About the festival
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.
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
In the synagogue
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.
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).
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).
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.
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ADAR Table of Contents