What is Purim?
The festival of Purim פּוּרִים (from the Hebrew for lots as in drawing lots or a lottery) recalls the plot by Haman, the Vizier or chief minister of the Persian king Ahasuerus, to kill all the Jews within the Persian empire. However, the Jews are saved thanks to the intervention of Esther who has become the queen of Persia whilst hiding the fact that she is Jewish.
When do we celebrate Purim?
Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar – this usually falls in very late winter or early spring. This year it starts on the evening of Wednesday 4th March and ends on Thursday 5th March.
How do we celebrate Purim?
The story of Purim is told in the book of Esther so we read the story of Esther – it is often read from its own scroll, known as the Megillah, or as Purim Spiel. In essence the story of Esther and Purim is as follows:
In the 4th century BCE, the Persian empire stretches across most of today’s middle-east and Jews are subject to the rule of King Ahasuerus who has executed his wife Queen Vashti for disobeying him. Ahasuerus organises a beauty pageant to find a new Queen and chooses Esther. She is Jewish and her uncle Mordecai, who is the leader of the Jewish people, advises her to keep her Judaism a secret.
Haman is plotting against the Jews incensed by the fact that Mordecai will not bow before him. Haman persuades Ahasuerus to slaughter the Jews on date to be chosen by drawing lots. The chosen date is the 13th Adar – Mordecai orders an evening of fasting, prayer and repentance. However, Esther invites Ahasuerus and Haman to a feast where she reveals the truth of her identity. To protect his queen, Ahasuerus orders the death of Haman and makes Mordecai his new chief adviser.
So the 13th of Adar came to be kept a fast day (the Fast of Esther) and the 14th is a day of celebration (Purim).
Purim is not from the Torah so Liberal Judaism initially rejected Purim. In more recent, while still rejecting the need to fast on the 13th Adar, the celebration of Purim has been re-instated. One of the features of the story is the fact that Esther has hidden or disguised her Jewishness – leading to the custom of wearing fancy dress or masks to hide true identities. It is also traditional to make a lot of noise to try to drown the name of Haman when it is read out in the Megillah or mentioned in a Spiel.
Other customs include Mishloach Manor (exchanging small gifts of food or drink), donating to charity, sharing a festive meal (it is after all a Jewish festival), and getting so drunk as to forget Haman. It is also traditional to eat triangular pastries called Hamantaschen (“Haman’s pockets”) or Oznei Haman (“Haman’s ears”) usually filled with sweet fruits etc.
Does WLS celebrate Purim?
Yes we do, but Purim is a minor festival so we tend to do so at the nearest weekend and usually linked to various Cheder activities. In recent years WLS has staged a pantomime style Purim Spiel and held fancy dress contests.
This year Purim will form part of our Shabbat morning services on Saturday 7th March – with Cheder starting at 10:20 am and the services starting at 10:30 am.