• Annemeet Hasidi-van der Leij.

Purim


The 12th of March is the festival of Purim. Purim-פּוּרִים‎="lots", from the word פור‎ pur, a word related to the Akkadian* word: pūru.** It is a Jewish holiday, that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, who was planning to kill all the Jews. This took place in the ancient Persian Empire. The story is recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther (מגילת אסתר‎ Megillat Esther in Hebrew).

בַּחֹ֤דֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן֙ הוּא־חֹ֣דֶשׁ נִיסָ֔ן בִּשְׁנַת֙ שְׁתֵּ֣ים עֶשְׂרֵ֔ה לַמֶּ֖לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵר֑וֹשׁ הִפִּ֣יל פּוּר֩ ה֨וּא הַגּוֹרָ֜ל לִפְנֵ֣י הָמָ֗ן מִיּ֧וֹם לְי֛וֹם וּמֵחֹ֛דֶשׁ לְחֹ֥דֶשׁ שְׁנֵים־עָשָׂ֖ר הוּא־חֹ֥דֶשׁ אֲדָֽר

“In the first month, meaning the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, they cast פּוּר, meaning the lot (Hebrew הַגּוֹרָ֜ל), before Haman for the day and for the month, and the lot fell on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, meaning the month of Adar.” Esther 3:7 The author of Esther felt the need to explain an uncommon, foreign, word (פּוּר) here and in Esther 9:24, with its more common near equivalent, גּוֹרָ֜ל.

The jolly festival of Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar (late winter/early spring).

The Story in a Nutshell:

The Persian Empire of the 4th century BCE extended over 127 lands, and all the Jews were its subjects. When King Ahasuerus had his wife, Queen Vashti, executed for failing to follow his orders, he arranged a beauty pageant to find a new queen. A Jewish girl, Esther, found favor in his eyes and became the new queen, though she refused to divulge her nationality.

Meanwhile, the Jew-hating Haman was appointed prime minister of t

he empire. Mordechai, the leader of the Jews (and Esther’s cousin), defied the king’s orders and refused to bow to Haman. Haman was incensed, and he convinced the king to issue a decree ordering the extermination of all the Jews on the 13th of Adar, a date chosen by a lottery Haman made. Mordechai galvanized all the Jews, convincing them to repent, fast and pray to God. Meanwhile, Esther asked the king and Haman to join her for a feast. At a subsequent feast, Esther revealed to the king her Jewish identity. Haman was hanged, Mordechai was appointed prime minister in his stead, and a new decree was issued, granting the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies.

The battles fought between the Jews and their enemies throughout the Persian empire took place on 13th of Adar. Around the world, the Jews rested and celebrated on the following day—14th of Adar. In the capital city of Shushan, however, where there were a greater number of Jew-haters, the fighting continued for two days, the 13th and the 14th of Adar. The victory celebrations in Shushan were thus held on the 15th.When the holiday of Purim was set for the 14th of Adar, the sages instituted that Shushan residents perpetually observe Purim on the 15th of Adar—the day when the Shushanite Jews celebrated. The 15th of Adar is therefore known as “Shushan Purim.” Along with Shushan (which is located in modern-day southwestern Iran), all cities that were walled at the time when the Israelites, under the leadership of Joshua, entered Canaan, observe Purim on the 15th. Today, the only city that we are certain had walls in Joshua’s times is Jerusalem.

And indeed, in Jerusalem, Purim is festively celebrated one day after all other cities. There are a number of other ancient cities in Israel, such as Jaffa and Tiberias, regarding which there is a reasonable doubt whether they were walled in Joshua’s times. These cities observe two days of Purim.

A hamantash (Yiddish: המן טאש‎, Hebrew: אוזן המן‎‎, which means the ears of Haman) is a filled-pocket cookie or pastry recognizable for its triangular shape, eaten on the Jewish holiday of Purim. The shape is achieved by folding in the sides of a circular piece of dough, with a filling placed in the middle. The main commandment related to Purim is to hear the reading of the Book of Esther. The Book of Esther is known as the Megillah, which means scroll. It is read both on the eve of Purim and also on Purim itself. If Purim falls on the Sabbath, the Megillah is read on the Thursday evening and Friday morning before Purim. At Purim Jews read the story of Esther in the synagogue. It's usually an entertaining and rowdy occasion. The synagogue is crowded with men, women, and children. Some wear their best Sabbath clothes, but many dress up in colourful costumes and masks.

The Purim story features a villain called Haman, and everyone in the synagogue boos, hisses, stamps their feet and uses noisemakers (called graggers) and cymbals whenever the name of Haman is mentioned during the service.The purpose of this custom is to blot out the name of Haman. Originally, when Haman's name was read, the congregation would shout "Cursed be Haman" or "May the name of the wicked rot!" But nowadays any noise will do. Children in particular enjoy dressing up as the characters found in the Book of Esther, including King Xerxes, Vashti, Queen Esther, Mordecai and Haman. *Akkadian is an extinct East Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. It is the earliest documented Semitic language and it used the cuneiform writing system. The language was named after the city of Akkad, a major centre of Mesopotamian civilization during the Akkadian Empire (ca. 2334–2154 BCE), but the language itself precedes the founding of Akkad by many centuries.

**The Akkadian word “pūru” means “portion,” “parcel,” “plot,” it often refers to property, even real estate. On the other hand, it can mean “lot” or “lottery.” This Akkadian word appears as a foreign word or a loanword only in the Biblical book of Esther.

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