……wanting to continue my educating on Judaism and our traditions, yesterday, Friday, began the holiday of Purim in the Jewish religion. It’s a VERY happy, jovial holiday. A time To celebrate, have fun, be silly, dress-up and enjoy!
Purim is a Jewish festival which commemorates the deliverance of Jews from Persia and from the efforts of Haman to destroy them, as recorded in the book of Esther. Because of many other times through history when there have been attempts to destroy the Jewish people, this festival has of course developed particular significance. Purim is celebrated in later winter between Hannukah and Passover on the 14th of Adar. The name Purim means “lots” because Haman used lots to randomly decide on which day he would put the Jews to death (with the 14th of Adar being chosen).
Purim celebrations actually start before the day of Purim. The Sabbath before Adar, the month when Purim occurs, is known as the Shabbat Shekalim, Hebrew for the Sabbath of Shekals. This inaugurates the Purim season and includes special Torah readings and donations to charity. On the sabbath immediately before Purim, it is traditional to read what is known as the “Parshat Zachor” (parshat means “section” and zachor means something like “to remember” or “of remembrance” – Jews are commanded to “remember” what happened in this section),
This passage does not have any direct bearing on the events described in Esther, but it is believed that Haman – the leader who sought to destroy the Jews and who was defeated by Esther (Hadassah, in Hebrew)- was descended from Amalek.
The next stage of celebrating Purim occurs the day before Purim and is known as the Taanis Esther, or the Fast of Esther. People fast from three hours before daybreak until nightfall. This fast is held to commemorate the fact that Esther fasted for three days before going to the king in an effort to have him save the Jews. Traditionally on this day Jews give an amount approximating one half-shekel (about 3 half-dollar coins in the United States) to commemorate the amount given by Jews during the time of the temple.
After nightfall, the Megilla is read to all those present at the synagogue’s services. The term Megilla simply means “scroll,” and technically there are five books in the Jewish scriptures which can be referred to as scroll: Esther, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Lamentations. However, traditionally the term is only used for the Scroll of Esther, which recounts the events in which the Jews were saved from destruction at the hands of Haman. Gifts are given to friends and the needy as part of the effort to strengthen community ties among Jews.
On Purim day, the Megilla is read once again and a festival meal is eaten with family and friends in attendance. During both Megilla readings, children often dress up as their favorite characters in the story and it is traditional to use noisemakers to drown out the “evil” name of Haman whenever it is read.
Purim in general, and this day in particular, are infused with a carnival-like atmosphere. Very often, the most important thing seems to be that everyone have a good time and enjoy themselves. Religious scholars long tried to keep this atmosphere out of the synagogue services so that they would remain more solemn, but today the inclusion of costumes is very normal. This was also the time, traditionally, when people would most likely give gifts to each other – that role, however, has been taken up by Hannukah due to the influence of the Christmas season.
Another Purim tradition is, unusually enough, getting drunk (based upon the writings of a A third century Babylonian teacher named Rava). Although drunkeness is otherwise strongly discouraged in Jewish law, on Purim it is expected to drink enough so that one cannot tell the difference between Arur Haman (Cursed is Haman) and Baruch Mordechai (Blessed is Mordechai). Some take this literally and get very drunk while others take it more metaphorically and just drink until they are very tired and fall asleep (when you are asleep, you can’t tell the difference between the two). Drinking is not, however, supposed to be used as an excuse to get completely drunk, and there are rules to follow – for example the inebriation does not excuse one from obeying the other commandments.
So there you have it. I have to thank About.com for most of this definition. Purim is one of my favorite holidays, but it’s been a long week, with sick babies and a big announcement coming, so I apologize for it taking my attention away from writing…..but boy will it be worth it!! Chag Samaech, Happy Purim!!