Purim is a festive Jewish holiday recounting the deliverance of the Jewish people from an extermination plot. It is held every 14th of Adar, or Adar II in leap years. In walled cities that existed during the time of Joshua, like Shushan and Jerusalem, it is celebrated on the 15th and is called Shushan Purim.

The Story Of Purim

The story of Purim is found in the Book Of Esther. Esther was a Jewish orphan girl who was raised by her cousin Mordecai. She grew into a beautiful woman crowned queen by the King Ahasuerus.

The king loved Esther most among all of his wives, but was unaware that she was Jewish. Esther and Mordecai further gained favor under the king’s eyes when Mordecai successfully revealed a plot to assassinate the king. Because of this, Haman, the king’s advisor, harbored a great hate for Mordecai, which finally came to a head when Mordecai, on one occasion, refused to bow down to Haman. Haman later on learned that Mordecai was a Jew, which is why he resolved to kill not only Mordecai, but also Esther and all of the Jewish people under the Persian rule.

Being the king’s advisor, Haman gets the king to approve of his plan. Esther learns of this, so she fasts for three days with all of the Jews in the land in her preparation to approach the king to ask him to spare her and her people. In a spectacular turn of events, Ahasuerus recalls the time Mordecai saved him from death through the court records and instead, welcomes Esther, honors Mordecai and saves the Jews. Haman and his ten sons are then hanged on the gallows that were intended for Mordecai.

How Purim Is Celebrated

Purim is treated more as a national holiday, like Hanukkah. Work is even allowed in most places but it is encouraged that the occasion be prioritized and celebrated in a joyous manner. Jewish mitzvot dictate that Jews observe these four activities during Purim:

K’riat megillah – listening to the readings of the Book Of Esther in the evening and again in the following morning
Mishloach manot– giving food gifts to friends
Matanot la’evyonim – giving charity to the poor
Se`udah – partaking in a festive meal
Since Purim is meant to be a merry occasion, Jews are actually encouraged to be boisterous when attending readings of the Book Of Esther in the synagogue. Booing, hissing, stamping of feet and rattling of noisemakers called gragers [Yiddish], a kind of rattle, is customary and welcome.

Traditional Jewish food items prepared include the hamentaschen or “Haman’s pockets”, which are triangular cookies filled with prunes or poppy seeds said to represent Haman’s three-cornered hat. A festive meal is also eaten, along with heavy drinking. The Talmud even states that a person should drink until he is unable to distinguish between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai”, although this is highly discouraged nowadays.

Purim is also a day when the Jewish people perform various merry-making activities like plays, pageants and masquerades. Wearing masks and various costumes are popular and some communities even allow cross-dressing, seeing it as in spirit with the jovial theme of the holiday.

[original text: www.meirpanim.org]

View Amos Oz’ Lecture (45 minutes). Amos is an Israeli writer, novelist, journalist and Professor who is a peace campaigner and speaks with honesty and humor on how to forge peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  We think a lecture on the survival of both these peoples to be an appropriate topic for a festival that celebrates the survival of a People.


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