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Purim (Hebrew: ????? Pûrîm "lots", from Akkadian puru) is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance from Haman's plot to annihilate all the Jews of the Persian Empire, who had survived the Babylonian captivity, after Persia had conquered Babylonia who in turn had destroyed the First Temple and dispersed the Jewish people; as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther. It is characterized by public recitation of the Book of Esther, giving mutual gifts of food and drink, giving charity to the poor, and a celebratory meal (Esther 9:22); other customs include drinking wine, wearing of masks and costumes, and public celebration.
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Purim 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.

Overview
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.

The 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).

Like 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 after Meals.

The four main mitzvot of the day are:

listening 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

Reading 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.

In 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.

The 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.

According 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.

Purim 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 as well.

By 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

Purim 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.

Ultimately, 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.

Purim 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.

In 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.

These 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.

Some 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. [1]


Giving of food gifts and charity

The 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.

Although 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.

Impressive 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.

In 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.)

This 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 of Maimonides.

Many 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.[2]


Masquerading

Dressing 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 to policemen.

Costumes 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).

The 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.

The 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 Israelis.

In Israel there are Purim parades, and men, women, boys and girls celebrate publicly in costumes and masks.


Songs
Songs associated with Purim are based on sources that are Talmudic, Liturgical and Cultural.

Traditional 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.


Traditional foods

Purim 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.

A 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
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).

Although 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.

The 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.


Purim Ha-Me-shulash
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 "late."

This "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.

These are not very common; they cluster (about every 2-3 years) and then they leave gaps as large as 13 years.


Purim Katan
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.


Other "Purims"
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 Purims.


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 [3]. 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.

For 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.[3]. 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 days.[4][5]


References
^ 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.
^ [1]
^ [2]
^ Neil rosenstein, The Feast and the Fast (1984)

See also
Holidays Portal
Purim spiel
Jewish holidays 2000-2050

External links