What is Purim – The jolly fete of Purim is commemorated each year on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar (late winter/early spring). It celebrates the salvation of the Jewish people in historical Persia from Haman’s plot “to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in a individual day,” as recorded in the Megillah.
THE STORY IN A NUTSHELL
The Persian Empire of the 4th century BCE expands over 127 areas, and all the Jews were its subjects. When King Ahasuerushad his wife, Queen Vashti, perform for failing to follow his orders, he organized a beauty pageant to find a new queen.
A Jewish girl, Esther, found favor in his eyes and became the new queen, though she declines to divulge her nationality. Meanwhile, the Jew-hating Haman was appointed prime minister of the empire. Mordechai, the head of the Jews (and Esther’s cousin), defied the king’s orders and declines to bow to Haman.
Haman was incensed, and he convinced the king to problem a decree ordering the extermination of all the Jews on the 13th of Adar, a date select by a lottery Haman made. Mordechai galvanized all the Jews, convincing them to repent, fast and pray to G d. Meanwhile, Esther asked the king and Haman to join her for a banquet.
WHY IS IT CALLED PURIM?
Purim means “lots” in historical Persian. The holiday was thus named because Haman had thrown lots to determine when he would carry out his diabolical scheme. You can pronounce this name various ways. In Eastern custom, it is called poo-REEM. Among Westerners, it is often called PUH-rim. Few Central-European communities even call it PEE-rim.
Reading of the Megillah , which recounts the story of the Purim miracle. This is done once on the eve of Purim and then again on the according day.
Giving money present to at least two poor people.
Sending a present of two kinds of food to at least one person.
A celebratory Purim feast, which often includes wine or other intoxicating beverages.
There is a soul of liveliness and fun on Purim that is unparalleled on the Jewish calendar. If there were always a day to “let loose” and just be Jewish, this is it! It is also customary for children (and adults, if they desire) to dress up in outfits.
A custom Purim food is hamantaschen (or oznay Haman), three-cornered pastries bursting with poppy seeds or other sweet filling. On the day before Purim (or on the Thursday before, when Purim is on Sunday), it is customary to fast, celebrating Esther’s fasting and praying to G d that He save His people.
WHEN TO CELEBRATE
One of the eccentric aspects of Purim is the diverse timing for its festivity.
● Common Custom: Jews all over the world commemorate Purim on Adar 14, the day when our ancestors relax from the war against their enemies.
● Walled Cities: From the Jews of Shushan relax one day after, they Purim was deferred to the 15th. This was expanded to include any city that was surrounded by walls in the days of Joshua, notably Jerusalem.
● Small Towns: In historical times, villagers only banded together with fellow Jews in the huge towns on Mondays and Thursdays, which were market days. Thus, the sages decreed that they should read the Megillah on the market day previous 14 Adar. This custom is no longer rehearsed.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PURIM
In including to the miracle of Jewish survival despite the efforts of our enemies, Purim commemorates G d’s intimate involvement in every aspect of this world. Even though there were no overt miracles recorded in the Megillah actually, His name is not even mentioned once G d was actively “pulling the strings” to care for His country.
Additionally, Haman’s edict catalyzed a spiritual resuscitation among the Jews. In a sense, this was even more important than the Covenant at Sinai an overwhelming spiritual experience that compelled the Jews to accept the Torah—because it occurred of their own volition, even as they were scattered among the Persian people and immersed in their custom. It was in the merit of this spiritual reawakening that G d orchestrated their salvation.
OTHER COOL PURIM FACTS
All too frequently, Jewish communities have narrowly escaped catastrophe. More frequently than not, the plot involves an evil tyrant who follows the ways of Haman. And just like the Purim story, G d is there to save His people from certain doom.
Some communities make their own “Purim” holiday on the anniversary of the date of their respective salvation. Few even read the chain of events from specially-created “megillah” scrolls. In modern times, the plans of some of our nation’s worst enemies have thwarted on this day.
HOW IS PURIM CELEBRATED?
Purim is the harshest holiday on the Jewish. Celebration of the holiday start with dressing up in costume: several people select to dress as characters from the Purim story, and others dress in non-Purim-related costumes.
It is a mitzvah (commandment) to listen to the story of Purim chanted from Megillat Esther (“The Scroll of Esther”) and to hear each word. It is customary to make loud noise with a noisemaker called a ra’ashan in Hebrew, or grager in Yiddish, each time Haman’s name is mentioned, in order to fulfill the obligation of blotting out Haman’s name.
Part of the holiday also contains giving presents or charity to the poor, called matanotl’evyonim. A fun custom on the holiday is to perform a Purim spiel, a satirical show either dramatizing the Purim story in a humorous way, or just a funny skit on any theme.
WHAT KINDS OF FOODS ARE EATEN ON PURIM?
Mishloachmanot are collections of treats and goodies sent to friends and family on Purim. It is custom to have a jovial feast, or Seudat Purim, in the evening of the holiday.
Drinking alcohol is mandatory on Purim, and in fact, the needs in the Talmud goes so far as to instruct that one should get so drunk that they can’t tell the variation between the phrases Arur Haman (“cursed is Haman”) and Baruch Mordechai (“blessed is Mordecai”).
Another triangular shaped food that is customary to eat are kreplach, small dumplings generally filled with meat, mashed potatoes, or other fillings. Other custom foods or dishes created with beans, a reminder of what Esther ate in the king’s palace in order to avoid eating non-kosher foods.
What is Purim