Monday, March 9th marks the beginning of the Jewish festival of Purim. I’ve heard it referred to as the Jewish Halloween, incorrectly, because children and adults dress in costume to celebrate and give each other Misloach Manot (goodie bags or baskets.) So, if it’s not just like Halloween, what is it?
According to Chabad, the festival of Purim is celebrated on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar - typically in the late winter or early spring. Purim begins this year on February 25. It symbolizes and celebrates the salvation of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire from an evil plot to destroy them.
As the story goes, the Persian Empire of the 4th Century BCE extended over 127 lands, and the Jews were its subjects. The King, Ahasuerus, after having his wife executed, arranged for a beauty pageant to find a new queen. A Jewish girl, Esther, caught his eye and became the new queen - but refused to divulge her nationality or religion.
Ahasuerus’s prime minister, Haman, hated the Jews and when Esther’s cousin, Mordechai (who was the Jewish leader) defied the King’s order to bow to Haman, Haman convinced the king to issue a decree ordering the extermination of all Jews on the 13th of Adar.
Mordechai rounded up the Jews and convinced them to repent, fast, and pray. However, Esther had another plan. She requested the King and Haman join her for a feast at which she would reveal her Jewish identity. The king was so in love with Esther, he punished Haman for his evil ways and had him hung. The King then issued a new decree granting the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies.
So, why is it customary to wear costumes?
The answer I like best is this one: “The custom of wearing costumes on Purim is an allusion to the nature of the Purim miracle, where the details of the story are really miracles hidden within natural events.”
What are the other customs you follow during Purim?
- We eat hamantaschen, three-pointed cookies filled with jam to symbolize Haman’s hat
- We celebrate with festivals, carnivals, and other fun parties
- We read the Megillah, the book of Esther, during which we boo or make noise when Haman’s name is read
Purim is a lively, fun, and celebratory holiday in Judaism. While it is not one of the “major” holidays, it is one of our family’s favorites.