In the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on its
thirteenth day ... on the day that the enemies of the Jews were expected
to prevail over them, it was turned about: the Jews prevailed over their
adversaries. - Esther 9:1
And they gained relief on the fourteenth, making it a
day of feasting and gladness. - Esther 9:17
[Mordecai instructed them] to observe them as days of
feasting and gladness, and sending delicacies to one another, and gifts to
the poor. - Esther 9:22
Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar.
It commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved
The story of Purim is told in the Biblical book
of Esther. The heroes of the story are Esther, a beautiful young Jewish woman
living in Persia, and her cousin Mordecai, who raised her as if she were
his daughter. Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, King of Persia,
to become part of his harem. King Ahasuerus loved Esther more than his other
women and made Esther queen, but the king did not know that Esther was a
Jew, because Mordecai told her not to reveal her identity.
The villain of the story is Haman, an arrogant, egotistical advisor to the
king. Haman hated Mordecai because Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman,
so Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people.
In a speech that is all too familiar to Jews, Haman told the king, "There
is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all
the provinces of your realm. Their laws are different from those of every
other people's, and they do not observe the king's laws; therefore it is
not befitting the king to tolerate them." Esther 3:8. The king gave the fate
of the Jewish people to Haman, to do as he pleased to them. Haman planned
to exterminate all of the Jews.
Mordecai persuaded Esther to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people.
This was a dangerous thing for Esther to do, because anyone who came into
the king's presence without being summoned could be put to death, and she
had not been summoned. Esther fasted for three days to prepare herself, then
went into the king. He welcomed her. Later, she told him of Haman's plot
against her people. The Jewish people were saved, and Haman was hanged on
the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai.
The book of Esther is unusual in that it is the only book of the Bible that
does not contain the name of G-d. In fact, it
includes virtually no reference to G-d. Mordecai makes a vague reference
to the fact that the Jews will be saved by someone else, if not by Esther,
but that is the closest the book comes to mentioning G-d. Thus, one important
message that can be gained from the story is that G-d often works in ways
that are not apparent, in ways that appear to be chance, coincidence or ordinary
Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar,
which is usually in March. The 13th of Adar is the day that Haman chose for
the extermination of the Jews, and the day that the Jews battled their enemies
for their lives. On the day afterwards, the 14th, they celebrated their survival.
In cities that were walled in the time of Joshua, Purim is celebrated on
the 15th of the month, because the book of Esther says that in Shushan (a
walled city), deliverance from the massacre was not complete until the next
day. The 15th is referred to as Shushan Purim.
In leap years, when there are two months of Adar,
Purim is celebrated in the second month of Adar, so it is always one month
before Passover. The 14th day of the first
Adar in a leap year is celebrated as a minor holiday called Purim Katan,
which means "little Purim." There are no specific observances for Purim Katan;
however, a person should celebrate the holiday and should not mourn or fast.
Some communities also observe a "Purim Katan" on the anniversary of any day
when their community was saved from a catastrophe, destruction, evil or
The word "Purim" means "lots" and refers to the lottery that Haman used to
choose the date for the massacre.
The Purim holiday is preceded by a minor fast,
the Fast of Esther, which commemorates Esther's three days of fasting in
preparation for her meeting with the king.
The primary commandment
related to Purim is to hear the reading of the book of Esther. The book of
Esther is commonly known as the Megillah, which means scroll. Although there
are five books of Jewish scripture that
are properly referred to as megillahs (Esther, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Song of
Songs, and Lamentations), this is the one people usually mean when they speak
of The Megillah. It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle gragers
(noisemakers; see illustration) whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in
the service. The purpose of this custom is to "blot out the name of Haman."
We are also commanded to eat, drink and be merry. According to the
Talmud, a person is required to drink until
he cannot tell the difference between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be
Mordecai," though opinions differ as to exactly how drunk that is. A person
certainly should not become so drunk that he might violate other commandments
or get seriously ill. In addition, recovering alcoholics or others who might
suffer serious harm from alcohol are exempt from this obligation.
In addition, we are commanded to send out gifts of
food or drink, and to make gifts to charity. The sending of gifts of food
and drink is referred to as shalach manos (lit. sending out portions). Among
Ashkenazic Jews, a common treat at this time of year is hamentaschen (lit.
Haman's pockets). These triangular fruit-filled cookies are supposed to represent
Haman's three-cornered hat. My recipe is included below.
It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations on Purim, to perform plays
and parodies, and to hold beauty contests. I have heard that the usual
prohibitions against cross-dressing are lifted during this holiday, but I
am not certain about that. Americans sometimes refer to Purim as the Jewish
Purim is not subject to the sabbath-like restrictions on
work that some other holidays are; however, some
sources indicate that we should not go about our ordinary business on Purim
out of respect for the holiday.
2/3 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange juice (the smooth kind, not the pulpy)
1 cup white flour
1 cup wheat flour (DO NOT substitute white flour! The wheat flour is necessary
to achieve the right texture!)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
Various preserves, fruit butters and/or pie fillings.
Blend butter and sugar thoroughly. Add the egg and blend thoroughly. Add
OJ and blend thoroughly. Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, alternating white
and wheat, blending thoroughly between each. Add the baking powder and cinnamon
with the last half cup of flour. Refrigerate batter overnight or at least
a few hours. Roll as thin as you can without getting holes in the batter
(roll it between two sheets of wax paper lightly dusted with flour for best
results). Cut out 3 or 4 inch circles.
Put a dollop of filling
in the middle of each circle. Fold up the sides to make a triangle, folding
the last corner under the starting point, so that each side has corner that
folds over and a corner that folds under (see picture at right). Folding
in this "pinwheel" style will reduce the likelihood that the last side will
fall open while cooking, spilling out the filling. It also tends to make
a better triangle shape.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, until golden brown but before
the filling boils over!
Traditional fillings are poppy seed and prune, but apricot is my favorite.
Apple butter, pineapple preserves, and cherry pie filling all work quite
well. I usually use Pathmark grocery store brand fruit preserves, and of
course the traditional Simon Fischer brand prune lekvar. I have also made
some with Nutella (chocolate-hazelnut spread); I find it a bit dry that way,
but some people like it.
The number of cookies this recipe makes depends on the size of your cutting
tool and the thickness you roll. I use a 4-1/4 inch cutting tool and roll
to a medium thickness, and I get 20-24 cookies out of this recipe.
Wheat-Free, Gluten-Free Variation
If you are on a wheat-free diet for wheat allergies or a gluten-free diet
for celiac-sprue, substitute 2 cups of
flour and 1/2 cup of
flax seed for the white and wheat flour. Reduce the baking powder to
1 tsp. The resulting hamentaschen will have an unusual pumpernickel color,
but they taste great!
Make sure the buckwheat flour you use is wheat-free/gluten-free! Sometimes
buckwheat flour is mixed with white or wheat flour. The Hodgson Mill buckwheat
and flax linked above are gluten-free and have reliable
Purim will occur on the following days of the Gregorian calendar:
Jewish Year 5769: sunset March 9, 2009 - nightfall March 10, 2009
Jewish Year 5770: sunset February 27, 2010 - nightfall February 28, 2010
Jewish Year 5771: sunset March 19, 2011 - nightfall March 20, 2011
Jewish Year 5772: sunset March 7, 2012 - nightfall March 8, 2012
Jewish Year 5773: sunset February 23, 2013 - nightfall February 24, 2013
For additional holiday dates, see
Links to Jewish Calendars.
© Copyright 5756-5769 (1995-2009), Tracey R Rich
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