Purim is one of the most joyous & fun holidays on the Jewish calendar. It commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved by Esther. This amazing woman was taken to the house of the King of Persia, to become part of his harem. The king loved Esther more than any other women & made her queen, but the king did not know that Esther was a Jew, because Mordecai her father told her not to reveal her nationality.
The villain of the story is Haman, an arrogant, egotistical advisor to the king. Haman hated Mordecai because Mordecai refused to bow down to him, so Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people. Mordecai persuaded Esther to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people. This was a dangerous thing for Esther to do, because anyone who came into the king’s presence without being summoned could be put to death, & she had not been summoned. Esther fasted for three days to prepare herself, then went into the king. He welcomed her. Later, she told him of Haman’s plot against her people. The Jewish people were saved, & Haman was hanged on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai.
The book of Esther is unusual in that it is the only book of the Bible that does not contain the name of G-d. In fact, it includes virtually no reference to G-d. Mordecai makes a vague reference to the fact that the Jews will be saved by someone else, if not by Esther, but that is the closest the book comes to mentioning G-d. So, one important message that can be gained from the story is that G-d often works in ways that are not apparent, in ways that appear to be chance, coincidence or ordinary good luck.
Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, which is usually in March. The 13th of Adar is the day that Haman chose for the extermination of the Jews, & the day that the Jews battled their enemies for their lives. On the day afterwards, the 14th, they celebrated their survival.
The word “Purim” means “lots” & refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the massacre.
The Purim holiday is preceded by a minor fast, the Fast of Esther, which commemorates Esther’s three days of fasting in preparation for her meeting with the king.
The primary commandment related to Purim is to hear the reading of the book of Esther. The book of Esther is commonly known as the Megillah, which means scroll. Although there are five books of Jewish scripture that are properly referred to as megillahs (Esther, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, & Lamentations), this is the one people usually mean when the speak of The Megillah. It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet & rattle gragers (noisemakers) whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the service. The purpose of this custom is to “blot out the name of Haman.”
We are also commanded to eat, drink & be merry. According to the Talmud, a person is required to drink until he cannot tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” a&”blessed be Mordecai”.
In addition, we are commanded to send out gifts of food or drink, & to make gifts to charity. Among Ashkenazic Jews, a common treat at this time of year is hamentaschen (Haman’s pockets). These triangular fruit-filled cookies are supposed to represent Haman’s three-cornered hat.
It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations on Purim, to perform plays & parodies, & to hold beauty contests. Cross-dressing is encouraged during this holiday. Americans sometimes refer to Purim as the Jewish Mardi Gras.
Recipe for Hamentaschen
• 2/3 cup butter or margarine
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1 egg
• 1/4 cup orange juice (the smooth kind, not the pulpy)
• 1 cup white flour
• 1 cup wheat flour (DO NOT substitute white flour! The wheat flour is necessary to achieve the right texture!)
• Various preserves, fruit butters and/or pie fillings.
Blend butter and sugar thoroughly. Add the egg and blend thoroughly. Add OJ and blend thoroughly. Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, alternating white and wheat, blending thoroughly between each. Refrigerate batter overnight or at least a few hours. Roll as thin as you can without getting holes in the batter (roll it between two sheets of wax paper lightly dusted with flour for best results). Cut out 3 or 4 inch circles. Put a tablespoon of filling in the middle of each circle. Fold up the sides to make a triangle, overlapping the sides as much as possible so only a little filling shows through the middle. Squeeze the corners firmly, so they don’t come undone while baking. Bake at 375 degrees for about 10-15 minutes, until golden brown but before the filling boils over!
Traditional fillings are poppy seed and prune, but apricot is my favorite. Apple butter, pineapple preserves, and cherry pie filling all work quite well.