Combining elements of Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day, intertwined with the celebration of the story of an all powerful Persian King, a beautiful Jewish Queen, a loyal “uncle”, and a dastardly villain who gets foiled by his own evil plans and we have ….
Purim (PU-rim, PAWR-im) is a very merry celebration of the events in the Megillah (m’-GILL-uh) Hadassah (Book of Esther), which is read as part of the day’s synagogue service, accompanied by a great consumption of alcohol (the truth is that Purim requires more alcohol consumption than does St. Paddy’s Day).
In addition to the public reading of the Megillah Hadassah in the synagogue, the other Jewish rituals associated with Purim are: dressing up in a costume; preparing Mishloach Manot (baskets of food) and delivering them to friends; and, having a festive and merry meal, and, in many communities, a Purim Parade and carnivals.
The word “Purim” means “lots” and refers to the lottery that the evil Haman (HAH-men), the Persian Prime Minister, used to choose the date for the massacre of the Jews in the 5th Century BCE, which then, because of the intercession by Hadassah (Esther), became the date Haman, and not a single Jew, was hung. The events take place in the Persian capitol of Shushan. Today, that area is the Iranian city of Susa, located southwest of Teheran, near the Iran/Iraq border.
Ashkenazi (Central and Eastern European) Jews eat hamantaschen (HAH-men-TAH-shen), tri-cornered fruit-filled cookies in reminiscence that the evil Haman was supposed to have worn a tri-cornered hat.
More detailed description:
Purim, the day that the Megillah Hadassah (Book of Esther) is read in the synagogue, occurs each year on the 14th day of Adar. There are two exceptions: (1) If the year is a leap year on the Hebrew calendar, then Purim occurs on the 14th day of Adar II; and, (2) If one lives in a walled city that existed at the time when the events occurred (Susa, Iran and Jerusalem, Israel), then Purim is celebrated on the 15th day of Adar I or II, as the case may be.
Purim is the second time in the year (the first being Simchat Torah) when Jewish adults are encouraged to celebrate in the Irish manner. Well, actually, the Irish would love to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the Jewish manner.
The custom is for Jews to take a goodly drink (and here I share the Hassidic love of bourbon, my favorite being Rebel Yell, which is generally unavailable north of the Mason-Dixon line) every time the name of Haman, the evil one, is mentioned when the Book of Esther is read from the Bima (the raised platform in the front of the sanctuary in the synagogue) until one can not distinguish between the name Haman and the name Mordecai. (The actual Talmudic instruction is that “a person is required to drink until he cannot tell the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordecai’”, though opinions differ as to exactly how drunk that is.)
This ‘rule’ is for adults. Children are given groggers (GREG-ers; GRAG-ers) — noise makers — and eagerly twist and shake their groggers with gusto every time the name Haman is mentioned. It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle groggers whenever the name of Haman is mentioned during the service. The purpose of this custom is to “blot out the name of Haman”.
According to the Megillah Hadassah, in the 5th century BCE, Hadassah (Esther) marries the Persian King Ahasuerus and using her womanly wiles gets the king, with the help of the Persian postal system to prevent the scheduled murder of the Jews, and to hang Haman, rather than Haman, the prime minister, succeeding in hanging the Jews.
In addition to bending one’s elbow, Ashkenazi (Central and Eastern European) Jews also eat hamantaschen, tri-cornered fruit-filled cookies on this day as the evil Haman was supposed to have worn a tri-cornered hat.
In the Book of Esther, Mordecai is supposed to be Hadassah’s (Esther’s) uncle. However, there is another theory that Mordecai was really Hadassah’s husband and Hadassah has to commit adultery to save the Jewish people then living in Persia from the evil intentions of Haman, the prime minister, by marrying the Persian king.
This latter theory is based on the fact that this is the only book of the Bible that does not mention the name of G-d and this is because a sin is being committed in an effort to save lives. As with the Song of Solomon, many rabbis have great difficulty with this thought.