is celebrated annually on the 14th of the Hebrew month of
Adar, the day following the victory of the Jews which was
on the 13 day of Adar. (In cities that were protected by
a wall in the time of Joshua, including Susa and Jerusalem,
Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month, known as Shushan
Purim). As with all Jewish holidays, Purim begins at sundown
on the previous secular day.
The events leading up to Purim were recorded in the Megillat
Esther (the Book of Esther), which became the last of the
24 books of the Tanakh to be canonized by the Sages of the
Great Assembly. The Book of Esther records a series of apparently
unrelated events which took place over a nine-year period
during the reign of King Ahasuerus. These events, when seen
as a whole, depict the "coincidences" as evidence
of Divine intervention operating behind the scenes, according
to interpretations by Talmudic and other major commentaries
on the Megillah.
holiday of Purim has been held in high esteem by Judaism
at all times; some have held that when all the prophetical
and hagiographical works are forgotten, the Book of Esther
will still be remembered, and, accordingly, the Feast of
Purim will continue to be observed (Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah
1/5a; Maimonides, Yad, Megilla).
Chanukkah, Purim's status as a holiday is on a lesser level
than those days ordained holy by the Torah. Accordingly,
business transactions and even manual labor are allowed
on Purim, though in certain places restrictions have been
imposed on work (Shulkhan Arukh, Orach Chayim, 696). A special
prayer ("Al ha-Nissim"—"For the Miracles")
is inserted into the Shemoneh Esrei during evening, morning
and afternoon prayers, as well as is included in the Grace
four main mitzvot of the day are:
to the public reading, usually in synagogue, of the Book
of Esther in the evening and again in the following morning
sending food gifts to friends (in Hebrew: Mishloach Manot)
giving charity to the poor
eating a festive meal
of the Megilla
The first religious ceremony ordained for the celebration
of Purim is the reading of the Book of Esther (the "Megilla")
in the synagogue, a regulation ascribed in the Talmud (Megilla
2a) to the "Sages of the Great Assembly", of which
Mordechai is reported to have been a member. Originally
this enactment was for the 14th of Adar only; later, however,
Rabbi Joshua ben Levi (3d century CE) prescribed that the
Megillah should also be read on the eve of Purim. Further,
he obliged women to attend the reading of the Megillah,
inasmuch as it was a woman, Queen Esther, through whom the
miraculous deliverance of the Jews was accomplished.
the Mishna, the recitation of a benediction on the reading
of the Megilla is not yet a universally recognized obligation.
However, the Talmud, a later work, prescribed three benedictions
before the reading and one benediction after the reading.
The Talmud added other provisions. For example, the reader
is to pronounce the names of the ten sons of Haman (Esther
9:7-10) in one breath, to indicate their simultaneous death.
The congregation was to recite aloud with the reader the
verses 2:5, 8:15-16, and 10:3, which relate the origin of
Mordechai and his triumph.
Megilla is read with a traditional chant, differing from
that used in the customary reading of the Torah. In some
places, however, it is not chanted, but is read like a letter,
because of the name "iggeret" (epistle) which
is applied (Esther 9:26,29) to the Book of Esther. It has
been also customary since the time of the Geonim (early
Medieval era) to unroll the whole Megilla before reading
it, in order to give it the appearance of an epistle. According
to Jewish law, the Megillah may be read in any language
intelligible to the audience.
to the Mishnah (Megillah 30b), Exodus 17:8-16, the story
of the attack on the Jews by Amalek, the progenitor of Haman,
is also to be read.
gave rise to many religious compositions, some of which
were incorporated into the liturgy. These include a large
number of hymns intended for the public service. Other writings
(dramas, plays, etc.) intended for general edification,
both in Hebrew and in other languages, have been composed
the 18th century in eastern Romania and some other parts
of Eastern Europe, Purim plays (called Purimspiels) had
evolved into broad-ranging satires with music and dance,
precursors to Yiddish theater, for which the story of Esther
was little more than a pretext: indeed, by the mid-19th
century, some were even based on other stories, such as
Joseph sold by his brothers, Daniel, or the Sacrifice of
Isaac. Because satire was deemed inappropriate for the synagogue
itself, they were usually performed outdoors in its court.
The Bobov Hasidic group has never ceased performing its
Purimspiel. The Bobov Purimspiel is still performed annually,
at midnight, inside the Bobover synagogues in Brooklyn.
Boisterousness in the synagogue
is an occasion on which much joyous license is permitted
within the walls of the synagogue itself. For example, during
the public service in many congregations, when the reader
of the Megillah mentions Haman (54 occurrences), there is
boisterous hissing, stamping, and rattling. This practice
traces its origin to the Tosafists (French and German rabbis
of the 13th century). In accordance with a passage in the
Midrash, where the verse "Thou shalt blot out the remembrance
of Amalek" (Deuteronomy 25:19) is explained to mean
"even from wood and stones", the rabbis introduced
the custom of writing the name of Haman, the offspring of
Amalek, on two smooth stones and of knocking or rubbing
them constantly until the name was blotted out.
the stones fell into disuse, with the knocking alone remaining.
Some wrote the name of Haman on the soles of their shoes,
and at the mention of the name stamped with their feet as
a sign of contempt. For noisemaking, others used a noisy
rattle, called in Hebrew a ra'ashan (from the Hebrew ra-ash,
meaning "noise") and in Yiddish a gragger/greggar
(from the Polish grzégarz). Some of the rabbis protested
against these uproarious excesses, considering them a disturbance
of public worship, but the custom of using noisemakers in
synagogue on Purim is now almost universal.
is also a time for other unusual goings-on. For example,
many congregations will read the prayers in ways that would
be considered sacrilegious on any other occasion during
the year—for example, singing some prayers to the tune of
widely-known songs, to add to the levity—or employing melodies
used on other Jewish holidays.
Burning of Haman's effigy
Outside the synagogue, the pranks indulged in on Purim by
both children and adults have been carried even to a greater
extreme. Some of them date from the Talmudic period. As
early as the fifth century, and especially in the Geonic
period (9th and 10th centuries), it was a custom to burn
Haman in effigy on Purim, semblant of the British customs
for Guy Fawkes Day. The burning custom, which persisted
into the 20th century, is no longer practiced.
Italy, Jewish children used to arrange themselves in rows,
and pelt one another with nuts; while the adults rode through
the streets with fir-branches in their hands, shouted, or
blew trumpets round a doll representing Haman and which
was finally burned with due solemnity at the stake. In Frankfurt
am Main, Germany, it was customary to make a house of wax
wherein the figures of Haman and his executioner, also of
wax, were placed side by side. The whole was then put on
the bimah, where stood also the wax figures of Zeresh (Haman's
wife) and two guards—one to her right and the other to her
left—all attired in a flimsy manner and with pipes in their
mouths. As soon as the reader began to read the Megillah,
the house with all its occupants was set on fire, to the
enjoyment of the spectators.
customs often aroused the wrath of Christians, who interpreted
them as a disguised attempt to ridicule Jesus and the Cross.
Prohibitions were issued against these displays; e.g., under
the reign of Honorius (395-423) and of Theodosius II (408-450;
comp. Johann Jakob Schudt, l.c. ii. 309, 317, and Cassel,
l.c.). To avoid danger, the rabbis themselves tried to abolish
these customs, often even calling the magistracy to their
aid, as in London in 1783.
Women and megilla reading
Women have an obligation to hear the megilla because "they
also were involved in that miracle." Most Orthodox
communities, including Modern Orthodox ones, however, generally
do not allow women to lead the megilla reading except in
rare circumstances. Authorities who hold that women should
not read the megilla for themselves, because of a question
as to which blessing they should recite upon the reading,
nonetheless agree that they have an obligation to hear it
read. According to these authorities if women, or men for
that matter, cannot attend the services in the synagogue,
the megilla should be read for them in private by any male
over the age of thirteen. Often in Orthodox communities
there is a special public reading only for women, conducted
either in a private home or in a synagogue, but the Megillah
is read by a man.
Orthodox authorities have held that women can serve as public
Megillah readers. Women's megilla readings have become increasingly
common in more liberal Modern Orthodox Judaism, however
they may only read for other women. 
Giving of food gifts and charity
Book of Esther prescribes "the sending of portions
one man to another, and gifts to the poor" (9:22).
Over time, this mitzvah has become one of the most prominent
features of the celebration of Purim. According to the Halakha,
each Jew over the age of bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah must
send two different, ready made foods to one friend, and
two charitable donations (either money or food) to two poor
people, to fulfill these two mitzvot. The gifts to friends
are called mishloach manot ("sending of portions"),
and often include wine and pastries; alternately, sweets,
snacks, salads or any foodstuff qualifies. Synagogues and
schools often run a collective Mishloach Manot Fundraiser
that manages the sending of Mishloach Manot baskets to all
members. These projects are typically one of the best annual
fundraisers in many synagogues and schools.
the sending of mishloach manot is technically limited to
one gift for one friend, for some the custom has evolved
into a major gift-giving event. Families often prepare dozens
of homemade and store-bought food baskets to deliver to
friends, neighbors, and relatives on Purim day.
baskets are also delivered to children's teachers, school
principals, parents' bosses, doctors, and other service
personnel with whom they have regular dealings throughout
the year. This evolved custom has been a topic of debate
among Rabbinic authorities of late, due to the fact that
the verse in the Megillah only mentions the sending of portions
one man to 'another', which indicates one gift (consisting
of 2 items) to only one man, while the verse clearly mentions
" gifts to 'the poor'", which has been interpreted
by halakha as requiring giving gifts to more than one person.
This difference is to point out the importance of giving
charity. Historically, the custom regarding giving mishloach
manot was that during the day when people would be going
to one another's seudah, they simply brought along two ready-made
foods, because the person at whose house they were eating
their seudah often did not have enough food, thus fulfilling
their own obligation of mishloach manot. There is a misconception
that mishloach manot must contain two different items of
food that each requires a different blessing to be said
over it. In reality, two foods suffice even if they both
require the same blessing.
the synagogue, regular collections of charity are made on
the festival and the money is distributed among the needy.
No distinction was to be made among the poor; anyone who
was willing to accept charity is allowed to participate.
It is obligatory upon the poorest Jew, even one who is himself
dependent on charity, to give to other poor people.
The Purim meal
On Purim day, typically toward evening, a festive meal called
Seudat Purim is held, with wine as the prominent beverage;
consequently, drunkenness is not uncommon at this meal.
The jovial character of this feast is illustrated in the
saying of the Talmud (Megilla 7b) stating 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 Mordechai"). (In
Hebrew these phrases have the same numerical value, and
some authorities, including the Be'er Hagolah and Magen
Avraham, have ruled that one should drink wine until he
is unable to calculate these numerical values.)
saying was codified in the Rif, Rosh, Tur, Shulchan Aruch
(Orach Chayim 695), and is interpreted simply (as explained
above) by the Chatam Sofer. This interpretation of the Talmudic
statement, or the acceptance of the statement itself, is
disputed (for various reasons) by the Ba'alei Tosafot (based
on the Jerusalem Talmud), Maimonides, Rabbeinu Ephraim,
Ba'al HaMa'or, Ran, Orchot Chaim, Be'er Hagolah, Magen Avraham,
Taz, Rema, Vilna Gaon, Maharsha, Rashash, Tzeidah LaDerech,
Hagahot Maimoniyot, Ra'avyah, Korban N'tan'el, Bach, Maharil,
P'ri M'gadim, Kol Bo, Chochmat Mano'ach, Mishnah Berurah
(by the Chafetz Chaim), and others. These authorities all
advocate drinking wine in some quantity, but all (excepting
Hagahot Maimoniyot and Ra'avyah) discourage the level of
drunkenness suggested by the Chatam Sofer. The Rema says
that one should only drink a little more than he is used
to drinking, and then try to fall asleep (whereupon he certainly
will not be able to tell the difference between the two
phrases indicated by the Talmud). This position is shared
by the Kol Bo and Mishnah Berurah, and is similar to that
kinds of merry-making and mockery are indulged in on Purim,
so that among the masses it is believed that "on Purim
everything is allowed". However, Jewish leaders such
as the Chafetz Chaim and modern-day heads of yeshivas insist
on decorum even in the midst of the merry-making. According
to some halakhic rulings, men should not dress in women's
attire (nor vice-versa). Those rabbis that allow men to
dress in women's attire on Purim do not allow men to completely
disguise themselves as women but require that they remain
perceptibly male. Ribald jokes remain forbidden, as during
the rest of the year. Comically denigrating one's fellow,
teachers, or Jewish leaders, even in the "spirit"
of Purim, is forbidden.
up in masks and costumes is one of the most entertaining
customs of the Purim holiday. Children in particular enjoy
dressing up as the protagonists in the Book of Esther, including
Queen Esther and Mordechai; other Biblical personalities
such as King David and the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), and
modern-day costumes from flower girls to Indians to animals
and masks are worn to disguise the wearers' identities.
Mistaken identity plays an important role in The Book of
Esther, as Esther hid her cultural origins from the king,
Mordechai hid his knowledge of all the world's languages
(which allowed Bigthan and Teresh to discuss their plot
openly in his presence), and Haman was mistaken for Mordechai
when he led Mordechai through the streets of the capital
city of Shushan (according to the Talmud, Haman's daughter,
thinking that it must be Mordechai leading her father around,
dumped a chamber pot on her father's head as he passed by,
and, realizing her error, committed suicide).
one who is truly hidden behind all the events of the Megillah
is God. The Jewish Sages referred to His role as ???? ????
(hester panim, or "hiding of the Face", which
is also hinted at in the Hebrew name for the Book of Esther,
Megillat Esther—literally, "revelation of [that which
is] hidden"). Although Jews believe that everything
turned out in the end for the best as a direct result of
Divine intervention (that is, a series of miracles), the
Book of Esther lacks any mention of God's name and appears
to have been nothing more than a result of natural occurrences.
On the other hand, Jewish philosophy and scriptural commentators
believe that the reason for the omission of God's name is
in order to emphasize the very point that God remained hidden
throughout this series of events, but was nonetheless present
and played a large role in the outcome of the story. Furthermore,
this lesson can be taken into consideration on a much larger
scale: Throughout Jewish history, and especially in exile
today, God's presence has been felt more at certain times
than at others. Megillat Esther (and the omission of God's
name in it) serves to show us that although God may not
be conspicuously present at times, he nevertheless plays
(and has played) an important role in our lives and in the
future of the Jewish nation. In remembrance of how God remained
hidden throughout the Purim miracle, Jews dress up on Purim
and many hide their faces.
custom of masquerading on Purim was first introduced among
the Italian Jews about the close of the fifteenth century
under the influence of the Roman carnival. This custom spread
over all countries where Jews lived, except perhaps the
Orient. The first among Jewish authors to mention this custom
is Judah Minz (d. 1508 at Venice) in his Responsa no. 17,
quoted by Moses Isserles on Orach Chayim 696:8. He expresses
the opinion that, since the purpose of the masquerade is
only merrymaking, it should not be considered a transgression
of the Biblical law regarding dress. Although some authorities
issued prohibitions against this custom, the people did
not heed them, and the more lenient view prevailed. The
custom is still practiced today amongst religious Jews of
all denominations, and among both religious and non-religious
Israel there are Purim parades, and men, women, boys and
girls celebrate publicly in costumes and masks.
Songs associated with Purim are based on sources that are
Talmudic, Liturgical and Cultural.
Purim songs include Mishenichnas Adar marbim be-simcha ("From
the beginning of [the Hebrew month of] Adar, joy increases"—Mishnah
Taanith 4:1), LaYehudim haisah orah ve-simchah ve-sasson
ve-kar ("The Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor"—Esther
8:16), and Mechayav inish livesumei ("There is an obligation
to drink"—Talmud Megilla 7b). The prayer, Shoshanat
Yaakov, read at the conclusion of the Megillah reading,
is often sung to various popular melodies.
Torah and Purim spiel
Main articles: Purim Torah and Purim spiel
Some Jewish communities spice up the Purim celebrations
with comical, yet erudite, "Torah teachings" known
as Purim Torah which resort to a variety of comedic and
linguistic tricks to the amusement of the listeners.
Purim spiel is a comedic play that attempts to convey the
saga of Purim's origins and its cast of characters. Purim
spiels can revolve around anything relating to Jews and
Judaism that will bring cheer and comedic relief to an audience
celebrating the day.
Focus on Children
During the days before Purim, children are often entertained
with Purim puppet shows similar to a Punch and Judy performance
where the entire Purim story is presented out by puppeteers
using small puppets dressed up as Mordechai, Esther, Ahasueres,
Vashti, Haman and more.
Shushan Purim (the 15th day of Adar) is the day on which
Jews in Jerusalem and Shushan (in Iran) celebrate Purim.
The Book of Esther explains that while the Jews in unwalled
cities fought their enemies on the 13th of Adar and rested
on the 14th, the Jews in the walled capital city of Shushan
spent the 13th and 14th defeating their enemies, and rested
on the 15th (Esther 9:20-22).
Mordechai and Esther decreed that only walled cities should
celebrate Purim on the 15th, in commemoration of the battle
in the walled city of Shushan, the Jewish Sages noted that
Jerusalem, the focus of Jewish life, lay in ruins during
the events of the Book of Esther. To make sure that a Persian
city was not honored more than Jerusalem, they made the
determination of which cities were walled by referring to
ancient cities walled during the time of Joshua. This allowed
Jerusalem to be included on the basis of that criteria;
paradoxically, they included Shushan as the exceptional
case since the miracle occurred there, even though it did
not have a wall in Joshua's time.
Megillah is also read on the 15th in a number of other cities
in Israel—such as Jaffa, Acre, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron—but
only as a custom based on a doubt over whether these cities
were walled during the time of Joshua. These cities therefore
celebrate Purim on the 14th, and the additional Megillah
reading on the 15th is a stringency. Jews in these cities
do not recite the blessings over the reading of the Megillah
on the 15th.
When the main Purim date, the 14th of Adar, comes out on
a Friday, then in Jerusalem there is a situation called
Purim HaMeshulash - a 3 part Purim celebration. Shushan
Purim is then on the 16th day, rather than the 15th day,
of Adar. Each day has a different focus. The giving of money
can't occur on the Sabbath, and since it would be unfair
to make the poor wait a day, so it is moved to the day before
Purim. The Megilla reading in Jerusalem takes place a day
"triple" Purim is a chance to strengthen the celebration
even outside of Israel, since on Friday the Purim meal can't
be carried over after dark, as is usually done.
are not very common; they cluster (about every 2-3 years)
and then they leave gaps as large as 13 years.
In leap years on the Hebrew calendar, Purim is celebrated
in the second month of Adar. (The Karaites, however, celebrate
it in the first month of Adar.) The 14th of the first Adar
is then called Purim Katan ("Little Purim" in
Hebrew) and the 15th is Shushan Purim Katan, for which there
no set observances but have a minor holiday aspect to it.
The distinctions between the first and the second Purim
in leap years are mentioned in the Mishnah (Megillah 1/46b;
compare Orach Chayim 697).
Fasting before and after Purim
Main article: Fast of Esther
The Fast of Esther, celebrated before Purim, on the 13th
of Adar, is an original part of the Purim celebration, referred
to in Esther 9:31-32. The first who mentions the Fast of
Esther is Rabbi Acha of Shabcha (8th century CE) in She'iltot
4; the reason there given for its institution is based on
an interpretation of Esther 9:18, Esther 9:31 and Talmud
Megillah 2a: "The 13th was the time of gathering",
which gathering is explained to have had also the purpose
of public prayer and fasting. Some, however, used to fast
three days in commemoration of the fasting of Esther; but
as fasting was prohibited during the month of Nisan, the
first and second Mondays and the Thursday following Purim
were chosen. The fast of the 13th is still commonly observed;
but when that date falls on a Sabbath, the fast is pushed
forward to the preceding Thursday, Friday being needed to
prepare for the Sabbath and the following Purim festival.
In addition to the official Purim, other occasions arose
to celebrate deliverance of communities or families from
the threat of annihilation. These celebrations were called
Public / Communal
Until recently, many Jewish communities around the world
celebrated local "Purims" that commemorated its
deliverance from a particular anti-semitic ruler or group.
The best known is Purim Vintz, traditionally celebrated
in Frankfurt am Main, one week after the regular Purim.
This commemorates the Fettmilch uprising (1616-1620), in
which one Vincenz Fettmilch attempted to exterminate the
Jewish community . According to some sources, the influential
Rabbi Moses Sofer (the Hatam Sofer), who was born in Frankfurt,
celebrated Purim Vintz every year, even when he served as
a rabbi in Pressburg.
Private / Family
Many Jewish families have also had "family Purims"
throughout the centuries, celebrated at home, whereby they
celebrate their escape from persecution, an accident, or
any other type of misfortune.
example, in Krakow, Poland, Rabbi Yom Tov Lipmann Heller
(1579-1654) asked that his family henceforth celebrate a
private Purim, marking the end of his many troubles, including
having faced trumped-up charges.. Since Purim is preceded
by a fast day, the rabbi (known as the Tosfos Yom Tov because
of his work of the same name) also directed his descendants
to have a (private) fast day, the 5th day of Tamuz, marking
one of his imprisonments (1629), this one lasting for 40
^ Frimer, Ariyeh. "Women's Megilla Reading" 2003
^ Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, "The Festive Purim Meal: Seudat
Purim", Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America,
accessed March 16, 2006.
^ Neil rosenstein, The Feast and the Fast (1984)
Jewish holidays 2000-2050