Purim

Data/Images/purim_s.jpgPurim (Hebrew: פּוּרִים Pûrîm "lots", from the word pur, related to Akkadian pūru) is a Jewish holiday characterized by public recitation of the Scroll of Esther (keriat ha-megillah), additions to the prayers and the grace after meals (al hannisim), giving mutual gifts of food and drink (mishloach manot), giving charity to the poor (mattanot la-evyonim), and a celebratory meal (se'udat Purim); other customs include drinking wine, wearing of masks and costumes, and public celebration.

Like Hanukkah, Purim has more of a national than a religious character. Accordingly, business transactions and even manual labor are allowed on Purim. A special prayer ("Al ha-Nissim"—"For the Miracles") is inserted into the Amidah during evening, morning and afternoon prayers, as well as is included in the Birkat Hamazon ("Grace after Meals").

The four main mitzvot (obligations) of the day are:

  1. Listening to the public reading, usually in synagogue, of the Book of Esther in the evening and again in the following morning (k'riat megillah)
  2. Sending food gifts to friends (mishloach manot)
  3. Giving charity to the poor (matanot la'evyonim)
  4. Eating a festive meal (se`udah)

Women have an obligation to hear the Megillah because "they also were involved in that miracle".

When Haman's name is read out during the public chanting of the Megillah in the synagogue, which occurs 54 times, the congregation engages in noisemaking to blot out his name. Another method was to use a noisy rattle, called a ra'ashan (from the Hebrew ra-ash, meaning "noise") and in Yiddish a grager.

The Book of Esther prescribes "the sending of portions one man to another, and gifts to the poor" (9:22). According to halakha, each adult must give two different foods to one person, and two charitable donations to two poor people. The food parcels are called mishloach manot ("sending of portions"), and in some circles the custom has evolved into a major gift-giving event.

To fulfill the mitzvah of giving charity to two poor people, one can give either food or money equivalent to the amount of food that is eaten at a regular meal.

On Purim day, a festive meal called the Se`udat Purim is held. The drinking of wine features prominently in keeping with the jovial nature of the feast. This is based on the fact that the salvation of the Jews occurred through wine and the Sages of the Talmud stated that one should drink on Purim until he can no longer distinguish between the phrases arur Haman ("Cursed is Haman") and baruch Mordechai ("Blessed is Mordecai").

The custom of masquerading in costume and the wearing of masks It is a way of emulating God who "disguised" his presence behind the natural events described in the Purim story, and has remained concealed (yet ever-present) in Jewish history since the times of the destruction of the first Temple. Since charity is a central feature of the day, when givers and/or recipients disguise themselves this allows greater anonymity thus preserving the dignity of the recipient.

A Purim spiel was historically a comic dramatisation that attempted to convey the saga of the Purim story. Today, Purim spiels can revolve around anything relating to Jews and Judaism that will bring cheer and comic relief to an audience celebrating the day.

As early as the fifth century, there was a custom to burn an effigy of Haman on Purim. The practice continued into the 20th century, with children treating Haman as a sort of "Guy Fawkes."

Songs associated with Purim are based on sources that are Talmudic, liturgical and cultural.

On Purim, triangular pastries called Hamantaschen ("Haman's pockets") or Oznei Haman ("Haman's ears") are served. A sweet cookie dough is rolled out, cut into circles, and traditionally filled with a sweet poppy seed or prune filling, then wrapped up into a triangular shape with the filling either hidden or showing.

Seeds and nuts are customarily eaten on Purim, as the Talmud relates that Queen Esther ate only these foodstuffs in the palace of Ahasuerus, since she had no access to kosher food.

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