About the festival

Purim, which falls on the 14th of Adar (the 15th in walled cities like Jerusalem), celebrates the deliverance of Persian Jewry 2,400 years ago, during the reign of King Ahasuerus.The story of Purim is recorded in the Book or Scroll  (megillah) of Esther, the only source for this event; the holiday's name, derives from the Hebrew word pur, which refers to the lots cast to determine the day the Jews were to be executed.

Megillah means scroll. There are 5 books in the Bible referred to as  megillot (scrolls): Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther; each of these is read aloud in the synagogue on a fixed occasion.

Ahasuerus is sometimes identified with Xerxes I, who ruled Persia from 486 to 465 BCE. The first record of the observance of Purim dates from the Hasmonean period (2nd-1st centuries BCE).

In the synagogue

The festival begins with the reading of the  megillah. To mock the memory of Haman, Ahasuerus' evil vizier, listeners stamp on the floor, shout, and use noisemakers made especially for this purpose. The injunction to celebrate Purim with merry-making and drinking is noted already in the Talmudic period, and Purim became the most carnival-like holiday of the Jewish year. Children dress up in costumes, jesters entertain with music.

The story of Megillat Esther tells of King Ahasuerus' wicked chief minister, Haman, who drew lots ( purim in Hebrew) to determine which day the Jews would be exterminated (the date he drew was 13 Adar). Through the intervention of Mordecai and his niece, Queen Esther, the Jewish people were saved. According to the sages, the reading of Megillat Esther on Purim evening and again in the morning, was ordained by Mordecai and Esther themselves.

Noisemakers, called  gragers in Yiddish, and  ra'ashanim in Hebrew, have been a source of much artistic creativity over the centuries.

Community practice

It is customary to read parodies of traditional texts — mock-talmudic tractates, satirical wedding contracts between Haman and his wife, Zeresh, and so on — and to perform special comic plays, known in Eastern Europe as  Purim spielen. In some European Talmudic academies it was customary to elect one of the student as the Purim rabbi, or the rabbi for the day. Many contemporary Jewish schools (particularly in Israel), have an upside down day along this line, with the students teaching the classes (resulting in most cases in bedlam!). In the State of Israel there are also carnival-like parades known as  adlayada.

The textual source for all this topsy-turvy activity is Esther 9:22: "the month which was turned to them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning to holiday..." Adlayada — is from the Hebrew word  "ad lo yada" (until he does not know); it is based on the rabbinic remark that on Purim a man should revel until he does not know to distinguish between "blessed be Mordecai" and "cursed be Haman" (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 7:2).

In the home

According to the  megillah itself, one is "to observe [Purim] as days of feasting and merry-making, and as an occasion of sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor" (Esther 9:22). Three central traditions of the holiday are therefore the Purim banquet  (se'udah), the giving of charity  (matanot la'evyonim), and the presenting of gifts of food and drink  (mishloah manot) to one's friends.

While the nature of the  mishloah manot varies from community to community, it is generally accepted custom to give at least two different types of sweets or foods to at least two different people (or families).

Traditional foods

Triangular pastries (filled with prunes, poppy seed, cherries and the like) called  hamantaschen (Haman's hat in Yiddish ) or  oznei Haman (Haman's ears, in Hebrew) - recalling either Haman's three-cornered hat or his funny-looking ears.

and study

Black, Naomi. Celebration: The Book of Jewish Festivals (Jonathan David, 1989).
Donin, Rabbi Hayim Halevy. To be a Jew: A Guide to Jewish Observance in Contemporary Life (Basic Books, 1972).
Greenberg, Rabbi Irving. The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays (Summit Books, 1988).
Greenberg, Blu. How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household (Jason Aronson, 1989).
Goodman, Philip, ed. Jewish Holiday anthologies (JPS, 1970, 1992).
Jacobs, Louis. The Book of Jewish Practice (Behrman House, 1987)
Kitov, Eliyahu. The Book of Our Heritage (Feldheim, 1978).
Klagsbrun, Francine. Jewish Days: A Book of Jewish Life and Culture around the Year (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1996).
Knobel, Peter. Gates of the Seasons: A Guide to the Jewish Year. (CCAR, 1983).
Renberg, Dalia Hardof. The Complete Family Guide to Jewish Holidays (Adama Books, 1985).
Schauss, Hayyim. The Jewish Festivals: A Guide to their History and Observance (Schocken Books, 1996).
Strassfeld, Michael. The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary (Harper & Row, 1985).
Waskow, Arthur. Season of our Joy: A Celebration of Modern Jewish Renewal (Beacon Press, 1990).

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