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Six Things You Might Not Know About Purim
Source: Time, 3-7-12
Its Story Is About a Victory Over Jewish Persecution
In the 5th century B.C., as related in the Old Testament’s Book of Esther, Mordecai, a Jew, refused to bow down to an adviser of King Ahasuerus named Haman. Incensed, Haman persuaded the king that Jews were essentially uncontrollable and should be executed en masse. Mordecai’s adopted daughter, Esther, boldly approached the king and suggested all parties meet at a banquet, where she gave an impassioned speech about the goodness of the Jews and Haman’s plot against them. When Haman stumbled near Esther as he pleaded for mercy, the king mistook this as an attack on Esther, and he reversed course by ordering Haman’s execution. The following day was declared a holiday named Purim.
Making Noise in Synagogue Is Encouraged
A principal tradition of Purim is the reading of the Megillah (Book of Esther) during a synagogue service. When the Megillah is read, it is customary to make noise by booing, hissing, or stamping one’s feet to drown out Haman’s name. You can also twirl a traditional noisemaker, called a gragger.
Purim Is Considered the Jewish Mardi Gras
Mishteh – drinking plenty – is on the menu for Purim. The festival encourages Jews to eat, drink, and be merry, but places emphasis on the imbibing. Revelers are taught to drink copious amounts of wine, until you can’t tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai.” People with health problems, children, and recovering alcoholics need not follow the letter of the law.
It All Comes Back to Food
Purim begins with a fast on the previous day, in order to commemorate Esther’s fast for three days before she met with the king. After the fast is broken, a grand meal should be enjoyed by all, and a popular dessert to serve is Hamantaschen (“Haman’s ears”), triangle-shaped fruit-filled cookies that represent Haman’s three-cornered hat (though some say, as the name goes, that they represent his ears, or even the dice he cast to determine when the Jews would be executed). Sending food to friends, as well as making a charitable donation, are also prescribed as ways of sharing in the tradition.
Purim Doubles as a Masquerade Party
A carnival atmosphere pervades this spring holiday, held on the 14th day of the Hebrew month Adar, which usually falls in February or March. Adults and children alike often go to synagogue in costume. The tradition used to be to dress as figures from the Old Testament, but today anyone from Harry Potter to Dr. Seuss is acceptable. Singing silly songs and acting out Purim plays are also popular activities.
Purim Touched a Nerve With Hitler
Not every aspect of Purim is fun and merriment. The celebrated biblical triumph of the Jews over their oppressors unfortunately found modern echoes in 20th-century Germany. Adolf Hitler banned the observance of the holiday, and several times Nazi attacks were planed to coincide with Purim. In January 1944 the dictator gave a speech, declaring that if the Nazis were defeated, Jews could celebrate a “second Purim.”