Purim (Hebrew: פּוּרִים) is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, an official of the Achaemenid Empire who was planning to have all of Persia's Jewish subjects killed, as recounted in the Book of Esther (usually dated to the 5th century BCE). With celebrations including costumes, skits and songs, noisemakers, and gifts of food, Purim is definitely full of fun!
Purim is celebrated among Jews by:
- Exchanging gifts of food and drink, known as mishloach manot
- Donating charity to the poor, known as mattanot la-evyonim
- Eating a celebratory meal, known as se'udat Purim
The main communal celebration involves a public reading—usually in the synagogue—of the Book of Esther (M’gillat Esther), which tells the story of the holiday: Under the rule of King Ahashverosh, Haman, the king’s adviser, plots to exterminate all of the Jews of Persia. His plan is foiled by Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai, who ultimately save the Jews of Persia from destruction. The reading of the m’gillah typically is a rowdy affair, punctuated by booing and noise-making when Haman’s name is read aloud.
Perhaps the most widely held food tradition on Purim is eating triangular-shaped foods such as kreplach and hamantashen pastries. Kreplach are pasta triangles filled with ground beef or chicken and hamantashen are triangles of pastry dough surrounding a filling often made with fruit or chocolate fillings.
Purim is an unusual holiday in many respects. First, Esther is the only biblical book in which God is not mentioned. Second, Purim, like Hanukkah, is viewed as a minor festival according to Jewish custom, but has been elevated to a major holiday as a result of the Jewish historical experience. Over the centuries, Haman has come to symbolize every anti-Semite in every land where Jews were oppressed.
The significance of Purim lies not so much in how it began, but in what it has become: a thankful and joyous affirmation of Jewish survival continuity throughout history!