Celebrating Purim 5778 (2018)

The Jewish holiday of Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th day of the month of Adar on the Hebrew calendar and it is a very joyous celebration of victory for the Jews over their enemies. On our Western calendar, this year Purim falls on February 28th (starting at sundown) and ends on March 1th (at nightfall). Here is a brief description of Purim from Wikipedia.com:

Purim (Hebrew: פּוּרִים) is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire where a plot had been formed to destroy them. The story is recorded in the Book of Esther (Megillat Ester מגילת אסתר in Hebrew).

According to the Book of Esther, Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus (presumed to be Xerxes I of Persia) planned to kill all the Jews in the empire, but his plans were foiled by Mordecai and his adopted daughter Esther who had risen to become Queen of Persia. The day of deliverance became a day of feasting and rejoicing. (Quote source here.)

The entire story can be read in the Book of Esther in the Old Testament. Wikipedia.com provides this plot summary at this link:

Ahasuerus, ruler of a massive Persian empire, holds a lavish party, initially for his court and dignitaries and afterwards for all inhabitants of the capital city Shushan. Ahasuerus orders the queen Vashti to display her beauty before the guests. She refuses. Worried all women will learn from this, Ahasuerus removes her as queen and has a royal decree sent across the empire that men should be the ruler of their households and should speak their own native tongue. Ahasuerus then orders all beautiful young girls to be presented to him, so he can choose a new queen to replace Vashti. One of these is the orphan Esther, whose Jewish name is Hadassah. After the death of her parents, she is being fostered by her cousin MordecaiShe finds favor in the king’s eyes, and is made his new queen. Esther does not reveal that she is Jewish. Shortly afterwards, Mordecai discovers a plot by courtiers Bigthan and Teresh to assassinate Ahasuerus. The conspirators are apprehended and hanged, and Mordecai’s service to the king is recorded.

Ahasuerus appoints Haman as his prime minister. Mordecai, who sits at the palace gates, falls into Haman’s disfavor as he refuses to bow down to him. Having found out that Mordecai is Jewish, Haman plans to kill not just Mordecai but all the Jews in the empire. He obtains Ahasuerus’ permission to execute this plan, against payment of ten thousand talents of silver (which the King declines to accept and rather allows him to execute his plan on principle), and he casts lots to choose the date on which to do this—the thirteenth of the month of Adar. On that day, everyone in the empire is free to massacre the Jews and despoil their property. When Mordecai finds out about the plans he and all Jews mourn and fast. Mordecai informs Esther what has happened and tells her to intercede with the King. She is afraid to break the law and go to the King unsummoned. This action would incur the death penalty. Mordecai tells her that she must. She orders Mordecai to have all Jews fast for three days together with her, and on the third day she goes to Ahasuerus, who stretches out his sceptre to her which shows that she is not to be punished. She invites him to a feast in the company of Haman. During the feast, she asks them to attend a further feast the next evening. Meanwhile, Haman is again offended by Mordecai and consults with his friends. At his wife’s suggestion, he builds a gallows for Mordecai.

That night, Ahasuerus suffers from insomnia, and when the court records are read to him to help him sleep, he learns of the services rendered by Mordecai in the previous plot against his life. Ahasuerus is told that Mordecai has not received any recognition for saving the king’s life. Just then, Haman appears, to ask the King to hang Mordecai, but before he can make this request, King Ahasuerus asks Haman what should be done for the man that the king wishes to honor. Thinking that the man that the king is referring to is himself, Haman says that the man should be dressed in the king’s royal robes and led around on the king’s royal horse, while a herald calls: “See how the king honours a man he wishes to reward!” To his horror and surprise, the king instructs Haman to do so to Mordecai. After leading Mordecai’s parade, he returns in mourning to his wife and friends, who suggest his downfall has begun.

Immediately after, Ahasuerus and Haman attend Esther’s second banquet, at which she reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to exterminate her people, including her. Overcome by rage, Ahasuerus leaves the room; meanwhile Haman stays behind and begs Esther for his life, falling upon her in desperation. The king comes back in at this moment and thinks Haman is assaulting the queen; this makes him angrier than before and he orders Haman hanged on the gallows that Haman had prepared for Mordecai. The previous decree against the Jews cannot be annulled, but the king allows the Jews to defend themselves during attacks. As a result, on 13 Adar, 500 attackers and Haman’s ten sons are killed in Shushan, followed by a Jewish slaughter of 75,000 Persians, although they took no plunder. Esther sends a letter instituting an annual commemoration of the Jewish people’s redemption, in a holiday called Purim (lots). Ahasuerus remains very powerful and continues reigning, with Mordecai assuming a prominent position in his court (quote source here).

The story of Esther is truly one of the most inspiring stories in the Old Testament, and while the name of God is not mentioned in the Book of Esther, God is all over every page and circumstance that happens in this book. It is about a courageous young Jewish woman and her relative, Mordecai, whose faith and courage remained unwavering in the midst of a plot to destroy all of the Jewish people in Persia. And the plot was not only foiled, but the man behind the plot fell victim to the very plans that he laid out for the destruction of Mordecai.

The day before Purim begins is known as The Fast of Esther.” In an article titled, The Fast of Esther: What, Why, and How,” published on Chabad.org states the following regarding this fast:

The Fast of Esther is a dawn-to-nightfall fast held on the day before the jolly holiday of Purim. It commemorates the fasting of our ancestors in response to the dramatic chain of events that occurred during their exile in the Persian empire. These events are recorded in the Book of Esther, and the salvation that came about at that time is celebrated on the holiday of Purim. (Click here to find out what times the Fast of Esther starts and ends in your location.)

This year the Fast of Esther is held on February 28, and Purim is celebrated from the evening of February 28 through March 1 (March 1-2 in Jerusalem). While the fast is generally celebrated on the day before Purim, when Purim is on Sunday, the fast is moved from Shabbat to the preceding Thursday.

The Fast of Esther, or Ta’anit Esther, is not one of the four public fasts that was ordained by the prophets. Consequently, we are more lenient in its observance, particularly when it comes to pregnant women, nursing mothers and others who are weak.

Click here for basic fast-day information.

Fasting is associated with some pivotal moments in the Purim narrative. One such moment is when Esther approached King Ahasuerus without permission in an effort to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people. Before she went to the king, she fasted for three days, and asked that all the Jews fast as well.

Another dramatic turnaround occurred on Adar 13 (the default date for the Fast of Esther), the date that Haman had set aside for killing the Jews. Instead the Jewish people soundly trounced their enemies. This triumph was accomplished while the Jews were fasting, as they prayed to G‑d that they be successful.

Click here for more on why this fast is named for Esther. (Quote source and more information is available on Chabad.org at this link.)

Regarding the actual celebration of Purim, in a March 2017 article titled, 5 Thing to Know About Purim–The Most Fun Jewish Holiday,” by Constance Gibbs, Features Writer at NYDailyNews.com, she writes:

Purim is one of the most fun holidays celebrated by the Jewish people, but is often under recognized.

Purim (held on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar — usually March or April) commemorates the day Esther, Queen of Persia, saved the Jewish people from execution by Haman, the advisor to the Persian king. Esther bravely exposed her previously hidden Jewish heritage to her husband the king and asked him to save her people, which he did.

A little bit of Mardi Gras, Easter, and Halloween all rolled into one, these are some of the traditions that make the holiday so fun.

There’s lots of food and drink

Many Jewish holidays incorporate stricter rules, which could include mandatory fasting, but Purim is much more relaxed. There is only a minor fast the day before Purim, which commemorates the three days Esther fasted before approaching the king. Then, the holiday itself is known for a party atmosphere, with big feasts where you can eat and get drunk (within reason, but it is encouraged).

There’s Hamantaschen

Speaking of food, one of the best treats for Purim are hamantaschen: triangle-shaped cookie pastries with fruit or savory filling. The treat is said to look like Haman’s tri-cornered hat or his ears (“oznei Haman” in Hebrew). Sweet hamantaschen are most popular, with poppy seed, chocolate, date, apricot, or apple filling, but some bakeries (like Bread’s Bakery) are getting into savory fillings, like eggplant, mushroom, or different meats and cheeses.

There’s fun heckling

During the synagogue service, the “megillah,” or scroll, of Esther is read aloud, telling the story of Esther and Haman. Because the book says Haman’s name was “blotted out,” everyone in the synagogue stamps their feet, yells, and heckles using “graggers” (ratchet noisemakers) all 54 times his name is read in the story.

There are baskets of candy

A Purim tradition is to send out baskets of food and drink (“shalach manot”/”mishloach manot”) to family and to the poor. They look kind of like Easter baskets because they are to be filled with food that is ready to eat — pastries, wine, candy, chips, and other snack foods certainly count.

There are carnivals

On Purim, there are often carnivals, with revelers dressing up, dancing and having parades. Kids have tons of fun at these events, doing crafts, making Purim baskets, playing games and making noise-makers. Carnival attendees enjoy showing off their costumes; anything from Biblical characters like Moses or Esther and Haman to more traditionally secular costumes like you’d see at Halloween (and maybe even a few hamantaschen) are worn. (Quote source here.)

In a second article published literally two hours ago titled, Purim 2018: Five Things You Didn’t Know About the Jewish Holiday (It Known as the Jewish Mardi Gras),” by Kashmira Gander, Lifestyle Writer at TheIndependent.com, she adds the following information (some of which has been mentioned above):

Jewish people across the world are gathering today to mark the end of Purim, which celebrates an attempt by an ancient Persian King to wipe out the Jewish population 2,500 years ago.

Here are five things you may not have known about the colorful festival.

It celebrates the bravery of a young woman called Esther

The story follows Esther, who was chosen to be the wife and Queen of King Ahasuerus (believed to be Xerxes I) of Persia.

When the King’s adviser, Haman, persuades him to kill all the Jews in the empire, Queen Esther’s cousin and adopted father, Mordecai, calls on her to use her influence to stop the bloody plan.

The tale is told in the Book of Esther, known as the Megillah, and ends with Haman’s hanging and the Jewish people being saved.

Purim is celebrated on the 14th and 15th days of Adar, the twelfth month of the Jewish Calendar which usually coincides with March.

Making a racket at the synagogue is encouraged

As part of celebrations, Jewish people gather at the synagogue where the story of Esther is recited and the atmosphere is rowdy.

While it is read, listeners are encouraged to use noisemakers called graggers and to boo, hiss and stamp their feet when Haman’s name is mentioned in an attempt to drown it out.

Some congregations also shout “Long live Mordecai, cursed be Haman, blessed be Esther” or “May the name of the wicked rot!”

It’s known as Jewish Mardi Gras

Purim has a carnival-like atmosphere, with people either wearing their best Sabbath clothing or fancy dress – with King Xerxes, Vashti, Queen Esther, Mordecai and Haman among the most popular costumes.

Rabbi Gadi Levy, director of adult education at Portland Kollel in the US state of Oregon, told the Oregonian newspaper that the costumes symbolise how God is hidden in all our lives.

“Throughout the year we wear a mask,“ Levy said.

“Our facial expressions cover who we really are, our society covers who we really are. On Purim we’re trying to break that. You put on the mask and the inner self is able to explode,” he explained.

Observers also perform plays and parodies of Esther’s story, hold costume contests, and give money to the poor.

Purim means…

The term itself refers to the lottery system that Haman used to decide that the massacre would be on, which fell on the 14th day of Adar.

On a leap year, when there are two months of Adar, Purim is celebrated in the second month of Adar, so it always falls one month before Passover.

Food eaten

On the eve of Purim, Jews do not eat or drink from dawn until dusk to remember Esther’s three-day fast in preparation to meet the King.

However, during the festival friends give each other foods and a feast known as the Purim se’udah is held. Adults are obliged to drink until they do not “know the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai’”.

While there is no set main meal, triangular biscuits called hamantaschen – which translated to Haman’s pockets – filled with fruit marmalade or poppy seeds are served to observers.

In Israel, Purim baskets containing an assortment of sweets, cookies, bagels, wine, nuts and fruit are sold. (Quote source here.)

I hope this information has sufficiently put you in the mood to enjoy a fun Purim celebration this year! And if you need more, just listen to the YouTube video below to put you in a festive mood! I’ll end this post with the words from Esther 9:28: These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never fail to be celebrated by the Jews . . . 

Nor should the memory . . .

Of these days die out . . .

Among their descendants . . . .

YouTube Video: “Happy Purim” video to “Happy” by Pharrell Williams:

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