What is Purim?

By Jillian Zaleski

Purim is a Jewish holiday celebrated on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month of Adar (late winter/early spring). On Purim, Jews celebrate by eating hamantashen and dressing up in costumes to remember Queen Ester’s bravery. Queen Ester? Hamantashen? Dressing up? Purim is in very lame and simple terms, a Jewish Halloween but instead of trick or treating they eat special cookies call hamantashen and retell the story of Purim.

   Purim was originally a celebration to commemorate the failed eradication of the Jews. In ancient Persia, there was once a ruler known as King Ahasaurus who enjoyed parties and celebrations. At one of his many parties, he had ordered his wife, Queen Vashti, to come dance for their guests but Vashti refused. Angry and humiliated, King Ahasaurus banished Vashti from Persia. However, because the king was lonely and needed a queen, Haman, the royal adviser, suggested that King Ahasaurus hold a pageant and chose the most beautiful woman of all of Persia. So, a royal decree went out throughout Persia summoning all eligible woman to the palace for the pageant, including Ester. However before Ester left, her uncle Mordecai, who had been raising her, warned her not to mention that she was Jewish. It was never truly clear as to why except for the generic answer that Jews were different and Mordecai didn’t want any harm to come to her. King Ahasaurus chose Ester to be his new queen due to her beauty yet Ester still didn’t confine to him about her religion.
  One day, Haman had asked King Ahasaurus to pass a law decreeing that the citizens of Persia must bow to him as he passed. The King, lazy and overall oblivious to the consequences of Haman’s actions, did just so. However, when Haman came across Mordecai, the Jewish man refused to bow claiming that it was against his religion to bow to any man other than God. Furious, Haman returned to the palace and complained to the King telling him, that there are a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm. “Their laws are different from those of every other people’s, and they do not observe the king’s laws; therefore it is not befitting the king to tolerate them.” (Esther 3:8). King Ahasaurus didn’t argue, he permitted Haman to choose a date and eliminate the Jews from Persia.
    Fortunately, Mordecai had caught wind of this and warned Ester, telling her that she must tell her husband she is Jewish. But Ester was reluctant, it was very dangerous to encounter the king without being summoned and so fasted for three days to prepare herself. Then, she gathered her courage and called her husband and Haman to a feast she was holding. At that feast, Ester told King Ahasaurus what Haman was plotting to do and admitted that she was Jewish. With a change of heart, the king was outraged and sentenced Haman and his ten sons (who were going to help him kill the Jews) to hang in the gallows which were ironically build for Mordecai.
   In alternate versions of the story, Queen Vashti was sentenced to death or Mordecai spikes jealousy into Haman when he had saved the kings life by overhearing a conspiracy between two guards. In other endings Ester just barged in on one of the kings many parties, without being summoned, and confessed to him there. Purim is celebrated on the 14th because Haman chose the date, the 13 of Adar, by randomly plucking it out of his triangular hat. Purim is celebrating their survival. The word Purim actually means lot, in reference to Haman’s method of choosing a date.
   On Purim, it is traditional to hold beauty pageants or costume contests and to dress up however, that is mostly amongst the younger children. It is very customary that during the reading whenever Haman’s name is mentioned the crowd must boo and shake their graugers, or noise makers. On Purim it use to be commanded that Jews drink until they cannot tell the difference between “the blessing of Mordecai” and “the curse of Haman” however, they must not get so drunk that they violate any other commandment. Jews also partake in eating triangle cookies called Hamantashen, shaped in the purpose of representing Haman’s three cornered hat, which in the center are filled with fruit or chocolate. There is also a minor fast known as the Fast of Ester to commemorate the fast that Ester took before her meeting with the king.