What is Purim? An introduction to the Jewish holiday

What is Purim? An introduction to the Jewish holiday


Purim. The Jewish Halloween. In that there’s costumes and parties….and
in absolutely no other respect. Purim commemorates the victory of the Jews
in Persia over their archenemy, Haman, as told in the Book of Esther. For synagogue-going Jews, celebrating Purim
starts on the evening of the 14th of Adar with reading the Megillah – the scroll that
tells the story of Esther. The reading is lively – in costumes, people
boo and spin groggers every time the villain Haman’s, [BOOOO] name is said. It’s taught he was descended from Amalek,
a people the Torah commanded Jews to “remember to forget,” so yelling over his name is a
way to continue blotting the Amalek out. Less traditionally, some communities will
cheer for Vashti, whinny for horses, etc. Hearing the entire Megillah – every word – is
the biggest commandment of Purim. There are definitely abridged “Purim spiel”
versions – spiel means comedic sketch here – with actors, puppets and of course, Youtube
videos. In communities around the world there are
other traditions too – visiting the tombs of Esther and Mordechai in Iran, dragging
Haman effigies around in Yemen and striking stones with Haman’s name on them together
in France. The 10 chapters of the Megillah go as follows: King Achashverosh tells his wife Vashti:
You won’t show yourself off for my friends?! New wife please. So all of the woman are like,
ME? And King Achashverosh, says to one named Esther,
Yes. You Now, Esther was Jewish, but her uncle Mordechai
tells her, Mums the word. Meanwhile in the Palace, the King’s advisor,
Haman says, I’m great. You should all bow to me. But Mordechai says,
Nah – a public act of bravery. So Haman says,
I’m mad now, so I’m going to kill all the Jews. In protest, Mordechai wears a sack and stops
eating, and other Jews follow. More public bravery. Perhaps you’re noticing a theme? And Esther does something that could get her
killed. She goes to King Achashverosh and says,
Heeey-man wants to kill me So King Achashverosh says
Let’s kill him instead! My new advisor is Mordechai. Let’s have a parade. And they do. The End. God isn’t mentioned once in the story. Instead, it’s a tale of political maneuvering,
personal activism, and communal bravery against an anti-semitic plot. The sages teach God’s presence hides beneath
the surface in all of the acts of bravery (show). These acts are centered around standing up
for what’s right. And what better way to commemorate that than
by getting drunk, dressing up, and partying? It’s an Ashkenazi tradition to dress up for
Purim – maybe in homage to the hidden miracles, maybe because Esther pretended to not be Jewish
or maybe thanks to 15th century Roman Carnival customs. While the holiday of Purim goes back over
2000 years, dressing up on Purim started right around then. In Israel this has been adopted by the Sephardi
community and is all-around a big deal – there are family friendly parades, huge street parties
and tons of carnival-themed club events. There is something about this holiday that
gets even the most secular folks out to celebrate. If you go to a synagogue for Purim you have
good chance of running into goofy melodies used for the usual prayers, a costume contest,
a preschool carnival and piles of hamantaschen. In Israel, they’re called Oznei Haman. They’re three cornered cookies – the best
ones are stuffed with chocolate. This is a fact. Not an opinion. Poppyseed ones can be pretty good, and if
you’re unlucky, you might get stuck with one of the fruit filled ones. The three sides represent Haman’s hat, or
his ears, or our forefathers, or dice from the Royal Game of Ur. Who knows? There’s all sorts of reasons given. Around the world, there are other special
Purim foods, like the Iraqi treat of Sambousek el Tawa – chickpea turnovers, and from Morocco,
a sweet Purim bread with a hardboiled egg inside it. Enough about food – there’s also an obligation
to drink – until you can’t tell the difference between the phrases “cursed is Haman” and
“blessed is Mordechai.” This is a holiday requirement that Rabbis
have debated for centuries, asking, Really? Are we really required to drink this much?
with a short answer of, Well, yeah – if you can. This is a good holiday. Like most Jewish holidays, there’s also a
big meal – a Purim seuda – and some extra prayers. Outside of eating, listening to the Megillah,
and drinking, there’s a few other mitzvahs for Purim. On Purim day (like all Jewish holidays, it
starts at night and continues into the next day) you’re supposed to give gifts to friends
– called Mishloach Manot AKA Shaloch Manos in Yiddish. This joy-spreading commandment requires you
to give at least two portions of food to a friend, but more is always more fun. People deliver Mishloach Manot to their friends
by hand and at parties – sometimes through synagogue fundraisers. Also, it’s a mitzvah to make gifts of money
to at least two needy people. This Purim tzedakah is called Matanot La’evyonim. Purim literally translates to “lots,” as Haman
cast lots to decide what day to destroy the Jewish people. PUR, notably, is also in the word Yom KipPUR,
and there are some neat con nections between the two holidays. Purim can inspire. The
Jewish people can unite across geography and time to see the hidden, to overcome adversity…and
to celebrate. Chag Purim Sameach. Happy Purim.

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