The Holiday of Purim

Purim begins at sunset on February 23 (14th day of Adar) and Shushan Purim is Monday, February 25, 2013. The 14th of Adar is the day that Haman chose for the extermination of the Jews. It is said Shushan Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month because the fight against anti-Semites in the walled capital city of Shushan, the city in which King Ahasuerus lived, took a day longer than in the rural areas.

We celebrate Purim by:

  • Reading Megillat Esther, (Scroll of Esther)
  • Mishloach Manot – Sending food to friends – baskets filled with fruit, nuts, and sweets
  • Matanot L’evyonim – Giving gifts to the poor and giving to those less fortunate then you are
  • Enjoying a Purim Seuda – meal
  • Dressing in costumes of the characters in the story
  • Baking and eating Hamentaschen – special cookies that are shaped like Haman’s hat

The story of Purim is told in the Book of Esther. The heroes of the story are Esther, a young Jewish woman living in Persia (Babylon), and her cousin Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his daughter. Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, King of Persia, to become part of his harem, and he loved her more than his other women and made her queen. But the king did not know that Esther was a Jew, because Mordecai told her not to reveal her nationality. Then there was a man named Haman who was the leader of the people of Persia. Haman wanted to hurt the Jewish people. Queen Esther who was brave asked the king to help her and Mordechai save all the Jewish people from Haman.

The word “Purim” means “lots” and refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the massacre. The primary commandment related to Purim is to hear the reading of the book of Esther. The book of Esther is commonly known as the Megillah, which means scroll. It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle gragers (noisemakers) whenever the name of Haman is mentioned during the reading, to drown out the evil name of the villain. Traditionally the book of Esther is read out loud at synagogue twice on Purim: once at night and once during the day.

On Purim, we are commanded to eat, drink and be merry. In addition, we are commanded to send out gifts of food or drink, and to make gifts of charity. A common treat at this time of year is hamentaschen. These triangular, fruit-filled cookies are supposed to represent Haman’s three-cornered hat.