Purim

Purim is not mentioned in the list of feasts given in Leviticus 23. However, it is a biblical holiday. We are encouraged to celebrate this holiday to recall the deliverance of the Jewish people from Haman. The story takes place during the reign of the Persian King Achashverous and is recorded for us in the book of Esther. This holiday is considered a minor holiday by the Jewish community. The name Purim means “lots”. This is for the lots that were cast to determine the time of the destruction of the Jewish people. G-d stepped in and stopped the evil plan to destroy the Jews. He used a young Jewish maiden named Esther.

The historical setting was around 450 BCE. The Jewish people were in exile in Persia. Persia was made up of many subcultures. As they had conquered other nations and people groups, these people became part of the Persian Empire. The Jewish community assimilated into life in Persia and enjoyed a time of peace and prosperity until the reign of Achashverous.

Achashverous had a government official named Haman who became angry with the Jewish people and desirous to see them annihilated. This came about because Haman desired proper homage to be given to him as a ruler in the land. Mordecai, who was Esther’s uncle, would not bow to Haman. This angered Haman and he devised the plot to kill the Jewish people by casting the pur or lot. It was determined that the Jews would die on the 13th of Adar and that the other peoples could plunder their goods. His plan was similar to that of Hitler’s. It was to destroy all Jews not just Mordecai.

Esther was in the palace as queen to Achashverous. Mordecai urged her to go before the king and plea for the lives of her people. Esther rose to the occasion and used her position in life to see the deliverance of the Jewish people. This was all at great risk to her own life. It is obvious that G-d had placed her in this position for such a time of this. And G-d brought a great deliverance. That is why we celebrate and rejoice.

The dates of this observance are clearly given in Scriptures. We are told to celebrate it on the 13th of Adar. On this day the traditional Jewish community begins a fast from sundown to sundown. This is in commemoration of the three day fast Mordecai and Esther called the people to as they sought G-d and His help. This fast is called The Fast of Esther. The celebration begins on the night of the 14th and continues through the 15th. The second day is called Shushan Purim because the Jewish people in Purim celebrated the holiday for two days.

The Shabbat before Purim is called Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of remembrance. The last aliyah for the Torah portion states, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, upon your departure from Egypt… You shall erase the memory of Amalek from the heavens, you shall not forget.” This is read on this Shabbat because Haman was a descendant of Amalek.

Esther 9.22 tells us Purim is to be a time of “feasting and rejoicing and sending portions of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” All of these four elements are incorporated into the modern day celebration.

The feasting is accomplished through the Seudah, the traditional festival meal. This meal can be celebrated at home with family and/or friends or in the synagogue. This feasting begins with this and then continues on through the next two days.

Hamantashen are the traditional food eaten at Purim. These are triangular shaped cookies that are stuffed with some type of filling. Hamantashen is a German/Yiddish word and can mean “Haman’s pockets”. The Hebrew phrase for these is Oznay Haman meaning “Haman’s ears”. Tradition tells us that Haman wore a three-sided hat and that is why there are three sides to these tasty treats. Another traditional food is kreplach. This is a triangle shaped dough filled with meat. The word kreplach is said to be derived from the first letter of three holidays on which it is eaten. K-Yom Kippur, R- Hoshannah Rabbah and P – Purim. These holidays are connected together because they all involve some type of beating. On Yom Kippur we beat our chests. On Hoshannah Rabbah we beat willow branches. On Purim figuratively we beat Haman.

The rejoicing centers on the celebration in the synagogue. The Megillat Esther, scroll of Esther is to be read in its entirety. The whole atmosphere is one of great joy. In addition to reading the entire scroll, it is customary to dramatize the story. During the telling of the story the name of Haman is drowned out by shouts of boo and through the use of a grogger, a noisemaker. Also, people will stomp their feet. In fact, Haman’s name is often written on the bottom of one’s shoes. In contrast, when Mordecai’s name is mentioned, there are great shouts of triumph. Reading of the Megillah is to take place day and night and it is incumbent that both men and women hear the reading. The reading of the Megillah can take 20 minutes to an hour and a half to read depending on the amount of energy and effort given to drowning out Haman’s name. Here are some other customs from the past. In Italy people would break a clay pot and shout “And He shall break it as a potter’s vessel is broken” from Isaiah 30.14. In Ismir, Turkey they would write the name of Haman on a hammer and pound it. The whole point is to beat Haman or take revenge on him. The scroll is read in both the evening and morning services.



  • Print This Page Print This Page