צילום:ד"ר אבישי טייכר [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

צילום:ד”ר אבישי טייכר [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

The story and traditions of the Jewish Purim Festival.

The Jewish holiday Purim commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people from imminent massacre during the time of the Persian Empire. In Jewish calendar, it falls on the 14th day of the month of Adar or the seasonal transition from winter to spring. This year, the holiday will fall on the eve of March 24. The 14th of Adar also coincides with the day when Haman, then head advisor to the Persian king, planned the supposed extermination of the Jews.

The biblical story behind Purim

The origins of this Jewish holiday can be read in the Book of Esther. The story happened during the 4th century B.C.E. during the reign of King Ahasuerus of Persia when the ancient Jewish land became a subject of the empire. For violating his commands, Ahasuerus ordered the execution of his wife. And in search of his new wife, the king formed his harem (group of women as concubines). Among all the women, the king liked Esther the most. Esther became the new queen but concealed her Jewish identity from Ahasuerus.

Esther was raised and treated as a daughter by her cousin Mordecai who is also the leader of the Jews. The king’s royal vizier Haram was described as anti-Semitic in the bible. And when Mordecai refused to be subjected under the king’s and Haram’s rule, the royal vizier plotted the killing of all Jews in Persia. Haram informed the king of this disobedience from the Jews and persuaded him to issue a decree for their extermination. The king agreed and Haram made a raffle picking the 14th day of Adar to be the day of Jewish execution.

But to prevent such ill fate from happening, Mordecai asked Esther to talk to the king and reconsider his decision. All Jews have repented, fasted and prayed to God. And out of fear, Esther fasted for three days in preparation for his conversation with the king. In a feast, Esther revealed his Jewish identity to Ahasuerus. Esther was successful in circumventing the order to kill Jews and the king even granted all Jews the right to defend themselves. For Haram, he was the one who was eventually ordered by the king to be killed.

Holiday activities during Purim

Purim is not a non-working holiday in Israel but nonetheless, it is considered to be one of the most important celebrations. Among the activities during Purim include the reading of the Megillah or the Book of Esther, feasting and drinking, giving food gifts and giving gifts particularly money to the poor. There are also communities which hold beauty contests or theatrical plays that reenact the biblical story.

Whenever the name of Haram is mentioned upon reading the Megillah, the public usually responds by booing or showing non-verbal disgust to him. When it comes to the menu, hamentaschen or mohntaschen are the most popular pastries served during the holiday. 

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