on the floor—especially food which tends to crumble, like Oreo cookies—should be avoided at all costs.  Such actions could cause permanent damage to a classroom environment, and squander valuable education the students would have otherwise gained (this is, of course, a mere example and in no way a realistic portrayal of events). When celebrating Purim, it is important to keep in mind that the rejoicing should not come at another’s expense. Before engaging in questionably destructive behavior, one should consider whether the victim of the damage would, twenty years later, still consider the merrymaking a worthy reimbursement for, in the example given above, the priceless education he was forced to relinquish or, more generally, the anguish he caused to his friend.

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