Rabbi Buchwald on Purim

Rabbi Buchwald

On Purim

Let Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, Founder and Director of NJOP, take you through some of the essential elements of Purim with this selection of entertaining YouTube videos from past years focused on the holiday.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


Origins and Customs of Purim

Purim

A selection of the various histories, traditions and practices of Purim from NJOP,

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


Hamantashen Recipe

Traditional

Hamantashen Recipe

From the kitchen of Roz Krieger z’l

Ingredients:

  • 3 Eggs
  • ½ Cup Shortening or margarine (not oil)
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 2 teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1/4 Cup Orange Juice
  • 3 Cups Flour

Filling of your choice: chocolate chips, poppy seeds, strawberry jam…etc.

Blend eggs, shortening, sugar, baking powder, and orange juice together in a large bowl. Gradually add flour while using hands to work the dough until a soft ball forms and the dough comes away from the side of the bowl. Add flour as needed. While working with the dough, keep hands floured.
Roll out small pieces of the dough on a floured board. Take an average-size glass to use as cookie cutter and cut out circles. The uncut dough can be used for another batch of circles.

Place a small amount of filling into the middle of each circle and fold into a triangle. Be sure to pinch triangle edges together so that they stay closed.

WARNING: Too much filling will cause the hamantashen to “explode.”
Place hamantashen on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 until golden brown.


Jewish Treats Purim Articles

Jewish Treats about

Purim

Browse our archive of Purim related Jewish Treats.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


What and When

What and When

Like Chanukah, Purim is a Rabbinic holiday in that it is not mentioned in the Five Books of Moses (although some opinions say that it is alluded to). It is, however, prophetically based, as its source, Megillat Esther, is part of the Biblical canon.

Because Purim is a Rabbinic holiday, there is no prohibition of doing creative work, as on Shabbat and Yom Tov. However, it is preferable not to go to work on the holiday.

Like all Jewish holidays, Purim begins at sunset. However, because it is a rabbinic holiday, there is no candle lighting.

Two different Purims: Purim and Shushan Purim

  • Unique to the Jewish calendar, Purim is actually observed on different days depending on the location in which it is celebrated.
  • The majority of the Jewish people celebrate Purim on the 14th of Adar.
  • Shushan and all cities that had walls at the time of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar.

A city’s population must celebrate on the day appropriate to its city.

Why:

    • The date for Purim for “cities without walls” is based on Esther 9:16-17.
    • “And the rest of the Jews in the states [not Shushan] of the king grouped together, protecting their lives, and were relieved of their enemies…on the 13th of the month of Adar, and they rested on the 14th, making it a day of feasting and joy.”
    • The date for Purim in “walled cities” is based on Esther 9:18.
    • “But the Jews in Shushan grouped together on the 13th and 14th, and rested on the 15th, making it a day of feasting and joy.”
    • While only the residents of Shushan rejoiced on the 15th, the rabbis decreed that all cities with walls at the time of the conquest share the latter date, in order that Jerusalem should also be separated out for honor.

How does this effect Purim today:

    • All modern walled cities celebrate on the 14th.
    • The only modern city that celebrates Shushan Purim is Jerusalem.
    • In order to extend the joyous celebration, many in Israel first celebrate outside of Jerusalem and then join the Shushan Purim celebrations in Jerusalem.

See details on celebrating Shushan Purim when the 15th is on Shabbat.

NOTE: Purim activities should be performed on the appropriate date for one’s city.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


The Fast of Esther

Ta’anit Esther

The Fast of Esther

A fast day is observed in commemoration of the 3 days of fasting by Esther, Mordechai and the entire Jewish community before Esther approached Achashverosh.

The fast begins at the break of dawn and ends after the Megillah (Book of Esther) is read that night.

If one is feeling weak, one may break the fast after nightfall, prior to Megillah reading.

Some people will get up before dawn and have an early morning breakfast (but this is permitted only if a decision to do so is verbally expressed the night before).

Do’s and Don’ts

  1. During the duration of the fast, eating and drinking are prohibited.
  2. Unlike Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av (The Day of Atonement and the Ninth of Av), bathing, anointing and wearing leather are permitted.
  3. Pregnant and nursing women, and others with health restrictions are exempt from fasting (please consult your rabbi). Children under the age of bar/bat mitzvah (13 for boys, 12 for girls) are not required to fast.
  4. Special prayers are added to the synagogue services:
    • Slichot (Penitential Prayers) and Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) are recited.
    • At the afternoon service, Exodus 32:11, containing the 13 attributes of G-d’s mercy, is read from the Torah.
    • The Aneinu prayer asking for special forgiveness is added to the morning and afternoon services by the prayer leader. An individual who is fasting includes Aneinu in the blessing of Sh’ma Koleinu when saying Mincha.

If the Fast of Esther falls on Shabbat, the fast is observed on the Thursday before, as it is forbidden to fast on Shabbat (with the exception of Yom Kippur).

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


Shabbat Parashat Zachor

Shabbat Parashat Zachor

The Sabbath of Remembering

Shabbat Parashat Zachor – The Sabbath of Remembering is named for the special Torah reading that is added to the Shabbat morning Torah service. Zachor is always the Shabbat before Purim.

In addition to the regular weekly Torah reading, Deuteronomy 25:17-19 is read which commands the Jewish people to remember that the nation of Amalek attacked the elderly and weak of the Jewish people three days after the Jews crossed the Red(Reed) Sea. Amalek is a wicked people whose memory must be erased from the world.

    • Not only was Amalek the first nation to attack the Jewish people after witnessing the miracles of the ten plagues in Egypt and the splitting of the sea, but they attacked from behind, aiming at the weak and the stragglers.
    • The nation of Amalek is considered Israel’s opposing force in the world – something akin to evil incarnate.
      Parashat Zachor is read on the Shabbat before Purim because Haman was the direct descendent of Agag the Amalekite king who was defeated, but temporarily spared, by King Saul (as recorded in Samuel I 15).

While women are not obligated to hear Parashat Zachor, because they are not obligated in the commandments of war, it has become obligatory since Jewish women have taken it upon themselves to hear the parasha.

For a more in-depth discussion of this see: Hanging Haman: The Commandment to Wipe Out Amalek

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


Shabbat Parashat Shekalim

Shabbat Parashat Shekalim

The Sabbath of the Shekels

The Sabbath of the Shekels is named for the special Torah reading that is added to the Shabbat morning Torah service, Shekalim is always read on Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of the month of) Adar or on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Adar.

In addition to the regular weekly Torah reading, Exodus 30:11-16 is read, which commands that a census be taken of the Jewish people through the giving of a half-shekel by all men over the age of 20. The money was then to be used for the work in the Tabernacle and later for the communal sacrifices in the Holy Temple.

    • Each person had to give a half-shekel at the time of the census (i.e. no “payment plans”).
    • Everyone gave the same amount – the rich could not give more and the poor could not give less.
    • The census counted every male over the age of 20 under the assumption that every male over the ago of 20 had established a household, thus the census counted all Jewish households.

Why we read Shekalim at the very beginning or just before the month of Adar :

    • In the time of the Temple, the half-shekel was contributed during the month of Adar, so the reading of Shekalim served as an announcement of the upcoming obligation. The contribution was made in Adar, because the fiscal year of the Temple began in the month that followed, Nisan.
    • The sages teach that Haman A chashverosh offered 10,000 silver pieces for the right to destroy the Jews, assuming this would off-set the total sum of the Jews’ half-shekel donation in the wilderness.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


Hanging Haman: The Commandment to Wipe Out Amalek

Hanging Haman:

The Commandment to Wipe Out Amalek

“The army of Amalek swooped down from behind them, attacking the old and the weak who were straggling at the rear. The commandment to remember Amalek, however, is more than just remembering that Amalek attacked the Jews in the wilderness, it is remembering that they are the very antithesis of Israel…”

On the Shabbat before Purim, generally known as Shabbat Parashat Zachor, Jews across the world gather in their synagogues to hear Deuteronomy 25:17-19 read at the end of Torah reading:

Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you went out of Egypt. That they encountered you on the way, and struck the hindmost, all that were weak at the rear; and they did not fear G-d. Therefore it will be, when the Eternal, your G-d, gives you relief from all your enemies, all around, in the land that the Eternal, your G-d, is giving to you as an inheritance to possess it, then you shall wipe out the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens; you must not forget.

What must the Children of Israel remember? Deuteronomy 25:17 refers to an incident in Exodus 17:8-16, just after the Children of Israel crossed the Reed/Red Sea. On their third day out of Egypt, as they traveled in the wilderness, the army of Amalek swooped down from behind them, attacking the old and the weak who were straggling at the rear. The commandment to remember Amalek, however, is more than just remembering that Amalek attacked the Jews in the wilderness, it is remembering that they are the very antithesis of Israel.

Parashat Zachor is read on the Shabbat before Purim because Haman is a direct descendant of Amalek. Like his forefathers, Haman was the archenemy of the Jews. He wanted to entirely wipe out the Jewish nation. Neither begging, bribery nor conversion would have changed Haman’s mind because he recognized that the Jewish nation itself represented a spiritual force which he abhorred.

To understand Haman’s motives and the commandment of Zachor, it is necessary to first learn the history of Amalek:

Esav’s Successor – Initially, Amalek was an actual person who later became the leader of a clan, which became a nation of the same name. Amalek was a grandson of Jacob’s brother Esav.
In Genesis 36:12, the Torah introduces Amalek:
Now Timna was concubine to Elifaz, son of Esav, and she bore Amalek to Elifaz.
We later learn (Genesis 36:22) that Timna was the sister of Lotan who was a chieftain of the land of Seir where Esav went to live. Thus we see that Amalek was the scion of two powerful families, yet he was only a concubine’s son.
The Sages tell us that Amalek was raised in the tents of Esav, constantly hearing his grandfather bemoan his fate and how Esav’s brother, Jacob, had stolen his birthright (See Genesis 25).
Amalek absorbed Esav’s hatred of the children of Jacob, thus it became the nature of the nation of Amalek to hate the Jews.

Amalek versus the Children of Israel:

Exodus 17:8-16 – As noted above, three days after the crossing of the Reed/Red Sea, the Amalekites traveled many miles in order to attack the Jewish people from behind, attacking the weak and the stragglers. The Jewish people miraculously defeated the Amalekites in a one day war. This battle was significant because it showed the true nature of the Amalekites. G-d had just performed miracle after miracle, from the 10 plagues to the splitting of the sea, and not a single nation dared to attack Israel except Amalek. Lest one believe that Amalek was courageous, it should be noted that they did not risk a frontal attack.

Every nation has certain outstanding character traits. Amalek is known for its all consuming love of self and reliance on violence to prove its superiority.

The Sages teach that Amalek never denied the existence of G-d or G-d’s special relationship with the Jewish people. The Amalekites just didn’t care. In fact, their very understanding of G-d and His relationship with the Israelites was precisely why they felt the need to attack–Amalek clearly resented the existence of an opposing authority.
Amalek saw that no other nation dared to attack the Children of Israel and that the Jews had demonstrated that there can be power in peace. This went against the entire mind-set of the Amalekites, who preached and practiced the ideology that ‘might makes right.”

Amalek versus the Kingdom of Israel: Samuel I, Chapter 15

Not long after the unified Kingdom of Israel was formed under the reign of King Saul, the king, at the direction of the prophet Samuel, gathered his troops to fulfill the Biblical commandment to wipe out Amalek.
King Saul was a mighty warrior and was victorious over Amalek, virtually destroying the nation. But, “he took Agag, the king of Amalek alive…and Saul and the people had pity on Agag the king of Amalek,” and on the Amalekite flocks and cattle (Samuel I 15:8-9).
By having mercy on Agag, Saul went against the specific directive of
G-d, who was, needless to say, less than pleased.
The prophet Samuel rose early the very next morning, came to Saul and informed him that G-d was angered by his taking Amalekite sheep and cattle for spoils and for not fulfilling the commandment to utterly destroy Amalek.
After a brief and futile denial by Saul, the king admitted his transgression and Samuel ordered Agag brought to him. The prophet proceeded to kill the king of Amalek and concluded the matter.
The damage, however, was already done. In that one night, our sages teach us, Agag had relations with a maidservant (or his wife) who later, gave birth to a son. Thus, over a thousand years later the Jews were faced with mortal danger from Haman the Agagite.
It is interesting to note that just as Haman is a direct descendant of Agag, both Mordechai and Esther are descendants of Saul.

Why Amalek and Israel are in opposition, and how this relates to Haman:

The Talmud tells us that the wording in Deuteronomy 25:18, “asher kar’cha ba’derech” literally means that Amalek “happened” upon the Jews. This, the rabbis explain, is an explanation of the personality of Amalek: Amalek represents the philosophy of chance, of the haphazard dictates of “fate” and “destiny,” which oppose the Jewish philosophy of Divine control. Amalek philosophy negates the concept that there is a purpose to humanity or to creation itself–again the antithesis of Jewish philosophy.

The difference in philosophy between Amalek and Israel can be seen all the way back to the time of the nations’ forefathers, Esav and Jacob.
Esav was a hunter, he lived his life for the thrill of the game, the risk of danger and for moment-to-moment pleasure. Life had no particular purpose in Esav’s mind, which is demonstrated in his desire for Jacob’s lentils and his preparedness to sell his birthright. Esav easily parts with his birthright as first born (which would have given him the rights to the Land of Israel) merely because he was hungry at that very moment. When he gave the birthright away, he mocked Jacob’s desire for it by asking “What is the birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:27-34).

Jacob, on the other hand, planned for the future. He studied and tried to find the best way to serve G-d. For this reason, G-d communicated with him and made him the father of the twelve tribes, the future Nation of Israel.

Amalek’s attack on the Jews after they crossed the Red(Reed) Sea was motivated by this hatred of the Israelite belief in the Divine hand of G-d. Certainly Amalek, and the entire world, had heard of the great plagues that had struck Egypt, but they found reasons to scoff at these phenomenal events. While no other nation would dare attack the Jews with the cloud of G-d surrounding them, Amalek needed to attack in order to show that “might makes right” was still the natural order of the world. While they did not win in their battle with Israel, they certainly diminished the fear of the other nations for the Jewish people. The Midrash describes it as if the Amalekites cooled a hot bath, scorching themselves, but encouraging others to enter.

Haman:

Haman’s attempt to destroy the Jewish people is a direct result of the historical and philosophical battles of Amalek and Israel. As a descendent of Agag, King of Amalek, Haman is strikingly aware of the Jewish victories over Amalek, both in the wilderness and in the time of King Saul, as definitively recorded in Jewish texts. His desire to wipe out the Jews as a nation was a direct result of this historical battle between nations.

Haman’s conflict with Mordechai, however, was based on the philosophical differences of the two nations. Just as in the days in the wilderness, Mordechai (the Jews) stood as a symbol of Jewish strength and as a symbol of the Divine hand active in the world. As Haman himself points out to King Achashverosh, no other nation was so scattered, yet remained unified. And Mordechai defied Haman’s assertions of might makes right by refusing to bow to him just because he was Prime Minister. While the king of the land may have commanded all to bow to Haman, the King of the Universe commanded all to bow to no one but Him. Throughout the Megillah there is an underlying struggle of Haman trying to show that he controls his own destiny, and the destiny of the empire, only to be foiled by the subtle plans of G-d.

Fighting Amalek Today:

While we do not know who the descendants of Amalek are today, the sages teach that a part of Amalek can also be found in each of us–our natural inclination to do wrong. Every person must constantly fight the Amalek in his/herself which tends to rationalize their actions: For example, lashon harah, speaking evil or gossiping, can destroy another person, yet we constantly justify our gossiping by saying that our juicy tidbit must already be common knowledge or it is important that the other person know that Suzie was out with Joey. On a more personal level, for the modern day Jew, fighting Amalek may mean battling our own inclinations and remembering that G-d is always there and surely runs the world for our benefit.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


The Mystery of Hester Panim

The Mystery of Hester Panim

“To the believer, it’s the Hand of G-d-Divine Providence moving behind the scenes to make certain the Jews are saved. This is Hester Panim…”

An Old Joke

It was a deluge, the likes of which had not been seen for years. A man who lived by the river saw that he was in danger of being flooded. He prayed to G-d, “Please save me.” A few minutes later a fire truck came by and told him to get on. He said, “No, G-d will save me.” The water continued to rise until he had to flee to the second floor. Again he pleaded with G-d. A few minutes later, a boat drifted by but again he refused human help. Finally, stuck on the roof with the water swirling around him, a police helicopter threw him a rope, but the man insisted that G-d would save him. As you may imagine, he also wasn’t the best swimmer. So up in the Heavenly Court he says to G-d. “I trusted in you, why didn’t you save me?” And G-d replies,” I tried, I sent you a fire truck, I sent you a boat, I sent you a helicopter…”

Of all the books of the Bible, the Book of Esther is unique in that it does not once mention G-d directly. One might ask, “Why, then, is it considered a holy book and included in the Tanach (the complete Biblical canon)?”

To understand the importance of the Book of Esther as more than just a history of the Jewish victory over a vicious enemy, one must look at the phenomenon of Hester Panim. Literally, Hester Panim means “the hiding of the face” and refers to G-d’s presence being hidden from direct human perception. Like the sun on a very cloudy day, however, just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The story of Purim teaches us that G-d is ALWAYS involved, even when we don’t see His hand.

After a casual reading of the Book of Esther, one might think it is a heroic tale about Mordechai and Esther saving the Jewish people from Haman through diplomatic skill. After all, Esther does deftly manipulate the emotions of King Achashverosh and Haman at her private wine-parties with them. Looking deeper, however, one is struck by the overwhelming “coincidences” of the right people being at the right places at the right times to save the Jews.

To follow one line of such “coincidences”:

*Esther was the beautiful niece of one of the leaders of the Jewish people.
*While women throughout the kingdom flocked to the beauty pageant, hoping to be chosen as queen, the Megillah tells us that Esther “was taken to the king’s palace” (2:8). Her beauty was noticed and she was brought, apparently by force, to the palace, for she would never have gone there of her own volition. Ultimately, she chosen to be queen.

*Because Esther is in the palace, Mordechai is able to get word to the king about the plot on his life, which was not remembered by the king until Haman’s plot was unraveling.

*If Esther had not been “taken to the king’s palace,” there would have been no “insider” to have Haman’s evil plan revoked. Even Mordechai points this out when he tells her: “Do not imagine that [you can] save yourself in the king’s palace from the fate of all the Jews. For if you indeed keep silent at this time, relief and salvation will come to the Jews from another source, and you and your father’s household will perish. And who knows that but for a time like this you are in a royal position?!”(Esther 4:13-14)

Coincidence? Divine Providence? To the scoffer, it’s the former. To the believer, it’s the Hand of G-d–Divine Providence moving behind the scenes to make certain the Jews are saved. This is Hester Panim. Therefore, the Book of Esther is not simply the story of how the Jews were saved from Haman’s evil plot–it is a guidebook for future generations on how to view the world.

What role does Hester Panim play in the Divine plan? Why would G-d choose to hide Himself from humanity? Hester Panim is actually a Divine gift that allows humanity freedom of choice. If a child is told not to eat a cookie by its mother, but the mother remains in the kitchen to watch, then the child isn’t going to take the cookie. Once mother leaves the room, though, it is the child’s free choice that determines what happens to the mother’s ruling. At the same time, when mother leaves the room, she is aware of her child’s behavior, listens for danger and is ready to jump to the rescue. So too, G-d leaves us to give us space and allows us to make our own free choices, but He is always waiting on the periphery to protect us from ultimate harm.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


Drinking on Purim

Purim

“A person should drink on Purim until the point where they cannot tell the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai’ and ‘Cursed is Haman.’
Talmud-Megillah 7a/Shulchan Aruch
(Code of Jewish Law)

On Purim, one is commanded to drink wine to a point of inebriation. This is usually fulfilled during the course of the festive meal, although many also attempt this on Purim night, as well.

How much should one drink?

The purpose of drinking on Purim is not to get so drunk that one is unable to function. It is generally agreed that the requirement is limited to the point of not impairing one’s ability to recite blessings and fulfill the necessary mitzvot of Purim.

Most opinions agree that one should drink more than one is accustomed. The Talmud actually suggests as well that the mental blurriness necessary can also be fulfilled by a drink-induced nap.

What does it mean, “cannot tell the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai’ and ‘Cursed is Haman?'”

On a simple level, this is just a description of a level of intoxication, a point at which one has trouble making clear distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad.

Not being able to tell the difference between ‘Blessed is Mordechai’ and ‘Cursed is Haman’ accentuates one of the major themes of Purim, which is role reversal.

On a more philosophical level, when ‘Blessed is Mordechai’ and ‘Cursed is Haman’ become indistinguishable, one has grasped a higher concept that even the negative which happens is good, that it comes from G-d and, in the end, makes us better people.

Why do we drink on Purim?

When reading the Purim story, one sees that wine plays an important role in events that transpire:

      • King Achashverosh is drunk when he calls for Vashti and when he orders her banished (*Targum and Rashi both say she was killed).
      • Esther invites the King and Haman to a banquet, which the Megillah refers to as a wine-banquet.
      • The Megillah describes the 14th and 15h of Adar as days of “feasting and joy,” inferring that the Jews celebrated with feasts of wine.

IMPORTANT NOTICE

While drinking on Purim is a mitzvah, risking one’s life is not. Whether host or guest, it is important to be responsible:

      • DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE
      • Beware of underage drinking. While Purim is a religious holiday, and underage alcohol consumption is allowed for religious occasions, adults are still responsible for minors. Please do not give young people any alcohol beyond the bare minimum of wine, if at all. Remember, our children are deeply influenced by our own behavior.
      • While Purim is a religious holiday, and underage alcohol consumption is allowed for religious occasions, adults are still responsible for minors. Please do not give young people liquor beyond the bare minimum, and remember, our children are influenced by our behavior!

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


Festive Meal

Festive Meal

The Book of Esther records that the Jews agreed “to observe them as days of feasting and joy” (Esther 9:22). One is obligated to partake in a festive meal on Purim day.

The bare minimum to fulfill this mitzvah requires that one wash and eat bread and then recite the bentching, the Grace after Meals.

    • One should include Al Hanissim, the special prayer for Purim, in bentching.
    • If one forgots Al Hanissim, one does not repeat bentching.
    • It is customary to invite guests to one’s Purim meal.
    • The Purim meal is normally held later in the day so that the feasting and rejoicing carries over past sunset into the next day.
    • The festive meal concludes with bentching, Grace after Meals, which can be found in any Jewish prayerbook or bentcher, special Grace after Meals booklets.
    • Al Hanissim is added to bentching before the conclusion of the 2nd blessing.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


Matanot L'evyonim-Gifts to the Poor

Gifts to the Poor

Matanot L'evyonim

After the Jews were saved from the decree of Haman, they agreed “to observe [the days of Purim] with…donations to the needy” (Esther 9:22).

Giving to the poor is a mitzvah all year round. However, the mitzvah to do so on Purim is separate even from the general mitzvah of tzedakah (charity).

    • To fulfill the mitzvah of Matanot L’evyonim one must give charity to two individual poor people.
    • One should give each poor person enough money to provide for a meal. One may also give someone the equivalent in food.
    • Matanot L’evyonim should be given early enough on Purim so that the poor can benefit on the holiday. If, however, one does not have someone to give to on Purim, one should hold onto that money (separately) to give when the opportunity arrives. The money may not be given or spent elsewhere.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

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Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

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Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


Mishloach Manot/Shaloch Manos-Sending Gifts

Sending Gifts

Mishloach Manot / Shaloch Manos

After being rescued from Haman’s attempt to destroy the Jews, scripture records that the Jews agreed “to observe…with the sending of food gifts, each to his/her friend” (Esther 9:22).

The threat of Haman reminded the Jews that indeed they were a separate but unified people, and each individual’s rejoicing over being saved was shared with neighbors and friends by sending gift baskets.

Every Jew is obligated to give at least one Mishloach Manot gift containing at lest two different types of immediately edible food items.

If a family wishes to send Mishloach Manot as a family unit, they should make sure to send enough packages so that each adult (over the age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah) fulfills the mitzvah.

    • The package must contain two different foods (or drink) e.g. fruit & candy, grapejuice & chocolate, cookies & ice cream
    • The food in the package should be ready-to-eat and not require preparation (i.e.: do not send a raw steak – but salami is okay).

Hamentashen

A popular item to include in Mishloach Manot is Hamantashen (click to recipe), which are special triangle shaped cookies filled with poppyseeds, prune butter, jelly, chocolate, and a variety of other treats and delights.

There are several theories as to the source and history of hamantashen:

The triangle shape of the hamantashen are said to represent a type of three-cornered hat worn by Haman. They are also sometimes called “Haman’s ears,” also because of their triangular shape.
The word may be derived from the Yiddish moon tashen, which mean “poppy pockets.”
The question may be asked, “Why is the Purim treat named after the archenemy of the Jewish people?” By eating a piece of Haman, one may be figuratively “wiping out the memory of Amalek.”

Traditionally, hamantashen were made with poppy seed or prune filling. Today, however, people use a wide variety of fillings such as chocolate, strawberry or apricot jam, cherry pie filling, prunes, etc.

Mishloach Manot Suggestions

Mishloach Manot are a fun way to get the entire family involved in the holiday. Having children prepare baskets or baggies is a great way to keep the little hands busy while baking the hamantashen.
Many people like to “theme” their Mishloach Manot.
For the more adventurous, and expensive:

Flower Pots

Using regular earthenware flower pots as the basket, fill each pot with chocolate crumb cake (if possible, bake in pot) to represent soil. Tightly roll a green fruit roll-up and stick into the center of the cake for a flower stem. To the top, carefully arrange a red fruit roll-up into a rose. This project creates a beautiful display of 2 separate types of foods.

For those who want to keep it simple, and are on a budget:

Prisoners: Dress in black and white striped clothing (or in a solid color and pin paper stripes) and deliver bread (the hamotzee blessing) and water (the she’ha’kol blessing).

Mishloach Manot are meant to bring joy, happiness and unity amongst Jews. It is not meant to be a contest of who can create the largest, most expensive or most extravagant gift arrangements. Many feel that it is better to give smaller packages to more people. It is also better to spend more on gifts to the poor than on fancy Mishloach Manot.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


Purim Day Megillah Reading

Purim Day

Megillah Reading

The Megillah tells us that all Jews agreed “to observe them as days of feasting and joy, with the sending of food gifts, each to his/her friend, and donations to the needy” (Esther 9:22).

This is the source for the various mitzvot that are part of Purim day:

Changes in the synagogue service on Purim

Torah Reading

      • The Purim Torah reading is Exodus 17:8-16, which tells of the initial encounter between Israel and Amalek in the wilderness.
      • Megillah Reading

As mentioned earlier, the Megillah must be heard once our Purim night and once on Purim day.
The Megillah reading will often follow the morning service. Those who are unable to attend, however, should check with their local synagogue(s) for later additional readings.
For further details on the Megillah and Megillah Reading, please read Purim Night Megillah Reading.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

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Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

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Breaking the Fast

Breaking the Fast

Many people eat together and have little dinner parties, while some synagogues have “Purim Parties or Carnivals” with food and fun for the kids (and adults!).

After hearing the Megillah, the fast is broken.

While the obligatory festival meal must be held on Purim day, it is appropriate to have a festive meal with bread and wine in the evening as well. Many people follow the custom of getting drunk on Purim night and Purim day. A much beloved Purim custom is the Purim shpiel.

A Purim shpiel is a play in which people make fun of friends, teachers, institutions and normally serious situations. This custom is based on Purim being the time v’nahaphoch hu. “it was turned around” (Esther 9:1). We therefore turn our normally serious and courteous behavior into a light-hearted and humorous mood. There are few sacred cows when it comes to a Purim shpiel, but one should be careful not to hurt people’s feelings.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


Purim Night Megillah Reading

Purim Night

Megillah Reading

The Tan’ach, the Hebrew name for the complete Bible, is made up of Torah (the Pentateuch), N’viim (Prophets) and K’tuvim (Writings). Included in K’Tuvim are the 5 megillot (scrolls).

The Tan’ach

  • Shir HaShirim – The Song of Songs – written by King Solomon. Song of Songs is read on Passover.
  • Ruth – The Book of Ruth – written by Samuel the Prophet. The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot.
  • Eichah – Lamentations – written by Jeremiah the Prophet. Lamentations is read on Tisha B’Av.
  • Kohelet – Ecclesiastes – also written by King Solomon, is read on Sukkot.
  • Esther – The Book of Esther is read on Purim and is attributed to Mordechai and Esther.

While all five of these books are called megillot, only Esther is referred to as “The Megillah.”
The Megillah is read twice on Purim, once at night and once during the day. Both readings are obligatory.
On Purim night, the Megillah is usually read about an hour after that week’s Shabbat candle lighting times. Different synagogues may, however, vary, so please call your local synagogue for the exact times.
If possible, one should not break one’s fast before hearing the Megillah. If one feels weak or ill, however, one is permitted to eat.

      • In order to fulfill the mitzvah of Megillah, it is necessary to hear every word during the reading. For this reason it is imperative that people not talk to each other during the Megillah reading or allow the words to be drowned out by “stamping out” Haman.

Blessings for Megillah reading:

The person reading the Megillah recites 3 blessings before the Megillah is read. Those listening should respond “Amen.”

    • Blessed are You L-rd, our G-d, Ruler of the world, who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us concerning the reading of the Megillah.
    • Blessed are You L-rd, our G-d, Ruler of the world, Who wrought miracles for our ancestors in those days at this season.
    • Blessed are You L-rd, our G-d, Ruler of the world, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

After Megillah reading, the reader recites one blessing. Following the blessing, the congregation recites the traditional hymns, Asher Heni and Shoshanat Ya’akov.

    • Blessed are You L-rd, our G-d, Ruler of the world, Who takes up our grievance, judges our claim, avenges our wrong; Who brings just retribution upon all enemies of our soul and exacts vengeance for us from our foes. Blessed are You L-rd, Who exacts vengeance for His people Israel from all their foes, the G-d Who brings salvation.
    • Asher Heni is recited only after the evening Megillah reading.
    • Asher Heni and Shoshanat Yaakov can usually be found in Jewish prayerbooks, or after the Megillah text.
    • Because the reading of the Megillah is a mitzvah in which both men and women are equally obligated, many synagogues hold second and third readings for those who miss Megillah reading so that mothers and fathers can switch between watching the children and hearing Megillah.

Children who are not able to stay quiet during the Megillah reading should not be brought to the services.

“Booing” during the Megillah:

Because it is a commandment to “wipe out” the memory of Amalek, and Haman is the wicked epitome of Amalek, it is customary to drown out his name with boos, hisses and other loud noises.
When the reader says the name of Haman everyone makes noises to drown out his name. As mentioned earlier, however, it is necessary to hear every word of the Megillah reading. Therefore, when the reader or the rabbi signals for the noise to stop and the reader to continue, it is important to maintain quiet.
While all sources of noise are acceptable for drowning out the name of Amalek, the traditional Purim noisemaker is a grogger, a mechanical device that makes a loud grating sound when twirled by hand.

Making groggers is a great way to involve children in the Purim festivities.

Dressing up in Costumes:

There is a tradition on Purim to come dressed up in costume or mask to Megillah reading. A major theme in the Megillah is the ‘hidden face of G-d.’ By putting on a mask, we are remembering that one must often look past the surface of an experience to see the hand of G-d.
Dressing up is also a way for people to bring joy and laughter to their friends, another major Purim theme.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


A Brief Synopsis of the Book of Esther

A Brief Synopsis of

The Book of Esther

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

The Book of Esther opens with a description of an enormous 180-day party thrown by King Achashverosh in his 3rd year as king of the Persian Empire, ruling over 127 provinces. As the days of feasting draw to a close, he summons his wife, Vashti, to show off her beauty (by appearing wearing only her crown!). But Vashti refuses to come and the king, following his ministers’ advice, has her banished.

Chapter 2

As time passes, Achashverosh realizes the consequences of his actions and misses his queen. The deed, however, is done. Seeing that their ruler regretted the action that they suggested, the ministers propose that he find a new queen via an elaborate beauty contest of all the kingdom’s beautiful maidens. From all over the 127 provinces, beautiful women are brought to the palace for the king to select his new queen.
In Shushan, the capital city, lives a beautiful Jewess named Esther (also called Hadassah). She is an orphan who was raised by her uncle, Mordechai, one of the leaders of the Jewish people in exile. When they come to take her to the palace, Mordechai, insightfully instructs her not to reveal that she is a Jewess or who her family is. Needless to say, after a 12 month process, Esther is deemed the fairest of them all. “The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she carried charm and favor before him more than all the other virgins, so he placed the royal crown on her head, and made her queen in place of Vashti”(Esther 2:17).

While Mordechai does not reveal his relationship to the new queen, he frequents the palace gates to hear news of Esther’s well being. One day he overhears two men plotting to murder the king and he quickly sends word to Esther, who reveals the plot to the king in the name of Mordechai. The plotters are caught and executed, and Mordechai ‘s name and deed are written in the king’s Book of Chronicles.

Chapter 3

In the meantime, Achashverosh appoints Haman the Agagite (An Amalekite) as Prime Minister and issues a decree that all should bow to him. Mordechai refuses to bow down before Haman. [The Midrash informs us that Haman wore a necklace with a large idol, which is one reason Mordechai refused to bow before him.] Mordechai’s refusal infuriates Haman. Already driven by his family’s historic hatred of the Jewish people, Haman goes to King Achashverosh (with 10,000 silver pieces) and asks for permission to destroy the Jews. He presents the issue to the king as a matter of loyalty, saying “There is a certain people, scattered and spread out among the peoples in all the states of your kingdom, their laws are different from other peoples and they do not observe the king’s laws, so it is not worth it for the king to leave them alive” (Esther 3:8). The king agrees and issues an edict to all 127 provinces saying that on the 13th of Adar, the Jews in all the provinces are to be exterminated and their property kept as plunder.

Chapter 4

Upon hearing this vile edict, Mordechai dons sackcloth and ashes. He quickly sends word to Esther that she must go to the king and stop this horrible decree from becoming reality. Esther, however, is afraid to approach the king. It is known that anyone who approaches the king without being summoned faces the chance of death. But Mordechai sees the bigger picture and tells Esther “Do not imagine that [you can] save yourself in the king’s palace from the fate of all the Jews. For if you indeed keep silent at this time, relief and salvation will come to the Jews from another source, and you and your father’s household will perish. And who knows that but for a time like this you are in a royal position?!”(Esther 4:13-14) Summoning all of her courage, Esther agrees to go to the king but she first asks Mordechai to request all the Jews to fast for three days and repent for their own sins while praying for the heavenly decree against them to be reversed.

Chapter 5

With great trepidation and dressed in her most beautiful robes, Esther approaches King Achashverosh. As she walks towards his throne she prays that G-d has taken into account the three days of fasting and repentance and has nullified His decree against the Jews. Seeing the beautiful queen, the king holds out his golden scepter, a sign that she is welcome in his court, and offers to grant her any request. Modestly, Esther requests only that Achashverosh and his Prime Minister Haman join her for a private feast. Pleased at her minimal request, which shows him that she was a wise choice as queen, the King agrees. Haman is summoned and the three dine together. At the end of the feast, the king once again tells her to ask whatever she would of him and she only requests that the king and Haman join her for a second feast on the following day.
After the private feast, Haman sets out for his home well pleased with the great favor shown to him by the queen. On his way, however, he passes Mordechai, who once again refuses to bow, reigniting Haman’s fury. By the time Haman reaches his home, he is crazed with anger at Mordechai’s refusal to bow – after all, he is Haman, second to the king and so beloved even by the queen! He tells his wife, Zeresh, and his gathered friends “Even Queen Esther did not bring anyone else with the king except me, to the feast she prepared, and tomorrow as well, I am invited to her feast with the king. All this is worth nothing to me, every time I see Mordechai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate!”(Esther 5:12-13) . Zeresh, who equals her husband in wickedness, suggests that Haman immediately build a gallows on which to hang Mordechai personally. This Haman does, with the assistance of his ten sons.

Chapter 6

That night, King Achashverosh is unable to sleep. After tossing and turning, he calls for his ministers to bring him the Book of Chronicles and read it to him. The section is read that recalls the great service rendered to him by Mordechai for uncovering the plot on the king’s life and Achashverosh realizes that he has never rewarded Mordechai. Just as the king is deciding how to best reward a man who has saved his life, Haman enters. He has come, after building the gallows, to ask the king for permission to hang Mordechai. Before he can speak, however, the king asks his opinion on how the king can best honor a most loyal subject. Thinking that the king is referring to him, Haman suggests that the king dress the subject in the king’s finest robes and have him led around town on the king’s steed. Pleased with the suggestion, he orders Haman to dress Mordechai in the finest royal robes and to lead him around Shushan on his best stallion.

Chapter 7

After returning home feeling thoroughly humiliated, Haman is summoned to the palace to dine with the King and Queen. As the banquet comes to a close, Esther tells the king that someone seeks her death and the death of her people. Outraged, the king demands to know who this man is. Esther reveals her identity as a Jew and identifies Haman as the archenemy. Overcome by anger, the king went out to “the garden orchard, while Haman stood up to plead for his life from Queen Esther…The king then returned from the garden orchard to the wine feast chamber, [just as] Haman was falling on the couch on which Esther was lying. The king said, ‘Does he also intend to assault the queen in my presence here in the palace?!'” (Esther 7:7-8) The king will not be placated, and Haman is hanged from the very gallows that he built for Mordechai.

Chapter 8

Achashverosh now sees the damage that his late Prime Minister has caused and appoints Mordechai as his new Prime Minister. The very first edict that Mordechai and Esther issue grants the Jews the right to defend themselves against those who try to harm them.

Chapter 9

When the 13th of Adar arrives, the Jews successfully defeat their enemies throughout the provinces, although in Shushan the battle continues throughout the day of the 14th of Adar. The ten sons of Haman are killed and their bodies are hanged publicly. When their enemies are vanquished, the Jews celebrate their survival with great feasts, thus the 14th (outside of Shushan) and the 15th are the days for celebrating Purim.

Mordechai, as the spiritual leader of the Jewish people, and Esther, declare that henceforth the 14th of Adar shall be a day of feasting in all of the outlying provinces, but the 15th shall be a day of feasting in the city of Shushan, for these were the days on which the threat was abated. (The Great Sages amended this to give honor to the city of Jerusalem so that all cities which had walls at the time Joshua conquered the land of Canaan were given the same status as Shushan, thus in Jerusalem Jews celebrate Shushan Purim on the 15th.) Mordechai also codified the particular practices of the holiday of Purim: the reading of the Megillah, the festive meal, gifts of food and charity to the poor.

Chapter 10

“King Achashverosh then imposed a tax on the mainland and on the sea islands. And the entire account of his power and might, and the details of Mordechai’s greatness which the king promoted, are indeed recorded in the Book of Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia. For Mordechai the Jew was King Achashverosh’s viceroy, the leader of the Jews, and accepted by most of his brethren, promoting his people’s welfare and preaching peace for all their descendants” (Esther 10).

Important Characters in the Book of Esther

To understand the story of Esther, it is important to know a little more about the major players in the story.

Achashverosh: While some historian’s correlate Achashverosh to Cambys, son of Cyrus, or as the son of Darius the Mede, tradition identifies him as a pretender to the throne who gained power through deceit and/or bribery. No matter how Achashverosh achieved his kingship, he ruled over a vast kingdom, yet the Megillah itself shows us what sort of ruler he was. From the outset, it is apparent that he is easily swayed by the opinions of others. In the first chapter, he demands that Vashti come to the men’s party to display her beauty. Like a child, he must prove that he has the best. Nor is it Achashverosh’s own idea that she be banished when she refuses to come. He is angry, but it is his ministers who tell him that she must be gotten rid of, lest the women throughout the kingdom stop following the orders of their husbands! In fact, it is even the king’s servants who suggest how he find a new wife. Throughout the Megillah, one very rarely sees Achashverosh making a decision for himself. Achashverosh’s waffling (indetermination) is particularly apparent in his rewarding Mordechai for saving the king’s life, even though he had recently signed a decree to murder all of the Jews.

Another important aspect of Achashverosh’s character is his jealousy. The Midrash explains that one of the reasons Esther invited Haman to the private feast was to arouse the king’s suspicions. Indeed one Midrash notes that the reason that the king could not sleep that night because he was worried over the implications of Esther inviting Haman. One can only imagine his reaction when he returned to the room and saw Haman on the couch of the queen, even if he had accidently fallen there!

Vashti: By marrying Vashti, Achashverosh legitimized his right to the throne. Vashti was the daughter of Bal’shatzar (the last Babylonian king who was defeated by Darius and Cyrus) and the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzer (who destroyed the First Holy Temple and Jerusalem). As a descendant of this evil line, Vashti was the epitome of wickedness and licentiousness. In fact, the Midrash teaches that she did not refuse to come before the king because of modesty, but because her beauty was marred by a sudden affliction of a skin disease (leprosy). Had she not been thus afflicted, she would not have limited her behavior in any way. The Midrash also teaches us that while she was only 12 when her father was murdered by Darius the Mede (she was 18 at the time of Achashverosh’s party), she had already been inculcated with a deep hatred for the Jews. According to traditional sources, Queen Vashti used to force her Jewish maidservants to scrub the palace floors on Shabbat.

Mordechai: A descendant of King Saul (from the tribe of Benjamin), Mordechai was a prophet and a member of the Sanhedrin (the supreme court) in Jerusalem before the exile. He was considered one of the greatest Torah leaders of his generation and the Jews in exile looked to him for guidance.
Esther: Esther was a prophetess who possessed exceptional beauty and modesty. Esther was actually her Persian name, her Hebrew name was Hadassah, which means myrtle branch. She lived in the palace of the king without revealing her Jewish identity, which is alluded to by her Persian name, Esther, which means ‘hidden’ in Hebrew. After the Jews were saved, Esther helped Mordechai send out letters to all of the provinces instructing them on the commemoration of Purim. According to tradition, King Darius II, who allows the Jews to rebuild the Holy Temple, was the son of Esther and Achashverosh.
Haman: Haman is introduced in the Megillah as an Agagite, referring to his lineage as a descendant of Agag. Agag was the last king of Amalek, the national archenemy of the Jewish people. While the Amalekite nation was destroyed by King Saul (Samuel I), Saul disobeyed G-d’s commandment and had mercy on Agag, allowing him to live. When the prophet Samuel heard of this he was furious and killed Agag himself, but the damage was already done, for Agag had enough time to sow the seeds of future generations. For more information on Agag and the Amalekites, click here. Haman was married to Zeresh and they had ten sons and, according to the Midrash, one daughter, as well. His ten sons were hanged and his daughter committed suicide.

Zeresh: The wife of Haman is considered to be equal in wickedness to her husband. In fact, during the reading of the Megillah, many also boo and hiss when her name is read. Zeresh and Haman are prototypes for ‘like-marrying-like.’ What was important in their lives was honor and power, but only complete honor and power, as seen by their hatred of Mordechai. The Megillah shows Zeresh’s great importance in mentioning her as Haman’s consultant, demonstrating that they were as one in their thirst for power and their desire to destroy the Jews. Zeresh, however, was wise enough to see that the king’s order for Haman to lead Mordechai through Shushan as a certain sign that he is about to lose to the Jews, for she says: “If Mordechai, before whom you have begun to fall, is a descendant of the Jews, you will not be able to harm him, for you will surely fall before him” (Esther 6:13).

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


The History of Purim

Purim

The story of Purim takes place at the very end of the era known in Jewish history as the Babylonian Exile. In 422 B.C.E.*, Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian empire destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem and exiled the Jews from the Land of Israel. Scattered, the Jews waited for the end of the 70 year exile prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah.

In the year 372 B.C.E., however, the Babylonian Empire was itself crushed by the combined armies of King Darius of Media and King Cyrus of Persia (both part of current day Iran) and the new Persian Empire was formed under the rule of Cyrus. Unlike his Babylonian predecessors, Cyrus was not interested in destroying the individual cultures of his subjects, unless they were in direct opposition to him. Known as Cyrus the Great, he issued an edict in 373 B.C.E., allowing the Jews to return to the land of Israel. Shortly afterwards, the first group of exiles returned under the leadership of the prophet Nechemiah. In Jerusalem, they began to lay the foundations for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, paving the way for their Jewish brethren who remained scattered across the empire. The enemies of the Jews, however, convinced Cyrus to stop the Temple’s rebuilding.

The rise of King Achashverosh, the king of the Purim story, begins around the year 360. There is much debate as to the exact identity of Achashverosh. Some sources say that Achashverosh was actually Cambys, the son of Cyrus, some say that he was the son of Darius the Mede. Still others say that he was a commoner who usurped the throne through cunning and by marrying Vashti, the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar, to give him legitimacy. Regardless of how Achashverosh achieved power, he took over the reign of the Persian Empire in 360 B.C.E., and continued the ban on the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Achashverosh ruled over 127 provinces, a vast empire from Ethiopia to India. His capital was the city of Shushan, known today as Susa. Thinking that the 70 year prediction that the Temple would be rebuilt started with the exile of King Yechonia and the Jewish elite, Achashverosh miscalculated the correct date for the end of the Jewish exile. Secure that the Jewish prophecy had come to naught, he threw a great party. This is opening of the Book of Esther.
Following the defeat of the enemies of the Jews (355 B.C.E.), Achashverosh remained in power with Mordechai as his Prime Minister.
In 352 B.C.E., the Jews in the Land of Israel completed the rebuilding of the Second Temple and the Babylonian exile officially came to an end as Jews streamed home.
* There is a discrepancy of 164 years between the traditional Jewish chronology and secular chronology.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


Why Purim is Called Purim

Why Purim is Called Purim

Most Jewish holidays have names that describe the significance of the holiday (i.e. on Sukkot we dwell in sukkahs – specific small huts, on Passover G-d passed over the Jewish people…etc.), what then is the meaning of the name Purim. Translated, Purim actually means “lots,” as in “drawing lots.” From where does this name come?

In the third chapter of the Book of Esther, after Haman is angered by Mordechai’s refusal to bow down to him, when Haman decides to destroy the entire Jewish people, “a pur, [a lottery], was thrown before Haman [to select] which day and which month” (Esther 3:7). Only after having determined the most auspicious day to kill the Jews, did Haman go to the king. What is so important about Haman choosing his “day of rage” through a lottery?

By casting a “pur” for this most significant decision, Haman is demonstrating his Amalekite commitment beliefs. As discussed in more detail in “Hanging Haman,” the Amalekite nation, the opposing force of the Jewish nation, believes that chance rules the world (rather than the Jewish belief of Divine control). As much as Amalek, and therefore Haman, believe in the existence of G-d, they reject the idea that G-d utilizes the world for a Divine purpose, and thus the very existence of the Jewish people is antithetical to their beliefs. Haman saw the cycles of history, and was aware that the Jews were at a spiritual low point, so he felt certain that he would be victorious. Since victory was guaranteed, he would prove, through their defeat, that might made right, and a single person could control destiny.

Purim, however, is a celebration of the very fact that the world is not run by random chance. Calling the holiday Purim reminds the Jewish people that even when events appear to be happening at random, such as in a lottery, G-d is still the ultimate controller of fate.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


Shushan Purim on Shabbat

Shushan Purim on Shabbat

When Shushan Purim, observed in walled cities in Israel, coincides with Shabbat, the holiday is actually spread out over three days.

The three days include*:

  • Adar 14: Megillah reading and Matanot L’evyonim (gifts to the poor)
  • Adar 15: Exodus 17:8-16 is read as part of the Shabbat Torah reading and Al Hanissim is added to davening and bentching.
  • Adar 16: The festive meal is eaten and Mishloach Manot (gift baskets) are sent. Al Hanissim is not added to davening or bentching, as it is Technically, no longer Purim.

Why

The Megillah is not read on Shabbat lest one carry it outside of reshuth harabim (public area not enclosed by an eruv). However, a verse in the Megillah (Esther 9:27) states that these days “shall not pass,” and therefore we read the Megillah on Friday and not Sunday.
On Shabbat, the exchange of money is prohibited, therefore Matanot L’evyonim is performed the day before so that the poor might benefit as early as possible.
The festive meal is postponed until Sunday so that one celebrates the Shabbat meal separately from the Purim meal.
Mishloach Manot are delayed because one cannot exchange gifts on Shabbat. Why: Changing ownership is considered akin to performing a business transaction, which is prohibited on Shabbat.

Purim

Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Learn more

Purim Workshop

Host or attend the exciting Purim Workshop provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.

Resources

Discover our exciting guide, watch videos and learn about the histories, origins and customs of Purim.

Articles

Browse our archive of Purim Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about history and tradition.


Purim

Purim

A holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays, Purim also provides an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot.

Happy Purim!

The megillah is read the evening of

The time of year has come again – Purim festivities! A smile instantly jumps to your face as thoughts of hamantashen (three-cornered Purim cookies) and costumes float through your mind. While Purim is a holiday of fun and festivities, like all Jewish holidays it is also an opportunity to fulfill numerous mitzvot. Read on to find out the whys and what-fors of the holiday of Purim.

Jewish Treats Guide To Celebrating Purim

Welcome to Jewish Treats Guide to Celebrating Purim. Shake your grogger, eat some hamantashen and get dressed in your silliest costume…it’s Purim! Jewish Treats Guide to Celebrating Purim offers fun facts and inspiring insights into the four major Purim mitzvot and the customs that make this holiday a unique celebration for all. We hope that you will use this guide to truly enhance your own Purim celebration.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Print the Jewish Treats Guide to Celebrating Purim or use the interface on this page to view or download.

Purim Videos

Rabbi Buchwald on Purim

Web Series

Let Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, Founder and Director of NJOP, take you through the essential elements of Purim with this selection of entertaining YouTube videos from past years focused on the holiday.

View The Series

Purim Workshop

Discover our exciting Purim program you can attend or offer in your community

Purim Workshop

An interactive program with questions, source material and illuminating answers.
NJOP’s Purim Workshop enables participants to discover a new appreciation for a holiday that is often thought of as being kid-focused. Understanding the philosophy and mitzvot of the holiday provides participants with an opportunity to celebrate the true spirit of Purim.

Sample Purim Workshop materials:

Purim Workshop Sample

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