See A. J. Rosenberg, Megillath Esther (1984); P. Goodman, Purim Anthology (1988).
Jewish festival celebrating the survival of the Jews marked for death in Persia in the 5th cent BC. According to the Book of Esther, Haman, chief minister of King Ahasuerus, planned a general massacre of the Jews and set the date by casting lots. Ahasuerus' wife Esther interceded for the Jews, and they were allowed to attack their enemies. The ritual observance begins with a day of fasting on the 13th of Adar (in February or March), the day before the actual holiday. The Book of Esther is read in the synagogue, and Jews are enjoined to exchange gifts and make donations to the poor. Purim is a day of merrymaking and feasting.
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Purim (Hebrew: פורים Pûrîm "lots", related to Akkadian pūru) is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people of the ancient Persian Empire from Haman's plot to annihilate them, as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther (Megillat Esther). According to the story, Haman cast lots to determine the day upon which to exterminate the Jews.
Purim is celebrated annually according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, the day following the victory of the Jews over their enemies; as with all Jewish holidays, Purim begins at sundown on the previous secular day. In cities that were protected by a surrounding wall at the time of Joshua, including Shushan (Susa) and Jerusalem, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month, known as Shushan Purim. Purim is characterized by public recitation of the Book of Esther (keriat ha-megilla), giving mutual gifts of food and drink (mishloach manot), giving charity to the poor (mattanot la-evyonim), and a celebratory meal (se'udat Purim); other customs include drinking wine, wearing of masks and costumes, and public celebration.
Jewish exiles from the Kingdom of Judah who had been living in the Babylonian captivity (6th Century BCE) found themselves under Persian rule after Babylonia was in turn conquered by the Persian Empire. According to the Book of Esther, Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus planned to kill the Jews, but his plans were foiled by Esther, who was made queen after his previous queen, Vashti was dismissed, and Mordechai, a palace official who raised Esther when her parents died, though he was her cousin. The Jews were delivered from being the victims of an evil decree against them and were instead allowed by the King to destroy their enemies, and the day after the battle was designated as a day of feasting and rejoicing.
The Achaemenid Empire (هخامنشیان haχɒmaneʃijɒn) (559 BCE–330 BCE) was the first of the Persian Empires to rule over significant portions of Greater Iran, the famous foe of the Greek city states (see Greco-Persian Wars). It was the first of many successor Persian Empires to be accounted as such and to figure importantly in history—most often as a local superpower, or major regional power. It is also the state which freed the Israelites (Jews) from their Babylonian captivity.
Encompassing approximately 7.5 million square kilometers, the Achaemenid Empire was territorially the largest empire of classical antiquity. At the height of its power, the Persian Empire spanned three continents, and eventually incorporated the following territories: In the east, modern Afghanistan and beyond into central Asia, and Pakistan. In the north and west, all of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), the upper Balkans peninsula (Thrace), and most of the Black Sea coastal regions. In the west and southwest the territories of modern Iraq, northern Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, all significant population centers of ancient Egypt and as far west as portions of Libya.
The empire began as a vassal state of the Medes but ended up conquering and enlarging the Median empire to include Ancient Egypt and Asia Minor. Under Xerxes I of Persia, it came very close to conquering Ancient Greece. The Achaemenids were finally overthrown by the conquest of Alexander the Great in 330 BCE.
|Languages||Persian, Elamite, Aramaic|
|Religions||There was no official state religion. Zoroastrianism and numerous others religions, such as Judaism, were practiced.|
|Capitals|| Anshan, |
|Existed||559 - 330 BCE|
The Book of Esther commences with a six month (180 day) drinking feast given by king Ahasuerus, for the army of Persia and Media, for the civil servants and princes in the 127 provinces of his kingdom, at the conclusion of which a seven day drinking feast for the inhabitants of Shushan, rich and poor with a separate drinking feast for the women organised by the Queen Vashti in the pavilion of the Royal courtyard.
At this feast Ahasuerus gets thoroughly drunk and orders his wife Vashti to display her beauty before the people and the princes. She refuses, and Ahasuerus removes her as queen. He then orders all young women to be presented to him, so he can choose a new queen to replace Vashti. One of these is Esther, who was orphaned at a young age and was being fostered by her cousin Mordechai. She finds favor in the king's eyes, and is made his new wife. Esther does not reveal that she is Jewish. Shortly afterwards, Mordechai discovers a plot by courtiers Bigthan and Teresh to kill Ahasuerus. They are apprehended and hanged, and Mordechai's service to the king is recorded.
Ahasuerus appoints Haman, an Agagite (intepreted in later sources as a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag) as his prime minister. Mordechai, who sits at the palace gates, falls into Haman's disfavor as he refuses to bow down to him. Having found out that Mordechai is Jewish, Haman plans to kill not just Mordechai but the entire Jewish minority in the empire. He obtains Ahasuerus' permission to execute this plan, against payment of ten thousand talents of silver, and he casts lots to choose the date on which to do this - the thirteenth of the month of Adar. When Mordechai finds out about the plans he orders widespread penitence and fasting. Esther discovers what has transpired; she requests that all Jews fast and pray for three days together with her, and on the third day she seeks an audience with Ahasuerus, during which 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 Mordechai and builds a gallows for him.
That night, Ahasuerus suffers from insomnia, and when the court's records are read to him to help him sleep, he learns of the services rendered by Mordechai in the previous plot against his life. Ahasuerus is told that Mordechai has not received any recognition for saving the king's life. Just then, Haman appears, and King Ahasuerus asks Haman what should be done for the man that the King wishes to honor. Thinking that the man that the King wishes to honor 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. To Haman's horror, the king instructs Haman to do so to Mordechai.
Later that evening, 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, which includes her. Ahasuerus orders Haman hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordechai. The previous decree against the Jews cannot be annulled, and the King allows Mordechai and Esther to write another decree as they wish. They write one that allows the Jews to defend themselves during attacks. As a result, on 13 Adar, five hundred attackers and Haman's ten sons are killed in Shushan. Throughout the empire an additional 75,000 are slain. On the 14th, another 300 are killed in Shushan.
Mordechai assumes a prominent position in Ahasuerus' court, and institutes an annual commemoration of the delivery of the Jewish people from annihilation.
Like Hanukkah, Purim has more of a national than a religious character, and its status as a holiday is on a lesser level than those days ordained holy by the Torah. Accordingly, business transactions and even manual labor are allowed on Purim, though in certain places restrictions have been imposed on work (Shulkhan Arukh, Orach Chayim, 696). A special prayer ("Al ha-Nissim"—"For the Miracles") is inserted into the Amidah during evening, morning and afternoon prayers, as well as is included in the Birkat Hamazon ("Grace after Meals.")
The four main mitzvot of the day are:
In the Mishnah, the recitation of a benediction on the reading of the Megilla is not yet a universally recognized obligation. However, the Talmud, a later work, prescribed three benedictions before the reading and one benediction after the reading. The Talmud added other provisions. For example, the reader is to pronounce the names of the ten sons of Haman in one breath, to indicate their simultaneous death. The congregation was to recite aloud with the reader the verses , , and , which relate the origin of Mordechai and his triumph.
The Megilla is read with a cantillation (a traditional chant) differing from that used in the customary reading of the Torah. In some places, however, it is not chanted, but is read like a letter, because of the name iggeret ("epistle") which is applied to the Book of Esther. It has been also customary since the time of the early Medieval era of the Geonim to unroll the whole Megilla before reading it, in order to give it the appearance of an epistle. According to Halakha ("Jewish law"), the Megillah may be read in any language intelligible to the audience.
According to the Mishnah (Megillah 30b), , the story of the attack on the Jews by Amalek, the progenitor of Haman, is also to be read.
Purim gave rise to many religious compositions, some of which were incorporated into the liturgy. These include a large number of hymns intended for the public service. Other writings (dramas, plays, etc.) intended for general edification, both in Hebrew and in other languages, have been composed as well.
By the 18th century in eastern Romania and some other parts of Eastern Europe, Purim plays (called Purimspiels) had evolved into broad-ranging satires with music and dance, precursors to Yiddish theater, for which the story of Esther was little more than a pretext: indeed, by the mid-19th century, some were even based on other stories, such as Joseph sold by his brothers, Daniel, or the Binding of Isaac. Since satire was deemed inappropriate for the synagogue itself, they were usually performed outdoors in its court. Purimspiels are still performed in many communities.
Ultimately, the stones fell into disuse, with the knocking alone remaining. Some wrote the name of Haman on the soles of their shoes, and at the mention of the name stamped with their feet as a sign of contempt. For noisemaking, others used a noisy rattle, called a ra'ashan (from the Hebrew ra-ash, meaning "noise") and in Yiddish a gragger/greggar. Some of the rabbis protested against these uproarious excesses, considering them a disturbance of public worship, but the custom of using noisemakers in synagogue on Purim is now almost universal.
Purim is also a time for other unusual goings-on. For example, some prayer-leaders will sing prayers in ways that would be considered sacrilegious on any other occasion during the year (perhaps with the exception of Simchat Torah); for example, singing some prayers to the tune of widely-known songs, to add to the levity—or employing melodies used on other Jewish holidays.
In Italy, Jewish children used to arrange themselves in rows, and pelt one another with nuts; while the adults rode through the streets with fir-branches in their hands, shouted, or blew trumpets round a doll representing Haman and which was finally burned with due solemnity at the stake. In Frankfurt am Main, Germany, it was customary to make a house of wax wherein the figures of Haman and his executioner, also of wax, were placed side by side. The whole was then put on the bimah, where stood also the wax figures of Zeresh (Haman's wife) and two guards—one to her right and the other to her left—all attired in a flimsy manner and with pipes in their mouths. As soon as the reader began to read the Megillah, the house with all its occupants was set on fire, to the enjoyment of the spectators.
These customs often aroused the wrath of Christians, who interpreted them as a disguised attempt to ridicule Jesus and the Cross. Prohibitions were issued against these displays; e.g., under the reign of Flavius Augustus Honorius (395-423) and of Theodosius II (408-450) comp. Johann Jakob Schudt, l.c. ii. 309, 317, and Cassel, l.c.) To avoid danger, the rabbis themselves tried to abolish these customs, often even calling the magistracy to their aid, as in London in 1783.
Some Modern Orthodox leaders have held that women can serve as public Megillah readers. Women's megilla readings have become increasingly common in more liberal Modern Orthodox Judaism, though women may only read for other women.
The Book of Esther prescribes "the sending of portions one man to another, and gifts to the poor" (9:22). Over time, this mitzvah has become one of the most prominent features of the celebration of Purim.
According to the halakha, each Jew over the age of bar or bat mitzvah must send two different, ready-to-eat foods to one friend, and two charitable donations (either money or food) to two poor people, to fulfill these two mitzvotmitzvot. The gifts to friends are called mishloach manot ("sending of portions"), and often include wine and pastries; alternately, sweets, snacks, salads or any foodstuff qualifies.
Although the sending of mishloach manot is technically limited to one gift for one friend, for some the custom has evolved into a major gift-giving event. Families often prepare dozens of homemade and store-bought food baskets to deliver to friends, neighbors, and relatives on Purim day. Charitable organizations, synagogues, Jewish schools and other groups also tap into the spirit of gift-giving by turning mishloach manot into a fund-raising device. These organizations collect money from members and either send out actual food gifts to other members, or mishloach manot "certificates" which indicate that a donation has been made to their organization.
To fulfill the mitzvah of giving charity to two poor people, one can give either food or money equivalent to the amount of food that is eaten at a regular meal. It is better to spend more on charity than on the giving of mishloach manot.
In the synagogue, regular collections of charity are made on the festival and the money is distributed among the needy. No distinction is made among the poor; anyone who is willing to accept charity is allowed to participate. It is obligatory upon the poorest Jew, even one who is himself dependent on charity, to give to other poor people.
This saying was codified by Rabbis Isaac Alfasi (the "Rif"), Asher ben Jehiel (the "Rosh"), Jacob ben Asher (the "Tur"), Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 695, and is interpreted simply (as explained above) by the Chatam Sofer. This interpretation of the Talmudic statement, or the acceptance of the statement itself, is disputed (for various reasons) by the Tosafists (based on the Jerusalem Talmud), Maimonides, Rabbeinu Ephraim, Ba'al HaMa'or, Nissim of Gerona (the "Ran"), Orchot Chaim, Be'er Hagolah, the Magen Avraham, Rabbis David HaLevi Segal (the "Taz"), Moses Isserles (the "Rema"), Vilna Gaon, Samuel Eidels (the "Maharsha"), Rashash, Tzeidah LaDerech, Hagahot Maimoniyot, Ra'avyah, Korban N'tan'el, Yoel Sirkis (the "Bach"), Yaakov ben Moshe Levi Moelin (the "Maharil"), P'ri M'gadim, Kol Bo, Chochmat Mano'ach, Yisrael Meir Kagan in Mishnah Berurah and others. These authorities all advocate drinking wine in some quantity, but all (excepting Hagahot Maimoniyot and Ra'avyah) discourage the level of drunkenness suggested by the Chatam Sofer. The Rema says that one should only drink a little more than he is used to drinking, and then try to fall asleep whereupon he certainly will not be able to tell the difference between the two phrases indicated by the Talmud. This position is shared by the Kol Bo and Mishnah Berurah, and is similar to that of Maimonides.
Many kinds of merry-making and mockery are indulged in on Purim, so that among the masses it is believed that "on Purim everything is allowed." However, Jewish leaders such as Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan known as the Chofetz Chaim and modern-day rosh yeshivas insist on decorum even in the midst of the merry-making. According to some halakhic rulings, men should not dress in women's attire (nor vice-versa). Those rabbis that allow men to dress in women's attire on Purim do not allow men to completely disguise themselves as women but require that they remain perceptibly male. Ribald jokes remain forbidden, as during the rest of the year. Comically denigrating one's fellow, teachers, or Jewish leaders, even in the "spirit" of Purim, is forbidden.
Most evidence suggests that the concept of "masquerading in costumes" (on Purim) is a fairly recent addition to Purim, which was added sometime during the past five hundred years - in Europe. The exact date is debated. The practice probably did not exist in Middle Eastern countries earlier than 150 years ago. Sources in the oral law (or even some mystical works), which describe the validity of "hiding" (as it relates to Purim) are referenced to support this practice.
Dressing up in masks and costumes is one of the most entertaining customs of the Purim holiday. Children in particular enjoy dressing up as the protagonists in the Book of Esther, including Queen Esther and Mordecai; other Biblical personalities such as King David and the Kohen Gadol ("High Priest"), and modern-day costumes from flower girls to indigenous peoples of the Americas to animals to policemen.
Costumes and masks are worn to disguise the wearers' identities. Mistaken identity plays an important role in The Book of Esther, as Esther hid her cultural origins from the king, Mordecai hid his knowledge of all the world's languages (which allowed Bigthan and Teresh to discuss their plot openly in his presence), and Haman was mistaken for Mordechai when he led Mordechai through the streets of the capital city of Shushan. According to the Talmud, Haman's daughter, thinking that it must be Mordechai leading her father around, dumped a chamber pot on her father's head as he passed by, and, realizing her error, committed suicide.
The one who is truly hidden behind all the events of the Megillah is God. The Jewish Sages referred to His role as הסתר פנים (hester panim, or "hiding of the Face", which is also hinted at in a word play (Megilat Hester ) regarding the Hebrew name for the Book of Esther, Megillat Esther—literally, "revelation of [that which is] hidden"). Although Jews believe that everything turned out in the end for the best as a direct result of Divine intervention (that is, a series of miracles), the Book of Esther lacks any mention of God's name and appears to have been nothing more than a result of natural occurrences. On the other hand, Jewish philosophy and scriptural commentators believe that the reason for the omission of God's name is in order to emphasize the very point that God remained hidden throughout this series of events, but was nonetheless present and played a large role in the outcome of the story. Furthermore, this lesson can be taken into consideration on a much larger scale: Throughout Jewish history, and especially in the present Jewish diaspora, God's presence has been felt more at certain times than at others. Megillat Esther (and the omission of God's name in it) serves to show that although God may not be conspicuously present at times, He nevertheless plays (and has played) an important role in everyone's lives and in the future of the Jewish nation. In remembrance of how God remained hidden throughout the Purim miracle, Jews dress up on Purim and many hide their faces.
The custom of masquerading on Purim was first introduced among the Italian Jews about the close of the fifteenth century under the influence of the Roman carnival. This custom spread over all countries where Jews lived, except perhaps the Orient. The first among Jewish authors to mention this custom is Judah ben Eliezer ha-Levi Minz (d. 1508 at Venice) (known as the "Mahari Minz") in his Responsa no. 17, quoted by Moses Isserles on Orach Chayim 696:8. He expresses the opinion that, since the purpose of the masquerade is only merrymaking, it should not be considered a transgression of the Biblical law regarding dress. Although some authorities issued prohibitions against this custom, the people did not heed them, and the more lenient view prevailed. The custom is still practiced today amongst religious Jews of all denominations, and among both religious and non-religious Israelis.
In Israel there are Purim parades (Adlayada) , and men, women, boys and girls dress in costumes and masks and celebrate publicly.
Traditional Purim songs include Mishenichnas Adar marbim be-simcha ("From the beginning of [the Hebrew month of] Adar, joy increases"—Mishnah Taanith 4:1) and LaYehudim haisah orah ve-simchah ve-sasson ve-kar ("The Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor"—Esther 8:16). The prayer, Shoshanat Yaakov, read at the conclusion of the Megillah reading, is often sung to various popular melodies.
During Purim it is traditional to serve triangular pastries, called Hamantaschen ("Haman's pockets") in Yiddish and Oznei Haman ("Haman's ears") in modern Hebrew. A sweet cookie dough is rolled out, cut into circles, and traditionally filled with a sweet poppyseed filling, then wrapped up into a triangular shape with the filling either hidden or showing.
(Seeds and nuts are customarily eaten on Purim, as the Talmud tells us that Queen Esther ate only these foodstuffs in the palace of Ahasuerus, since she had no access to kosher foods.) More recently, prunes, dates, apricots, and chocolate fillings have been introduced. This pastry belongs to the Ashkenazi cuisine, its Sephardi equivalent is a thin dough called Fazuelos.
Some Jewish communities spice up the Purim celebrations with comical, yet erudite, "Torah teachings" known as Purim Torah which resort to a variety of comedic and linguistic tricks to the amusement of the listeners.
A Purim spiel is a comedic play that attempts to convey the saga of Purim's origins and its cast of characters. Purim spiels can revolve around anything relating to Jews and Judaism that will bring cheer and comic relief to an audience celebrating the day.
Although Mordecai and Esther decreed that only walled cities should celebrate Purim on the 15th, in commemoration of the battle in the walled city of Shushan, the Jewish sages noted that Jerusalem, the focus of Jewish life, lay in ruins during the events of the Book of Esther. To make sure that a Persian city was not honored more than Jerusalem, they made the determination of which cities were walled by referring to ancient cities walled during the time of Joshua. This allowed Jerusalem to be included on the basis of that criteria; paradoxically, they included Shushan as the exceptional case since the miracle occurred there, even though it did not have a wall in Joshua's time.
The Megillah is also read on the 15th in a number of other cities in Israel—such as Jaffa, Acre, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron—but only as a custom based on a doubt over whether these cities were walled or sufficiently walled during the time of Joshua. These cities therefore celebrate Purim on the 14th, and the additional Megillah reading on the 15th is a stringency. Jews in these cities do not recite the blessings over the reading of the Megillah on the 15th.
For example, in Krakow, Poland, Rabbi Yom Tov Lipmann Heller (1579-1654) asked that his family henceforth celebrate a private Purim, marking the end of his many troubles, including having faced trumped-up charges. Since Purim is preceded by a fast day, the rabbi (known as the Tosfos Yom Tov because of his work of the same name) also directed his descendants to have a (private) fast day, the 5th day of Tamuz, marking one of his imprisonments (1629), this one lasting for 40 days.