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Purim (Hebrew: Pûrîm "lots", related to Akkadian pūru) is a festival that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people of the ancient Persian Empire from Haman's plot to annihilate them, as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther (Megillat Esther). According to the story, Haman cast lots to determine the day upon which to exterminate the Jews.

Purim is celebrated annually according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (Adar II in leap years), the day following the victory of the Jews over their enemies; as with all Jewish holidays, Purim begins at sundown on the previous secular day. In cities that were protected by a surrounding wall at the time of Joshua, including Shushanmarker (Susa) and Jerusalemmarker, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month, known as Shushan Purim. Purim is characterized by public recitation of the Book of Esther (keriat ha-megilla), giving mutual gifts of food and drink (mishloach manot), giving charity to the poor (mattanot la-evyonim), and a celebratory meal (se'udat Purim); other customs include drinking wine, wearing of masks and costumes, and public celebration.

Jewish exiles from the Kingdom of Judah who had been living in the Babylonian captivity (6th Century BCE) found themselves under Persian rule after Babylonia was in turn conquered by the Persian Empire. According to the Book of Esther, Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus planned to kill the Jews, but his plans were foiled by Esther, his queen. Mordecai, a palace official, cousin and foster parent of Esther, subsequently replaced Haman. The Jews were delivered from being the victims of an evil decree against them and were instead allowed by the King to destroy their enemies, and the day after the battle was designated as a day of feasting and rejoicing.


The Persian Empire

The Achaemenid Empire ( ) (559 BC–330 BC) was the first of the Persian Empires to rule over significant portions of Greater Iran. It was the first of many successor Persian Empires to be accounted as such and to figure importantly in history—most often as a superpower. It is also the state which freed the Israelites (Jews) from their Babylonian captivity.

Encompassing approximately 7.5 million square kilometers, the Achaemenid Empire was territorially the largest empire of classical antiquity. At the height of its power, the Persian Empire spanned three continents, and eventually incorporated the following territories: In the east, modern Afghanistanmarker and beyond into central Asia, and Pakistanmarker. In the north and west, all of Asia Minormarker (modern Turkeymarker), the upper Balkans peninsula (Thrace), and most of the Black Sea coastal regions. In the west and southwest the territories of modern Iraqmarker, northern Saudi Arabiamarker, Jordanmarker, Israelmarker, Lebanonmarker, Syriamarker, all significant population centers of ancient Egyptmarker and as far west as portions of Libyamarker.

The empire began as a vassal state of the Medes but ended up conquering and enlarging the Median empire to include Ancient Egypt and Asia Minormarker. Under Xerxes I of Persia, it came very close to conquering Ancient Greece. The Achaemenids were finally overthrown by the conquest of Alexander the Great in 330 BC.

Achaemenid Persian Empire

Achaemenid Empire.
Languages Persian, Elamite, Aramaic
Religions There was no official state religion. Zoroastrianism and numerous others religions, such as Judaism, were practiced.
Capitals Anshanmarker,




Area Near East
Existed 559 - 330 BC


Purim narratives

  • The primary source relating to the origin of Purim is the Megillat Esther (Book of Esther), which became the last of the 24 books of the Tanakh to be canonized by the Sages of the Great Assembly. It is dated to the 4th century BCE and according to the Talmud was a redaction by the Great Assembly of an original text by Mordecai .

  • The Greek Book of Esther included in the Septuagint, is a retelling of the events of the Hebrew Book of Esther rather than a translation and records additional traditions, in particular the identification of Ahasuerus with Artaxerxes and details of various letters. It is dated to the second to first century BCE. The Coptic and Ethiopic versions of Esther are translations of it instead of the Hebrew Esther.

  • A Latin version of Esther was produced by Jerome for the Vulgate. It translates the Hebrew Esther but interpolates translations of the Greek Esther where the latter provides additional material.

  • Several Aramaic targums of Esther were produced in the Middle Ages of which two survive - the Targum Rishon ("First Targum") and Targum Sheni ("Second Targum") dated c. 500 - 1000 CE. These were not targums ("translations") in the true sense but like the Greek Esther are retellings of events and include additional legends relating to Purim. There is also a 16th century rescension of the Targum Rishon sometimes counted as Targum Shelishi ("Third Targum").

Classical and medieval historians

Jewish historians
  • The first century CE historian Josephus recounts the origins of Purim in Book 11 of his Antiquities of the Jews. He follows the Hebrew Book of Esther but shows awareness of some of the additional material found in the Greek version in that he too identifies Ahasuerus as Artaxerxes and provides the text of the king's letter. He also provides additional information on the dating of events relative to Ezra and Nehemiah.

  • An account of the origins of Purim is included in chapter 4 of the tenth century CE compilation of Jewish history, the Josippon. It too follows the account of the Hebrew Esther and includes additional traditions matching those found in the Greek version and Josephus (whom the author claims as a source) with the exception of the details of the letters found in the latter works. It also provides other contextual information relating Jewish and Persian history such as the identification of Darius the Mede as the uncle and father-in-law of Cyrus.

Persian historians
  • A brief Persian account of events is provided by Islamic historian Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari in his History of the Prophets and Kings (completed 915 CE ) volume 4 The Ancient Kingdoms. Although following Jewish and Christian tradition, al-Tabari provides details not known in Jewish sources such as the original Persian form "Asturya" for "Esther" . He places events during the rule of Ardashir Bahman (i.e Artaxerxes II Mnemon ) but confuses him with Ardashir al-Tawil al-Ba' (i.e. Artaxerxes I Longimanus) while assuming "Ahasuerus" to be the name of a co-ruler .

  • Another brief Persian account independent of al-Tabari as well as of Jewish and Christian sources, is recorded by the Arab historian Masudi in The Meadows of Gold (completed 947 CE ). He refers to a Jewish woman who had married the Persian king and delivered her people. He refers to the king by the name Bahman i.e "(Artaxerxes II) Mnemon" thus corroborating this identification of Ahasuerus. He mentions the woman's daughter, Khumay, who is not known in Jewish tradition but is well remembered in Persian folklore. Al-Tabari calls her Khumani and tells how her father (Ardashir Bahman) married her. Ferdowsi in his Shahnameh (c. 1000 CE) also tells of king Bahman marrying Khumay.

Ancillary accounts
  • Josephus in his Contra Apionem quotes a work referred to as Peri Ioudaion (On the Jews), which he credits to Hecataeus of Abdera (late 4th century BCE). It is commonly known as "Pseudo-Hecataeus". ) It records the Persian persecution of Jews and mentions Jews being forced to worship at Persian erected shrines. Berossus (early third century BCE) in his Babyloniaca (in a section preserved in Clement of Alexandria's Protrepticus) provides context for the account in that he records the introduction of idols of Anahita under Artaxerxes II Mnemon throughout the Persian Empire. Although the Book of Esther refrains from mentioning Jewish or Persian religion, the Tosefta (Sanhedrin 61b) notes that Haman wore an image of an idol and that the decree that all must bow down to him related to the worship of this idol. Rashi's commentary notes a deification of Haman. Strabo, in his Geographica 11.8.4 (early first century CE) records the worship of images of Omanos and Anadatos together with Anahita. Attempts to interpret these as gods are problematic , however they are arguably references to Haman and his father Hamedatha still being worshipped in his day..

  • Plutarch in his Lives (75 CE) records alternative names Oarses and Arsicas for Artaxerxes II Mnemon given by Deinon (c.360-30 BCE ) and Ctesias (Artexerxes II's physician ) respectively. These derive from the Persian name Khshayarsha as do "Ahasuerus" ("Xerxes") and the hypocoristicon "Arshu" for Artaxerxes II found on a contemporary inscription (LBAT 162 ). These sources thus arguably identify Ahasuerus as Artaxerxes II in light of the names used in the Hebrew and Greek sources and accords with the contextual information from Pseudo-Hecataeus and Berossus as well as agreeing with Al-Tabari and Masudi's placement of events. The 13th century Syriac historian Bar-Hebraeus in his Chronography, also identifies Ahasuerus as Artaxerxes II citing the sixth century CE historian John of Ephesus.

Religious laws and customs

  • The tractate Megillah in the Mishnah (redacted c. 200 CE) records the laws relating to Purim. The accompanying Tosefta (redacted in the same period) and Gemara (in the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud redacted c. 400 CE and c. 600 CE respectively) record additional contextual details such as Vashti having been the daughter of Belshazzar as well as details that accord with Josephus' such as Esther having been of royal descent. Brief mention of Esther is made in tractate Chullin (Bavli Chullin 139b) and Haman's idolatry is discussed in tractate Sanhedrin (Sanhedrin 61b).


  • The Esther Rabbah is a Midrashic text divided in two parts. The first part dated to c. 500 CE provides an exegetical commentary on the first two chapters of the Hebrew Book of Esther and provided source material for the Targum Sheni. The second part may have been redacted as late as the eleventh century CE contains commentary on the remaining chapters of Esther. It too contains the additional contextual material found in the Josippon.

The Purim story

The Book of Esther commences with a six month (180 day) drinking feast given by king Ahasuerus, for the army of Persia and Media, for the civil servants and princes in the 127 provinces of his kingdom, at the conclusion of which a seven day drinking feast for the inhabitants of Shushan, rich and poor with a separate drinking feast for the women organised by the Queen Vashti in the pavilion of the Royal courtyard.

At this feast Ahasuerus gets thoroughly drunk and orders his wife Vashti to display her beauty before the people and the princess. She refuses, and Ahasuerus decides to remove her from her post. Rabbinic interpretations suggest that he had her killed, but this fact is not mentioned in the text. . He then orders all young women to be presented to him, so he can choose a new queen to replace Vashti. One of these is Esther (Haddassah, who changed her name to Esther so that the king wouldn't know she was Jewish), who was orphaned at a young age and was being fostered by her cousin Mordecai. She finds favor in the king's eyes, and is made his new wife. Esther does not reveal that she is Jewish. Shortly afterwards, Mordecai discovers a plot by courtiers Bigthan and Teresh to kill Ahasuerus. They are apprehended and hanged, and Mordecai's service to the king is recorded.

Ahasuerus appoints Haman, an Agagite (interpreted in later sources as a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag) as his prime minister. Mordecai, who sits at the palace gates, falls into Haman's disfavor as he refuses to bow down to him. Having found out that Mordechai is Jewish, Haman plans to kill not just Mordecai but the entire Jewish minority in the empire. He obtains Ahasuerus' permission to execute this plan, against payment of ten thousand talents of silver, and he casts lots to choose the date on which to do this - the thirteenth of the month of Adar. When Mordecai finds out about the plans he orders widespread penitence and fasting. Esther discovers what has transpired; she requests that all Jews fast and pray for three days together with her, and on the third day she seeks an audience with Ahasuerus, during which she invites him to a feast in the company of Haman. During the feast, she asks them to attend a further feast the next evening. Meanwhile, Haman is again offended by Mordecai and builds a gallows for him.

That night, Ahasuerus suffers from insomnia, and when the court's records are read to him to help him sleep, he learns of the services rendered by Mordecai in the previous plot against his life. Ahasuerus is told that Mordecai has not received any recognition for saving the king's life. Just then, Haman appears, and King Ahasuerus asks Haman what should be done for the man that the King wishes to honor. Thinking that the man that the King wishes to honor is himself, Haman says that the man should be dressed in the king's royal robes and led around on the king's royal horse. To Haman's horror, the king instructs Haman to do so to Mordecai.

Later that evening, Ahasuerus and Haman attend Esther's second banquet, at which she reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to exterminate her people, which includes her. Ahasuerus orders Haman hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. The previous decree against the Jews cannot be annulled, and the King allows Mordecai and Esther to write another decree as they wish. They write one that allows the Jews to defend themselves during attacks. As a result, on 13 Adar, five hundred attackers and Haman's ten sons are killed in Shushan. Throughout the empire an additional 75,000 are slain (Esther 9:16). On the 14th, another 300 are killed in Shushan.

Mordecai assumes a prominent position in Ahasuerus' court, and institutes an annual commemoration of the delivery of the Jewish people from annihilation.

The holiday

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 will be nullified, 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, Mishneh Torah, Megilla).

Like Hanukkah, Purim has more of a national than a religious character, and its 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 Amidah during evening, morning and afternoon prayers, as well as is included in the Birkat Hamazon ("Grace after Meals.")

The four main mitzvot of the day are:
  1. Listening to the public reading, usually in synagogue, of the Book of Esther in the evening and again in the following morning (k'riat megilla)
  2. Sending food gifts to friends (mishloach manot)
  3. Giving charity to the poor (matanot la'evyonim)
  4. Eating a festive meal (se`udah)

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 Mordecai is reported to have been a member. Originally this enactment was for the 14th of Adar only; later, however, Rabbi Joshua ben Levi (3rd 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 Mishnah, 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 ( ) in one breath, to indicate their simultaneous death. The congregation was to recite aloud with the reader the verses , , and , which relate the origin of Mordecai and his triumph.

The Megilla is read with a cantillation (a traditional chant) differing from that used in the customary reading of the Torah. Besides the traditional cantillation, there are several verses or short phrases in the Megilla that are chanted in a different chant, the chant that is traditional for the reading of the book of Lamentations. These verses are particularly sad, or they refer to Jews being in exile. When the Megilla reader jumps to the melody of the book of Lamentations for these phrases, it heightens the feeling of sadness in the listener.

In some places, the Megilla is not chanted, but is read like a letter, because of the name iggeret ("epistle"), which is applied ( ) to the Book of Esther. It has been also customary since the time of the early Medieval era of the Geonim to unroll the whole Megilla before reading it, in order to give it the appearance of an epistle. According to Halakha ("Jewish law"), the Megillah may be read in any language intelligible to the audience.

According to the Mishnah (Megillah 30b), , 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 Romaniamarker and some other parts of Eastern Europe, Purim plays (called Purimshpiln, ) 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 Binding of Isaac. Since satire was deemed inappropriate for the synagogue itself, they were usually performed outdoors in its court. Purimspiels are still performed in many communities.

Boisterousness in the synagogue

One of the requirements in the Book of Esther is to celebrate the occasion by feasting. 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 (the leading 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" ( ) 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 a ra'ashan (from the Hebrew ra-ash, meaning "noise") and in Yiddish a . 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, some prayer-leaders will sing prayers in ways that would be considered sacrilegious on any other occasion during the year (perhaps with the exception of Simchat Torah); 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 5th 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 Mainmarker, Germanymarker, 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 Flavius Augustus 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 Londonmarker 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 owing to the notion of "Kavod HaTzibbur". 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 Megilla is read by a man.

Some Modern Orthodox leaders have held that women can serve as public Megillah readers. Women's megilla readings have become increasingly common in more liberal Modern Orthodox Judaism, though women may only read for other women, according to Ashkenazi authorities.

Giving of food gifts and charity

Gaily wrapped baskets of sweets, snacks and other foodstuffs given as mishloach manot on Purim day.

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 or bat mitzvah must send two different, ready-to-eat 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.

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. Charitable organizations, synagogues, Jewish schools and other groups also tap into the spirit of gift-giving by turning mishloach manot into a fund-raising device. These organizations collect money from members and either send out actual food gifts to other members, or mishloach manot "certificates" which indicate that a donation has been made to their organization.

To fulfill the mitzvah of giving charity to two poor people, one can give either food or money equivalent to the amount of food that is eaten at a regular meal. It is better to spend more on charity than on the giving of mishloach manot.

In the synagogue, regular collections of charity are made on the festival and the money is distributed among the needy. No distinction is made among the poor; anyone who is 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 Se`udat Purim is held, often 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 (ad delo yada) the phrases, arur Haman ("Cursed is Haman") and baruch Mordecai ("Blessed is Mordecai"). In Hebrew these phrases have the same gematria ("numerical value"), and some authorities, including the Be'er Hagolah and Rabbi Avraham Gombiner known as the Magen Avraham, have ruled that one should drink wine until he is unable to calculate these numerical values.

This saying was codified by Rabbis Isaac Alfasi (the "Rif"), Asher ben Jehiel (the "Rosh"), Jacob ben Asher (the "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 Tosafists (based on the Jerusalem Talmud), Maimonides, Rabbeinu Ephraim, Ba'al HaMa'or, Nissim of Gerona (the "Ran"), Orchot Chaim, Be'er Hagolah, the Magen Avraham, Rabbis David HaLevi Segal (the "Taz"), Moses Isserles (the "Rema"), Vilna Gaon, Samuel Eidels (the "Maharsha"), Rashash, Tzeidah LaDerech, Hagahot Maimoniyot, Ra'avyah, Korban N'tan'el, Yoel Sirkis (the "Bach"), Yaakov ben Moshe Levi Moelin (the "Maharil"), P'ri M'gadim, Kol Bo, Chochmat Mano'ach, Yisrael Meir Kagan in Mishnah Berurah 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 Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan known as the Chofetz Chaim and modern-day rosh 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.


Most evidence suggests that the concept of "masquerading in costumes" (on Purim) is a fairly recent addition to Purim, which was added sometime during the past five hundred years - in Europe. The exact date is debated. The practice probably did not exist in Middle Eastern countries earlier than 150 years ago. Sources in the oral law (or even some mystical works), which describe the validity of "hiding" (as it relates to Purim) are referenced to support this practice.

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 Mordecai; other Biblical personalities such as King David and the Kohen Gadol ("High Priest"), and modern-day costumes from flower girls to indigenous peoples of the Americas 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, Mordecai 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 Mordecai when he led Mordecai through the streets of the capital city of Shushan. According to the Talmud, Haman's daughter, thinking that it must be Mordecai leading her father around, dumped a chamber pot on her father's head as he passed by, and, realizing her error, committed suicide.

Purim revellers in costume, from a 1657 print.
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 ben Eliezer ha-Levi Minz (d. 1508 at Venice) (known as the "Mahari Minz") 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 Israelismarker.

In Israel there are Purim parades called Adloyada (Ad-עד Lo-לא Yada-ידע, Until one didn't know the other). The name refers to the drinking feast described in the book of Ester, after which the guests couldn't tell their friends apart from the other attenders. In these Parades men, women, boys and girls dress in costumes and masks and celebrate publicly.


The one who is truly hidden behind all the events of the Megillah is God. The Jewish Sages referred to His role as הסתר פנים (hester panim, or "hiding of the Face", which is also hinted at in a word play (Megilat Hester ) regarding 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 the present Jewish diaspora, 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 that although God may not be conspicuously present at times, He nevertheless plays (and has played) an important role in everyone's 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.


Songs associated with Purim are based on sources that are Talmudic, liturgical and cultural.

Traditional Purim songs include Mishenichnas Adar marbim be-simcha ("When [the Hebrew month of] Adar enters, we have a lot of joy"—Mishnah Taanith 4:1) and LaYehudim haitah orah ve-simchah ve-sasson ve-yakar ("The Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor"—Esther 8:16). The prayer, Shoshanat Yaakov, read at the conclusion of the Megillah reading, is often sung to various popular melodies.

Traditional foods

Homemade hamantaschen
During Purim it is traditional to serve triangular pastries, called Hamantaschen ("Haman's pockets") in Yiddish and Oznei Haman ("Haman's ears") in modern Hebrew. A sweet cookie dough is rolled out, cut into circles, and traditionally filled with a sweet poppy seed or prune filling, then wrapped up into a triangular shape with the filling either hidden or showing.

(Seeds and nuts are customarily eaten on Purim, as the Talmud tells us that Queen Esther ate only these foodstuffs in the palace of Ahasuerus, since she had no access to kosher foods.) More recently, prunes, dates, apricots, and chocolate fillings have been introduced. This pastry belongs to the Ashkenazi cuisine; its Sephardi equivalent is a thin dough called Fazuelos.

Kreplach, a kind of dumpling filled with cooked meat, chicken or liver and served in soup, are also traditionally served by Ashkenazi Jews on Purim.

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 comic 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 Mordecai, Esther, Ahasuerus, Vashti, Haman and more. During the celebration children are also entertained with games, rides and fun of a Purim Carnival

Children's Songs

Both before and on Purim, special children's songs (with non-liturgical sources) may be sung:
  • Once There Was a Wicked Wicked Man
  • Ani Purim
  • Chag Purim, Chag Purim, Chag Gadol Hu LaYehudim
  • MisheNichnas Adar
  • Shoshanas Yaakov
  • Al HaNisim
  • VeNahafoch Hu
  • LaYehudim Hayesa Orah
  • U Mordechai Yatza
  • Kacha Yay'aseh
  • Chayav Inish
  • Utzu Eitzah

Shushan Purim

Shushan Purim (the 15th day of Adar) is the day on which Jews in Jerusalemmarker and Shushan (in Iranmarker) 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 Mordecai 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 —see below— but only as a custom based on a doubt over whether these cities were walled or sufficiently 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.

Shushan in today's Iranmarker is an example of another walled city from the above era. Others possibly included are Acre, Ashdodmarker , Ashkelonmarker , Beershevamarker , Gazamarker , Haifamarker , Hebronmarker, Jaffamarker, Lodmarker , Safedmarker, Shechemmarker , and Tiberiasmarker.

Purim HaMeshulash

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 Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, and since it would be unfair to make the poor wait a day, it is moved to the 14th of Adar. The Megilla reading in Jerusalem takes place on the 14th as well. The "Al HaNissim" addition to the Amidah and Birkat Hamzon is said on Shabbat (Friday Night and Saturday) along with the traditional Purim day Torah portion being read in the synagogues on Shabbat day. Sunday (the "Meshulash day") contains the obligation of Mishloach Manot and the Seudat Purim (the festive Purim meal).

These are not very common; they cluster (about every 2-3 years) and then they leave gaps as large as 13 years. The last occurrence was in 2008. The next occurrence will be in 2021.

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

The Fast of Esther, observed 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 Achai Gaon (Acha of Shabcha) (8th century CE) in She'iltot 4; the reason there given for its institution is based on an interpretation of , 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 antisemitic 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. According to some sources, the influential Rabbi Moses Sofer (the Chasam Sofer), who was born in Frankfurtmarker, celebrated Purim Vintz every year, even when he served as a rabbi in Pressburgmarker.

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 Krakowmarker, 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. 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.


  1. As noted in Esther 9:22: "[...] that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor".
  2. NIV Study Bible, Introductions to the Books of the Bible, Esther, Zondervan, 2002
  3. Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Baba Bathra 15a
  4. George Lyons, Additions to Esther, Wesley Center for Applied Theology, 2000
  5. Prof. Michael Sokoloff, The Targums to the Book of Esther, Bar-Ilan University 's Parashat Hashavua Study Center, Parashat Tezaveh/Zakhor 5764 March 6, 2004
  6. S. Kaufman, CAL TARGUM TEXTS, Text base and variants, The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon, Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
  7. Alan J. Hauser, Duane Frederick Watson, A History of Biblical Interpretation: The Ancient Period, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003
  8. David Flusser, Josephus Goridines (The Josippon) (Vols. 1-2), The Bialik Institute, 1978
  9. Ehsan Yar-Shater, The History of al-Tabari : An Annotated Translation, SUNY Press, 1989
  10. Moshe Perlmann trans., The Ancient Kingdoms, SUNY Press, 1985
  11. Said Amir Arjomand, Artaxerxes, Ardasir and Bahman, The Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 118, 1998
  12. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition article Abd al-Hasan Ali ibn al-Husayn Masudi, Columbia University Press, 2007
  13. Lewis Bayles Paton, Esther: Critical Exegetical Commentary, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000
  14. Abd al-Hasan Ali ibn al-Husayn Masudi, Murūj al-dhahab (Meadows of Gold), ed. and French transl. by F. Barbier de Meynard and Pavet du Courteille, Paris, 1861
  15. Richard James Horatio Gottheil ed., Persian Literature, Volume 1, Comprising The Shah Nameh, The Rubaiyat, The Divan, and The Gulistan, Colonial Press, 1900
  16. William Whiston, The Works of Flavius Josephus, the Learned and Authentic Jewish Historian, Milner and Sowerby, 1864, online edition Harvard University 2004
  17. Jacob Hoschander, The Book of Esther in the Light of History, Oxford University Press, 1923
  18. J. R. Davila, Quotation Fragments (Pseudo-Hecataeus), online lecture, University of St Andrews, 1999
  19. Bezalel Bar-Kochva, Legitimizing the Jewish Diaspora, University of California Press, 1997. Here it is argued that the work may have been by an anonymous Alexandrian Jew and not Hecataeus.
  20. Albert De Jong, Traditions of the Magi: Zoroastrianism in Greek and Latin Literature, chap. 3, BRILL, 1997
  21. Rabbi Howard Jachter, Why Did Mordechai Refuse to Bow Down to Haman?, Rabbi Jachter's Halacha Files (and other Halachic cmpositions), Vol.12 No.21 Parshat Vayikra, Isaac and Mara Benmergui Torah Academy of Bergen County, March 15, 2003
  22. Wolfgang Felix, Encyclopaedia Iranica, entry Dinon, 1996-2008
  23. Jona Lendering, Ctesias of Cnidus, Livius, Articles on Ancient History, 1996-2008
  24. John Dryden, Arthur Hugh Clough, Plutarch's Lives, Little, Brown and Company, 1885
  25. M. A. Dandamaev, W. J. Vogelsang, A Political History of the Achaemenid Empire, BRILL, 1989
  26. E. A. W. Budge, The Chronography of Bar Hebraeus, Gorgias Press LLC, reprinted 2003
  27. Jan Jacob van Ginkel, John of Ephesus. A Monophysite Historian in Sixth-century Byzantium, Groningen, 1995
  28. Jacob Neusner,The Talmud: What it is and what it Says, Rowman & Littlefield, 2006
  29. Moshe David Herr, Encyclopedia Judaica 1997 CD-ROM Edition, article Esther Rabbah, 1997
  31. Esther chapters 1 and 2
  32. Esther chapters 3-5
  33. Esther chapters 6-9
  34. Esther chapters 9-10
  35. Frimer, Ariyeh: Women's Megilla Reading (2003) [1]
  36. Kitov, Eliyahu: The Festive Purim Meal: Seudat Purim[2], Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, accessed March 16, 2006.
  37.,,, among others
  40. His Word: Stories and Insights of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, ZT"L, by Hanoch Teller, 1990, p. 233, Feldheim Publishers,ISBN 1881939057>
  41. Jewish Press,May 8 2009,p.F3
  43. Ulmer, Rivka: Turmoil, Trauma, and Triumph. The Fettmilch Uprising in Frankfurt am Main (1612-1616) According to Megillas Vintz.[3]
  44. OU: This Day in Jewish History: Adar [4]
  45. Fine, Yisroel: It Happened Today [5]
  46. Rosenstein, Neil: The Feast and the Fast (1984)

See also

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