WOW! I had quite a weekend. :)
Purim is a Jewish holiday during the month of Adar that commemorates the survival of the Jewish people despite the attempts of the evil Haman (BOOOO!!!!) to destroy them. In a nutshell, the Purim story goes like this:
The king of Persia, King Ahasveros, divorces his first wife, Vashti, after she refuses to entertain him and his drunken buddies naked. To find a new wife, the kings has a beauty contest with all the eligible women in the land and a Jewish girl named Esther is chosen as his new wife (although her Jewish identity is hidden). Meanwhile, the king’s advisor, Haman, is an arrogant and power-hungry individual, who demands that everyone bow before him when he passes by. Mordecai (a Jew, and Esther’s uncle) refuses to bow given the Jewish prohibition against bowing before anyone besides God. Out of anger, Haman plots to destroy all the Jews and receives permission from the king to do so. Learning of Haman’s plan, Mordecai tells Esther that she must speak to the king, reveal her Jewish identity, and ask him to save her people. Although she is at great personal risk, Esther does this task and, ultimately, the Jewish people are allowed to defend themselves (which they do successfully) and Haman is killed.
The full story is recorded in Megillat Esther (the scroll of Esther) which is part of the Ketuvim (writings) part of the Tanakh. If you didn’t already read it this year, I suggest doing so – the story is really quite juicy!!
Anyway…Megillat Esther is quite unique for many reasons, including but not limited to:
– there is a female heroine (YAY ESTHER!!!)
– God’s name is not mentioned anywhere within the book, causing it to be used as a frequent example of the hidden presence of God
– the meaning of the holiday is often understand as being intended to unite the Jewish people (as the people needed to unite in order to support Esther and defend themselves from attack)
– the holiday is not from the Torah, so there are not laws against malacha (work) such as on Shabbat and many other Jewish holidays during the day
– in most of the world, Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar, but in walled cities it is the 15th of Adar (because Shushan was a walled city and the fighting lasted one day more than in the rest of Persia). Since Jerusalem is a walled city, we celebrated on the 15th (last Thursday evening-Friday at sundown).
All in all, these elements combine to make one heck of a party.
To begin…the mitzvot.
1. Mikra Megillah (reading Megillat Esther)
The reading of the megillah is typically done in a public communal setting, and Megillat Esther has its own trope (cantillation marks) different from the trope for chanting other books from Tanakh. Often times, the reading is combined with some sort of shpiel (play) reenacting the story. The mitzvah is to read and hear EVERY WORD of the chanting, so even though it’s a festive occasion, people are quiet during the reading itself to enable everyone to hear. Noah and I went to a megillah reading with Nava Tehila, and it was amazing fun:
2. Seudat Purim (festive Purim meal)
A friend from Pardes invited us over for a meal on Friday which was absolutely delicious – sadly, no photos.
3. Matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor)
The commandment here is to give money to two people (enough money for each of those people to buy enough food to equal a meal for two people. So, in total, a minimum of the monetary equivalent of 4 meals). If you are from a community where Purim auctions are a frequent occurrence and you never knew why it always happened at that time of year…this is why! To give you the chance to fulfill this Purim-specific commandment. :)
4. Mishloach Manot (sending gifts)
My personal favorite Purim mitzvah…mishloach manot are small gifts packages given to other Jews. This mitzvah is the one most explicitly linked with uniting b’nei yisrael. Rather than being another gift to the poor, this gift is specifically supposed to be to someone that you know (or don’t know so well) but are connected to by your Jewish ties. The mitzvah is to give a mishloach manot to a minimum of one person. The gift package must contain a minimum of 2 foods that require a different bracha (blessing). Ie, there must be at least a food item representing at least two of the following categories: fruit, vegetables, bread, non-bread grain product (cakes, cookies, etc), food that doesn’t fall into one of the aforementioned categories. Noah and I put a clementine, chocolate, nuts, and hamentashen in our mishloach manot (3 food categories of brachot!):
If you do these four things, you’ve fulfilled your religious obligation regarding Purim. But, if you want to have a REALLY GOOD TIME, then the following things are also essential:
Hamantashen are the iconic Purim food – triangular cookies traditionally filled with jam or poppyseeds (I’m partial to chocolate though, go figure!). There are varying opinions on the cookie’s symbolism, but they are generally thought to either represent Haman’s hat or ears (take that, Haman!). Noah and I made two types of hamantashen: apricot and chocolate peanut butter:
This is the dough recipe I used, this is the apricot filling recipe, and the peanut butter/chocolate is – you guessed it! – just peanut butter and chocolate mixed together:
Get dressed up!
Part of the custom surrounding Purim is to get dressed up (yes, that means EVERYONE). This creates a very fun and socially acceptable outlet for adults to wear costumes. In Israel, during the weeks leading up to Purim, costume shops seemed to pop-up everywhere selling accessories of every kind. During Purim day itself (as well as the two or so days before) it seemed like almost everyone on the street was wearing some sort of costume. Experiencing this aspect of the holiday in Israel (ie, out in the streets as opposed to only one night inside a synagogue) was really an incredible experience:
Noah and I got the main components of our costumes at the vintage-clothing store, Trumpeldor, in the Nachlaot neighborhood:
We dressed up as Miss Scarlet and Professor Plum from Clue:
Perhaps one of the most famous Rabbinic passages is the Talmud is the instruction to drink on Purim ad lo yoda (until you don’t know) the difference between Mordecai and Haman. I have a whole dvar I would like to give you about how this is actually an instruction about utilizing the holiday to erase our judgements and preconceived prejudices against people, but I’ll save that for another time…
In any event, the connection between the holiday and drinking makes it one-heck-of-a street party. This is the shuk Purim night (first picture intentionally blurry for artsy effect…did it work?!):
People are friendly and boisterous, as evidenced by these random guys who starting playing limbo with us:
Of course, the Nachman Mashiach party van was out in force:
Enjoy the Purim culture!!!
What an incredible opportunity it is to live in Israel where walking down the street I see chalk on the sidewalk referring to an upcoming Jewish holiday:
Reads: Hag Purim Sameach (happy Purim). Presumably written by a child because the ‘mem’ is backwards.
Everyone is in costume, everyone goes out, everyone celebrates. Not only is it the ‘Jewish holiday in Israel’ effect, but this is also one of the relatively few Jewish holidays that has been fully embraced by secular Israelis and not only religious ones.
I guess it’s really not hard to see why…