What is Purim?
Purim, which literally means “lots” and is sometimes known as the Feast of Lots, is the Jewish holiday in which Jews commemorate being saved from persecution in the ancient Persian Empire. According to the Book of Esther in the Torah, the Jewish people of the city of Shushan were threatened by the villain Haman, a prime minister who convinces the King Ahasuerus to kill all the Jews (because the Jewish Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman). Haman casts lots (hence the name of the holiday) to determine the date he would carry out his plan: the 13th of Adar. In the end, the Jews are saved by the heroic Queen Esther, Mordecai’s niece (and adopted daughter), who married Ahasuerus (after he banished his first, rebellious wife Vashti). When Ahasuerus discovers that his wife Esther is Jewish, he decides to reverse Haman’s decree, and instead of the Jews being killed, Haman, his sons, and other enemies are killed instead.
How is Purim celebrated?
Purim is the most raucous holiday on the Jewish calendar (see mandatory alcohol drinking below) and occurs on the 14 day of the month of Adar. Observance of the holiday begins with dressing up in costume: some people choose to dress as characters from the Purim story, and others dress in non-Purim-related costumes. It is a mitzvah (commandment) to listen to the story of Purim chanted from Megillat Esther (“The Scroll of Esther”) and to hear every word. It is customary to make loud noise with a noisemaker called a ra’ashan in Hebrew, or grager in Yiddish, every time Haman’s name is mentioned, in order to fulfill the obligation of blotting out Haman’s name. Part of the holiday also includes giving gifts or charity to the poor, called matanot l’evyonim. A fun tradition on the holiday is to perform a Purim spiel, a satirical show either dramatizing the Purim story in a humorous way, or just a funny skit on any theme.
What kinds of foods are eaten on Purim?
Mishloach manot (“sending of portions”) are gifts of food, treats, and goodies that Jewish communities send to friends and family on Purim. It is traditional to have a jovial feast, or Seudat Purim, in the evening of the holiday. Drinking alcohol is mandatory on Purim, and in fact, the requirement in the Talmud goes so far as to instruct that one should get so drunk that they can’t tell the difference between the phrases Arur Haman (“cursed is Haman”) and Baruch Mordechai (“blessed is Mordecai”). Traditional foods include Oznei Haman or Hamentaschen (“ears of Haman”), a triangular cookie usually filled with different flavors of jam or a poppy seed filling known as “mohn”, which is supposed to represent either Haman’s ears or his three-cornered hat. Another triangular shaped food that is customary to eat are kreplach, small dumplings usually filled with meat, mashed potatoes, or other fillings. Other traditional foods are dishes made with beans, a reminder of what Esther ate in the king’s palace in order to avoid eating non-kosher foods. Because of this Esther/ legume tradition, Purim is often celebrated with a vegetarian meal.
What is the proper greeting for Purim?
To wish someone a Happy Purim, say “Chag Purim Sameach!”
When is Purim?
On the Hebrew calendar, Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar, the day after the Jews emerged victorious against the evil Haman. However, Shushan Purim is celebrated on the 15th of Adar because the fighting there lasted for two days. Some Jews also observe the Fast of Esther, which takes place from dawn until dusk on Purim even and commemorates Esther’s three day fast before meeting the King.
Did you know the Jewish calendar has leap years? This ancient calendar follows a 19 year cycle. There are seven leap years within each cycle, each of which contains one extra month (occurring in February-March). During Jewish leap years, the two months are known as Adar I (the “extra” leap month) and Adar II. Purim is celebrated during Adar II, and during Adar I a “mini” holiday is celebrated known as Purim Katan (small Purim).
Purim occurs on the following dates:
Jewish Year 5781: Sunset March 9, 2020 – Nightfall March 10, 2020
Jewish Year 5782: Sunset February 25, 2021 – Nightfall February 26, 2021
Jewish Year 5783: Sunset March 16, 2022 – Nightfall March 17, 2022
Jewish Year 5784: Sunset March 6, 2023 – Nightfall March 7, 2023
Jewish Year 5785: Sunset March 23, 2024 – Nightfall March 24, 2024
Jewish Year 5786: Sunset March 13, 2025 – Nightfall March 14, 2025
Jewish Year 5787: Sunset March 3, 2026 – Nightfall March 4, 2026
Jewish Year 5788: Sunset March 23, 2027 – Nightfall March 24, 2027
Jewish Year 5789: Sunset March 11, 2028 – Nightfall March 12, 2028
Jewish Year 5790: Sunset February 28, 2029 – Nightfall March 1, 2029
Jewish Year 5791: Sunset March 18, 2030 – Nightfall March 19, 2030