Mideastweb: Middle East

Carnival of Deliverance

Middle East news peacewatch qur'an holidays books newsletter culture dialog links timeline donations

The Story of Purim

Jonathan Silverman and Ami Isseroff

The Jewish holiday of Purim is celebrated on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the Hebrew Lunar month of Adar (usually in March). It commemorates the miraculous rescue of the Jews of Persia from annihilation at the hands of a villain named Haman by the beautiful queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai (Mordecai) in the days of King Ahasuerus. The name Purim comes from the word “Pur”, which means lot. "Lots" were small pieces of pottery used in games of chance in ancient times.  Purim is celebrated by a carnival, drinking, feasting and sending gifts.

On Purim, Jews traditionally send small gifts of delicacies to friends and family, give donations to the poor, and prepare a festive meal. The book of Esther is read in the synagogue. The children in the audience are equipped with special noisemakers and use them whenever the name of Haman is mentioned. It is also traditional on Purim for Jews to eat triangular shaped cookies called “Haman’s ears”.

Purim is the one holiday on Jews are supposed to get drunk – to the point that they lose the ability to distinguish between Mordechai and Haman. This condition is denoted by a compound word “adloyada” meaning "until he does not know the difference." In modern Israel, a carnival - called an “adloyada” is celebrated in almost every Israeli city on Purim.

The story of Purim is recounted in the Old Testament Book of Esther:

The King held a feast in the capital city of Shushan. When his wife, Queen Vashti, failed to attend the feast when summoned, the King said he never wanted to see her again, and resolved to marry another Queen. The King’s aides organized a beauty contest. They sent messengers to fetch all the beautiful young women of the kingdom for the King to select a new queen from among them. A Jewish man, named Mordechai, who lived in Shushan, had raised his uncle’s daughter, Esther, since her parents had died. Mordechai had the beautiful Esther enter the contest. The king found Esther to be the most beautiful of all the maidens in the kingdom, and chose her to be queen.

Some time later, two of the King’s aides plotted to assassinate him. Mordechai learned of the plot and told Queen Esther, who informed the King in Mordechai’s name. The would be assassins were caught and hanged.

The King had a grand vizier named Haman. All the King’s servants bowed before Haman, except Mordechai, because Jews are not allowed by religion to bow. Haman was told. When Haman saw with his own eyes that Mordechai would not bow, it enraged him. But punishing Mordechai alone was not enough for Haman. He decided to destroy all the Jews. Haman cast lots (Purim) to choose which would be the month and day for exterminating the Jews.

Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus: “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in your kingdom. Their laws are different from everyone else’s. They don’t observe the King’s laws. They should not be tolerated. Please sign a decree to destroy them, and I will pay 10,000 silver talents to those who carry out the decree.”

The King gave Haman, his blessings for this plan. Haman sent a decree in the King’s name throughout the kingdom to slay all the Jews, young and old, children and women in a single day, the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and to rob them of all their possessions.

When Mordechai learned of the decree he dressed in mourning and wept aloud, as did all the Jews of the kingdom. Esther learned of the plot from Mordechai and went to the king. She said to him, “If it please the King, let the King come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him and bring Haman.” So the King invited Haman to the banquet.

Haman was very happy. He sent for his friends and his wife Zeresh and boasted how Queen Esther had invited him the next day to a banquet with the King. “Yet all of this means nothing to me so long as I see that Jew Mordechai sitting at the King’s gate,” he said. Haman’s wife and all his friends told him to erect a gallows, speak to the King, and have Mordechai hanged on it. Haman had the gallows built.

That night, when the King couldn’t sleep, his servants read to him from the book of chronicles about how Mordechai had denounced the two men who had plotted to assassinate him. The king decided to reward Mordechai. He summoned Haman and asked him. “What should be done for the man whom the King especially wants to honor?”

Haman thought the King meant him, and said, “The man whom the King especially wants to honor should be given a royal robe that the King has worn and a horse that the King has ridden, one wearing a royal crown on its head. Then get one of the King’s most noble officers and let him attire the man whom the King especially wants to honor and parade him on horseback through the city, and cry out 'thus shall be done to the man whom the King most desires to honor''”

The King told Haman to get the robe and the horse and to do all that he suggested for Mordechai the Jew who sits at the King’s gate. “Do not omit a single detail that you have suggested,” said the King. Haman had to do for his enemy Mordechai exactly as he had proposed for himself, and was humiliated.

At the banquet the King again asked Esther what she wished, and the Queen replied: “If I am pleasing to the King, let my life and the life of my people be granted to me as my wish, because we have been sold to be destroyed, slain and exterminated.”

The King then demanded to know who it was that dared do this. “An adversary and an enemy. This wicked Haman,” said the Queen. Haman was arrested and hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordechai. The King then gave Haman’s whole estate to Queen Esther, and rescinded the decree killing the Jews. The thirteenth day of Adar was decreed as a day of vengeance on the enemies of the Jews, and the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar were decreed as holidays.

Purim became a symbol for miraculous redemption from decrees and persecutions for the Jews. Different communities intituted "small Purims ( Purim Katan ) to commemorate their own deliverance. Egyptian Jews observe a Purim on  the 28th of Adarin homage to their deliverance some 400 years ago from the evil decree of Pasha Ahmed Shitann. Frankfort Jews celebrated Purim Frankfurt on the 20th of Adar commemorating their rescue in March 1616. Purim Saragossa on the 17th of Shvat commemorates a fourteenth century delivery. Purim Tiberias on the 4th of Kislev, commemorates the rescue of the city from attack 200 years ago by the ruler of Damascus.

Hamentashen Recipe - Haman's Ears

On Purim it is traditional to eat three cornered pastries filled with prune jam or poppy seeds.

Recipe for Hamantaschen

Pastry Dough

  • ½ cup (125 ml) butter
  • 1 cup (250 ml) sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 (500 ml) cups flour
  • 2 tsp. (10 ml) baking powder
  • 2 tbsp. (30 ml) milk
  • Lemon extract
  • Cream the butter and sugar, and add the egg.  Sift flour and baking powder together and add a small amount  to the butter/sugar mixture. Now add milk, then add the remaining flour.  Mix in lemon extract.
    Roll the dough out 1/8 to ¼ inch (2.5 to 5 mm) thick. 
    Cut into rounds, dot each with a spoonful of filling (see below).
    Form into triangles, and bake at 375 degrees (190 C) for 15 to 30 minutes until delicately browned.

    Poppy Seed Filling

  • 1 cup (250 ml) poppy seed
  • 1 cup (250 ml) milk
  • 1 oz. (30 g) butter
  • 2 tbsp. (30 ml) honey or brown sugar.
  • 1 grated apple
    Bring poppy seed and milk to boil in a saucepan, add butter and honey or sugar, and boil until thick.  Cool, then add grated apple.

    Prune Filling

  • 1 lb. (500 g) pitted  prunes
  • 1 cup (250 ml) raisins
  • 1 tbsp. (15 ml) lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. (5 ml) lemon rind, grated
  • ½ cup (125 ml) sugar (brown sugar may be substituted)
  • 1 tbsp. (15 ml) honey
  • Soak the prunes for two hours in hot water.  Drain.  Chop the prunes and raisins finely.  Mix all ingredients thoroughly.

    Other variations include apricot and cherry filling..

    Click here to tell your friends about MidEast Web

    Please Link to Us

    Copyright 2002,  MidEastWeb for Coexistence RA and the authors

    The text on this page is copyright. Please tell your friends about MidEastWeb. Please forward these materials in e-mails to friends and link to http://www.mideastweb.org. You can print out materials for your own use or classroom use, with the following notice:

    Copyright by MidEastWeb for Coexistence RA - http://www.mideastweb.org. Reprinted by permission for noncommercial use.

    Reproduction in any other form - by permission only.

    Please do not copy materials from this Web site to your Web site.


    Middle East Gateway