Purim is one of the most joyous Jewish holidays, celebrating the miracle when the Jews survived extermination from the Persian Empire though acts of cunning and faith.
The Purim Story
(Note: before reading in public, be sure to have a gragger in hand to blot out the name of Haman!)
Our Jewish holiday story begins with King Ahasuerus of the Persian Empire throwing a feast for his army, civil servants and princes. As with what happens at parties, the host, Ahasuerus, has more than a little too much to drink and in his drunken state asks his wife, Queen Vashti, to display her beauty in front of his guests. Vashti refuses, so the King removes her from the throne. Ahasuerus (now single) then asks all of the available women of the Persian Empire to be presented to him so he could take a new wife. Ahasuerus chooses an orphan girl named Esther to be his wife. One tidbit of info Esther didn’t tell the King was that she was, in fact, Jewish. Shortly after Esther takes the throne, her cousin Mordechai, who also raised her, uncovers a plot to kill King Ahasuerus. The plot is foiled and Mordechai’s service to the king is recorded in the court’s records.
Enter the bad guy (get your gragger ready), Haman. Appointed by Ahasuerus as prime minister, Haman is an arrogant and evil man, so it’s no surprise that when he is standing at the palace gates, Mordechai refuses to bow to him. This really makes Haman’s blood boil, so when he finds out that Mordechai is Jewish, Haman decrees that all Jews in the Persian Empire should perish. King Ahasuerus gives Mordechai his permission to carry out this dastardly act after being offered 10,000 talents of silver. To choose the date in which the Jews were to be slaughtered, Haman casts a lot (an ancient form of dice or lottery) and the 13th of Adar comes up.
Upon hearing this terrible news, Queen Esther (remember, she’s Jewish) asks that all Jews fast and pray for three days together with her, and on the third day she requests an audience with Ahasuerus at a feast also attended by the wretched Haman. The next night, the Queen has another feast with the King, during which Haman is offended by Mordechai again, so he decides to build a gallows for Mordechai to be hanged.
That night, during a bout of insomnia, the King has the court’s records read to him to help induce slumber. In the court’s records, the King learns about Mordechai’s good deed in uncovering the plot against him, and also that Mordechai was never recognized for this formidable act. So the King asks Haman what should be done for a man that the King wishes to honor? Haman, believing that he is the one to be honored, suggests that the honoree be dressed in the King’s royal robes and be paraded on the King’s royal horse. The King agrees and, to Haman’s deep embarrassment and horror, asks Haman to give this special privilege to Mordechai, the man for whom he had just built a gallows.
Later that evening, Esther has a second banquet which is attended by King Ahasuerus and Haman. Here, Esther reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to exterminate her people. King Ahasuerus immediately orders Haman to be hanged in the gallows, ironically the same gallows that Haman had built for Mordechai.
After the revelation of Haman’s plot to exterminate the Jews, the King allows Mordechai and Esther to write any decree they wish. Being that Haman’s order couldn’t be repealed, they create an order that allows the Jews to defend themselves during the attacks. As a result of the order, 500 attackers and Haman’s ten sons are slain, and throughout the Persian Empire an additional 75,000 perish. After the Jews victory, Mordechai is given a prominent role in Ahasuerus court and institutes an annual commemoration of the delivery of the Jews from annihilation, and the Jewish holiday comes to be known as Purim!
Reading Of The Megilla
The first religiously ordained celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim is the reading of the Megilla or the Book of Esther. In the Megilla, there are 54 mentions of the name of the wretched Haman, and during Purim services, congregants are told to blot out the name of him by booing, hissing and the rattling of spinning noisemakers (ra’ashan or gragger in Yiddish). It is also common practice for members of the synagogue to write the name of Haman on their shoes to further disrespect the evil man. Unusual occurrences in the temple are also widely practiced on this Jewish holiday. Prayer leaders may sing prayers to the theme of popular songs, and in the 5th century, effigies of Haman were burned in celebration of the Jewish holiday.
Giving Of Gifts And Charity
The Jewish holiday of Purim also brings out the charitable side of Jews across the world. As prescribed in the Book of Esther, “the sending of potions one man to another, and gifts to the poor” are a big part of the mitzvah. The sending of gifts of food and drink over the Jewish holiday is called shalach manos and among Ashkenazi Jews, the common treat is hamentaschen, which means Haman’s pockets. These triangular fruit-filled cookies are a representation Haman’s three-cornered hat and are usually present whenever Purim is celebrated.
JDate’s Jewish holiday hamentaschen recipe:
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 cup butter or margarine
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- Fruit or poppy seed filling
Mix flour, sugar and baking powder in large bowl. Cut in butter, using pastry blender or crisscrossing 2 knives, until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Mix lemon peel, vanilla extract and eggs. Stir into flour mixture until dough forms a ball. Use hands to mix all ingredients if necessary; add up to 1/4 cup additional flour if dough is too sticky to handle. Cover and refrigerate about 2 hours or until firm.
Prepare desired filling (see ingredient lists below*):
- Prune: Heat prunes and enough water to cover to boiling in 2-quart saucepan; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 10 minutes; drain well. Mash prunes. Stir in remaining ingredients.
- Apricot or plum: Mix jam, almonds, lemon peel and lemon juice. Stir in just enough bread crumbs until thickened.
- Poppy seed: Place all ingredients in blender or food processor. Cover and blend until smooth.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Roll half of dough at a time 1/8 inch thick on lightly floured cloth-covered surface. Cut into 3-inch rounds. Spoon 1 level teaspoon filling onto each round. Bring up 3 sides, using metal spatula to lift, to form triangle around filling. Pinch edges together firmly. Place about 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until light brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheet to wire rack.
* Prune Filling
- 1 (12 ounce) package pitted prunes
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
* Apricot or Plum Filling
- 1 1/2 cups apricot or plum jam
- 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds or walnuts
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs (about)
* Poppy Seed Filling
- 1 cup poppy seed
- 1/4 cup walnut pieces
- 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 egg white
NOTE: To speed up the making of these Jewish holiday cookies, use canned apricot or poppy seed filling.
Party Purim Style
Over this Jewish holiday, celebrants are commanded to eat, drink and be merry! According to the Talmud, a person is required to drink until he cannot tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai,” and if you’ve read the story, that’s a big leap. At JDate, we celebrate Purim every year by throwing Jewish holiday parties across the U.S. and Canada where we invite all JDaters to imbibe.
Note: One should not drink so much that they violate other commandments or become ill. Also, if you’re a recovering alcoholic or can have adverse health risks due to alcohol, you’ll have to sit out this part of the Jewish holiday.
Dressing Up For Purim
One thing that perfectly complements the drinking commandment of the Jewish holiday is the carnival atmosphere that often accompanies a Purim celebration! It’s said that Purim has a Mardi Gras-meets-Halloween feel, and many parties encourage participants to masquerade as their favorite characters in the Purim story or any other fun outfit befitting the Jewish holiday. Costumes are used for participants to hide themselves, much like when Esther hid her Judaism from King Ahasuerus, Mordechai hid his knowledge of foreign languages to uncover the plot on King Ahasuerus’ life, or Haman was once mistaken for Mordechai in the streets in Sushan by Haman’s sister. But the one who is truly hidden behind the events of the Purim story is G-d. Many believe that the miraculous events of the Purim story stem from divine intervention, and although there is no mention of G-d in the Book of Esther, Jewish philosophy believes that the reason for His omission is to emphasize the very point that G-d remained hidden, but was nonetheless present and played the largest part in the Jewish holiday story.