The Book of Esther recounts the story of Purim, telling of how the Jews of Persia were saved from destruction. During the time of King Ahashuerus, one of his ministers, Haman, sought to destroy the Jews in revenge for being snubbed by the Jew Mordecai, who refused to bow down to him. With the king’s authority, he drew purim (lots) to determine the fateful day, which fell on the 13th of the month of Adar.
Learning of this decree, Mordecai approached the new queen, his cousin Esther, to intercede with the king. Esther, who had not revealed her Judaism publicly, fasted for three days in preparation for this task. At a banquet, she denounced the evil Haman, who was eventually hanged.
The days following the Jews’ victory over their enemies (the 14th and 15th of Adar) were declared days of feasting and merrymaking, today celebrated as Purim.
Often seen as a classic “good vs. evil” tale, Purim, at its core, is a celebration of religious freedom. We rejoice in the triumph of the Jews over Haman’s attempt to destroy the Jewish people and we celebrate the bravery Queen Esther showed by speaking out publicly on behalf of the community. We acknowledge our good fortune by sharing gifts of food with our friends, family and those in need.
Purim is observed by hearing a celebratory public reading of Megillat Esther (Scroll of Esther) and dressing up in costume. When the name of the villainous Haman is read, people make noise— often with the aid of graggers (noisemakers) to blot the evil villain’s name out. The reading is usually followed by a festive meal in which Purim spiels (plays) poking fun at the Purim story are performed. Many communities hold carnivals emphasizing the playful element of this holiday.
The traditional food eaten on Purim are hamantashen, triangle-shaped pastries that some say resembles the evil villain’s hat (others say his ears)!
One of the most interesting traditions related to Purim is the drinking of alcoholic beverages (by those of drinking age). This stems from the celebratory nature of the holiday and, in the story, the people drank so they couldn’t tell the difference between Mordecai (the hero) and Haman (the villain).