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More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Purim

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Party for Purim_Mark Miller

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Purim

Okay, I’ll admit that’s a trick title, because, as all true Purim lovers know, you can never know enough about Purim, which occurs this year on March 15-16. Oh, and for those not up on all things Purim, it’s a Jewish holiday commemorating the deliverance of the Jews during the ancient Persian Empire, where a plot had been formed to destroy them. Jeez Louise, the Jews managed to tick folks off even back then. Fortunately, the Jews survived, which led, eventually, as you know, to the creation of JDate and JMag. Okay, now you’re all caught up. You can read all about it in the Jewish Bible’s Book of Esther – except for the JDate and JMag parts – though they’re included in certain reform editions.

The facts in a nutshell… back in those ancient times, there was this villainous dude named Haman, who was the royal vizier to King Ahasuerus of Persia. I’ll save you a trip to the dictionary:  “Vizier” is a high executive officer of various Muslim countries and especially of the Ottoman Empire. Haman had been raised to the highest position at court – so high that the king decreed that all should prostrate themselves before Haman – even those who just recently had a prostrate exam.

But this Jewish fellow, Mordecai, refused to bow down. He’d even written “I’m not the bowing type” on his dating profile. Now, Mordecai (or “Morty,” as his friends called him) was also quite close to the king – in part because Mordecai’s adopted daughter Esther had become the king’s wife, the Queen of Persia. In any case, Haman was steamed that Mordecai refused to bow down – or to get a prostrate exam. To be fair, Mordecai kind of rubbed it in by singing, “I Won’t Bow Down” to the tune of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” That’s how ahead of his time Mordecai was.

Not a huge Tom Petty fan, Haman, a known over-reactor, decided to murder not just Mordecai, but also all the Jewish exiles throughout the Persian empire. Talk about overkill. But Mordecai found out about Haman’s scheme on www.VillainousPlansRevealed.com. He ratted Haman out to Queen Esther, who intervened by distributing weapons to the Jews to defend themselves against Haman’s militia. When the King returned from his Thai massage and found out, he canceled the edict to murder the Empire’s Jews, raised Mordecai to a high rank, and executed Haman on the very gallows he had erected for Mordecai. He then went back for another massage, due to the stress. Esther and Mordecai gave each other a high-five and celebrated by concocting a new poppy seed-filled pastry they called Hamantashcen (“Haman’s pockets”).

So, to remember this deliverance from doom, Jews today celebrate the feast of Purim or “Lots,” because of the lots that were drawn by Haman to decide which of the first Jewish elders of Persia he would murder. And, though it’s no doubt small consolation, at least Haman got a pastry named after him. He’ll have something in common to discuss with Napoleon should they run into each other in the afterlife.

It is common to greet one another on Purim in Hebrew, “Chag Purim Sameach,” which translates, “Happy Purim holiday.” It is less common to use the greeting, “Is that a Hamantashcen in your pocket, or are you happy to see me?”

Other common Purim customs include masquerading in costumes and wearing masks, which may have been influenced by the Roman Carnival. Typically, the costumes and masks would be those of Haman, Mordecai, Esther and King Ahasuerus. Less typical Purim costumes and masks would be those of Obama, Kim Kardashian, and Jack Nicholson.

Reading of the Book of Esther (the “Megillah”) in the synagogue is done each Purim. Substituting selections from the Harry Potter books instead is generally frowned upon. When Haman’s name is mentioned during the Megillah reading, which occurs 54 times, the congregation makes noise to drown out his name. One method of doing so is for his name to be written on two smooth stones, which are knocked together until his name is blotted out. Others write his name on their shoe soles and stamp their feet. And very commonly a noisy ratchet device called a ra’ashan in Hebrew or a grager in Yiddish is used to drown out his name. Rumor has it that Mia Farrow also uses one when Woody Allen’s name is mentioned.

As for dating and singles events during Purim – sure, go ahead; it’s a festive holiday. Just remember to change out of your Esther and Haman costumes before meeting at Starbucks. Or not – that could be fun, too. Chag Purim Sameach.

Mark Miller is a comedy writer who has performed stand-up comedy in nightclubs and on TV, written on numerous sit-com staffs, been a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, and is a current humor columnist for The Huffington Post. His first book, a collection of his humor essays on dating and romance, is scheduled to be published by Skyhorse Publishing on Valentine’s Day of 2015 and is titled, “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.” But he says he’d trade all his success away in a minute for immortality, inner peace and limitless wealth.
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