Purim: Something for everyone - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Purim: Something for everyone

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The holiday of Purim, which occurs on the 14th day of the month of Adar on the Hebrew calendar, is one that is filled with highs and lows, darkness and joy – dichotomies that are particularly striking.  Heralding back to the biblical story documented in the Book of Esther, which is read on the holiday, the celebration of the victorious Jewish community in Persia is filled with drama, confusion and a deep plot – enough so that it might even make a great blockbuster film.

Although the story is complex and highlights interpersonal relationships, internal and external community issues, as well as geography, faith and monarchical rule– the modern celebration often includes items mentioned directly within the text.  The tradition of celebrating the holiday with merriment, sending gifts to others and presents to the poor continues until today in many communities worldwide.  What is truly is interesting is that although it is a time of partying and celebration there is a clear recognition to consider others.

Merriment and joy are carried through in the various activities and celebrations of the holiday – whether through Purim plays (that are often comedic, slapstick, or can be a representation of the story of Purim replete with costumes), dressing up in costume (which can evoke the main characters of the Purim story or can be completely creative), sumptuous meals, the giving of Mishloah Manot (gifts of food to friends) and even through all of the happiness, one should still recognize those in need through the distribution of Matanot L’evyonim (gifts of charity).

Traditional and modern commentators find many interesting nuances within the Book of Esther to comment upon, whether it is family relationships, gender and leadership roles.

Purim and Hanukah are often placed in a similar category, there are similarities – but of course there are differences. Among the similarities of the two holidays is the addition in the prayer liturgy and Grace After Meals (Birkat HaMazon) of the ‘Al HaNissim supplication that notes the various particular events and miracles ascribed with the holiday. These two holidays differ in areas such as length of celebration, related narrative inclusion in the biblical canon, type of observance – but like many of the Jewish holidays each one has distinctive food associated with the holiday.  For many Purim equals Hamantaschen, a triangular shaped cookie filled with anything from prune or raspberry jam to chocolate chips, meant to evoke the ear or hat of the character Haman in the story of Esther.

An innovation that dates from the medieval period is that of communal local Purim celebrations in communities worldwide – each notes a time when a community or family was saved from peril.  While commemorations and celebrations of local Purims vary, some include special prayers, reading of a special created scroll detailing the story of thanksgiving and a celebratory meal.

Consider browsing our library collection – from biblical commentaries, Purim plays, cookbooks to curricula, storybooks and illuminated manuscripts, we have something for everyone this Purim!