The custom of giving 'mishloah manot' makes Purim a good time to consider our obligation as Jews to specifically help others – but not just any others.
PurimFebruary-March Illustration: Masha Manapov
What is Purim?
Purim (“lots”), described in the biblical Book of Esther, marks the salvation of ancient Persian Jews from a plot to wipe them out. The story transpired in Shushan, the walled capital city of Persia, where, according to the scroll, the plot was only fully foiled on the 15th day of Adar. The scroll describes how Esther, a Jewish orphan, became queen to King Ahasuerus, and was thus in a position to foil the schemes of Haman, the evil vizier who planned the genocide. She was alerted to the plot by Mordechai, her uncle, was evidently on the king’s council.
The name of the holiday reflects the Pur – the lots drawn by Haman to determine when exactly his (ultimately unsuccessful) plot to destroy the Jewish people was to be carried out.
When is Purim?
Purim is on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar (corresponding roughly to March). In walled cities, such as Jerusalem, it is celebrated on the 15th of Adar, known as Shushan Purim. The date discrepancy is due to the fact that the fighting in Shushan continued for an extra day.
Purim begins the evening before and ends the evening of:
Purim 2016 – March 24
Purim 2017 – March 12
Purim 2018 – March 1
Purim 2019 – March 21
How do we observe Purim?
The Book of Esther is read in public on Purim, and most communities have the tradition (since the 13th century or so) of making noise to “blot out” the name of Haman wherever it is mentioned in the book. Children, in particular, enjoy getting into the act by twirling special ratchets, known as groggers.
In addition to partying, it is customary to give gifts to the poor, particularly food and drink, called “Mishloah Manot”. Although there are many explanations for this custom, it can be seen as the best response to near-catastrophe: nothing brings people together like eating together and giving gifts.
All this feasting makes up for the fact that one also fasts on the day before Purim in commemoration of Esther’s fast, called Taanit Esther.
On a smaller scale, some communities perform whimsical plays called Purim spiels, often parodying current political leaders and public figures. These traditionally took their lead from the actual characters from the Purim story.
What do we eat on Purim?
Purim has always been associated with food, with “mishloach manot” (gifting food) and banquets playing a major role in the observance of the holiday. Some have the tradition of adding enough different foods to each gift basket to require at least three separate blessings, for example: fruit, wine, and cookies.
The best known Purim food is a type of filled pastry known as Hamantaschen (“Haman’s ears”). These were originally called Mohn Taschen, German for “poppy pockets,” but “Mohn” sounds like Haman (the villain from the Book of Esther), and the pun guaranteed the cookies a place in the general revelry of Purim.
A local celebration mixes hamantaschen with traditional Indian dishes, and reveals a vibrant, if modest, community with a rich history and abundant pride.
When Stalin publicly 'disclosed' a plot, part of a vast conspiracy, led by Jews working for the United States, to kill him and destroy the Soviet Union, he followed up by building four giant prison camps for the USSR’s Jews. Only Purim stopped him.
Crunchy but thin dough, with and without poppy-seeds, traditional classics and innovative new fillings - the best of the bunch.
A festive meal is a mitzvah on Purim. Let these dishes keep you in the holiday spirit.
But does it also predict his demise?
What if even one of the sons of Haman was not evil? Karen Alkalay-Gut asks a dissident question.
Purim treats with a variety of tasty fillings? We're all ears.
Creative fillings aren't just the realm of Hanukkah soufganiyot anymore. Check out these modern hamentaschen recipes.
Scholars have long believed these satirical performances originated in a poem from the 1500s, but a careful reading of the Talmud reveals a spiel that extends far further back in history than that.