Purim Date in the current year: March 24, 2024

Purim Purim, also referred to as the Festival of Lots, is a Jewish holiday commemorating one of the victories of the Jewish people over their enemies who wanted to destroy the Jews. Set in the ancient Achaemenid Persian Empire, the story of the holiday is told in the Book of Esther (Megillat Ester).

According to legend, King Ahasuerus of Persia exiled his wife Vashti because of her refusal to appear at a drinking feast to please the guests. Soon afterwards, he married Esther, a young Jewish woman (although Ahasuerus didn’t know that his new wife was Jewish). At some point, Esther’s cousin Mordecai discovered a plot by two palace guards to kill the king and helped foil it, saving the king’s life.

One day, Mordecai refused to bow down to Ahasuerus’s vizier Haman. Haman found out that Mordecai was Jewish and decided to destroy not just Mordecai but all the Jews in the Persian Empire. He obtained the king’s permission to do so and cast lots to choose the date on which to execute his plan. The lots fell on the 13th of Adar.

Having learned about Haman’s plot, Mordecai turned to Esther and asked for her help. At first she was reluctant to approach the king because nobody was allowed to do that under penalty of death. However, after three days of fasting and praying, she approached Ahasuerus and invited him and Haman to a feast. Meanwhile, Ahasuerus learned about Mordecai saving his life.

At the feast, Esther revealed that she was Jewish and that Haman’s plan to kill all Jews in the empire included her. Since Ahasuerus couldn’t annul his previous decree, he issued a new one, allowing Jewish people to defend themselves from Haman’s henchmen. Haman was hanged on the gallows he had ordered made for Mordecai, Mordecai assumed his position as the king’s second, and Jews successfully defended themselves, killing their attackers, including Haman’s ten sons.

The day of deliverance became a day of rejoicing and feasting. It was named Purim (“lots”) as a reference to the lots cast by Haman. The holiday is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar (or Adar II in Hebrew leap years), the day following the Jews’ victory over their attackers. However, Jews in Jerusalem and some other cities celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar, which is known as Shushan Purim.

The main religious ceremony associated with the celebration of Purim is the reading of the Book of Esther in synagogues. When Haman’s name is read aloud, the congregation makes noise to blot out his name. Sometimes the Book of Esther is also narrated in the form of a performance known as Purim spiel (Purim play). It should be noted, however, that a Purim spiel is an addition to the reading of the Book and not its replacement.

Another well-known Purim custom is gift-giving. On the occasion of the holiday, Jews send baskets with food and drink to family, friends, and other people. Such gifts are called mishloach manot or shalach manos. According to the halakha (Jewish religious laws), one should send a food gift to at least one recipient.

The said gift should consist of at least two different types of food or drink that is ready to eat. Gift baskets usually include pastries (especially hamentashen, triangular cookies associated with Purim), sweets, fruits, snack foods, and a bottle of wine, grape juice or soft drink.

Other traditions associated with Purim are donating charity to poor, eating a celebratory meal, wearing masks and costumes, and drinking wine or other alcoholic beverages (according to an old saying, one should drink until they cannot tell the difference between the phrases “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai”). In Israel, thousands of people participate in spectacular Purim carnivals.

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Purim, Jewish holidays, religious holidays, Book of Esther, Jewish festivals