Welcome to the latest Better Know a Jewish Holiday! Today’s episode is Purim! The fightin' festival of festivities!
Purim is essentially the Jewish Halloween—if Halloween had mandatory drinking, a story with some positive morals, and female empowerment!
Purim, like Hanukkah, falls into the classic “They tried to kill us, they failed let’s eat,” Jewish Holiday trope.
It all begins with a huge party thrown by Achashverosh (ah-CHASH-veh-ROSH), the king of Persia:
We’re talking a weeks of Party Rockin’ in a row!!
Anyway, at some point Achashverosh decides he wants to show off his wife Vashti and demands that she come dance for him and all of his viziers.
Instead, Vashti channeled her [insert your favorite feminist icon] and was all like:
After Vashti refuses to dance, Achashverosh banishes her (naturally) and then has to figure out what to do about the whole not having a wife situation. So he has a “beauty contest” for all of the lands he owns, a territory stretching from Ethiopia to China.
Participation rates were high, the winner got to be the King’s wife.
Haddassah was a Jewish orphan living in the capital city with her uncle, Mordichai (More-de-khai). He insisted she change her name to Esther and throw her proverbial hat (read: hymen) into the ring for the King’s heart and she was all like:
Of course after much primping, Esther is the most pleasing to the King and becomes the Queen!
Unfortunately, right about this time Haman
Haman (pronounced HAY-man or hah-MAHN depending on whether you’re feeling Israeli or American) was promoted to grand vizier and got a little power hungry
Haman was a megalomaniac xenophobe who thought that everyone needed to bow down to him and respect his authority.
He was very very unpleased when Mordechai, citing his First Amendment right to freedom of religion, refused to bow down and was all like
Haman decided the rational retaliation for this slight was to slaughter all of the Jews in the kingdom.
So he cast lots called purim—hence the name of the holiday—to determine when to annihilate the Jews and landed on the 14 of Adar (the day of the holiday).
When the Jews heard about this plan, they were understandably very upset:
Mordechai went to Esther and was all like: This is your moment! You have to save us all!
Esther said she would go to see the king, but requested that everyone fast with her for three days beforehand. We observe this fast for one day these days, which is why I won’t be able to eat any food on my last day at work Wednesday. So sorry if I get like this sometime around 5 p.m. tomorrow…
After fasting, Esther went before Achashverosh and said she had a favor to ask. Achashverosh said she could ask for anything up to half his kingdom! One might think she could have just gone for that and asked all the Jews to move in to her half of the kingdom, but then the story would not have been as good. Instead, she invited the king and Haman to a lavish feast.
At the feast Achashverosh again made the half kingdom offer, instead, she invited them to a second feast.
Now at this feast she finally reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman’s decree would mean she would be killed to!!
Haman, in a strange move, throws himself at Esther begging for mercy. Problem is it kinda looked like he was attacking her.
Bad move Haman, never attack the queen in front of the king. The king has Haman hung on the same gallows he built for Mordichai
Mordichai is appointed the new grand vizier and it seems that all is well with the world. However, weirdly, the King says he cannot reverse his decree, so instead of saying that Jews can’t be killed, he makes it legal for the Jews to fight back. You know what that means:
Anyway, the Jews fight back, kill lots of Persians who thought they were going to kill lots of Jews and everyone’s happy!
To celebrate Purim we listen to a reading of the story, give gifts to friends, give charity, eat a feast, and get rulllll drunk:
We also traditionally eat Hamentashen, a yiddish word meaning Haman’s pockets, are a triangle cookie with yummy fillings we eat. Depending on who you ask they represent Haman’s ears, his hat or any number of other things. No matter who you ask, they are delicious:
Well, that’s all folks. As always, feel free to share with friends and family and if you have any questions please reach out or leave them in the comments.
If I have time between Hamentashen baking on Thursday I'll be back with some fun additional stories and points of intrigue.
About the Jew
The Jew is an Uber driving, Bar Mitzvah DJing, yoga teaching ex-journalist from Ann Arbor, Michigan who attends rabbi School in NYC.