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The Story of Purim

Jonathan Silverman and Ami Isseroff

The Jewish holiday of Purim is celebrated on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the Hebrew lunar month of Adar

Purim: Esther visiting Ahasuerus by Millais

 (usually in March). It commemorates the miraculous rescue of the Jews of Persia from annihilation at the hands of a villain named Haman by the beautiful queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai in the days of King Ahasuerus. The name Purim comes from the word “Pur”, which means lot. "Lots" were small pieces of pottery used in games of chance in ancient times.  Purim is celebrated by a carnival, drinking, feasting and sending gifts.

On Purim, Jews traditionally send small gifts of delicacies  to friends and family. This is called Mishloach Manot (see below).

Purim - Grogger

Megilat Ester Hamelech Ashkenaz - Ktav Ari by aJudaica

Grogger A page from
a Megilla









The children in the congregation are equipped with special noisemakers  (Groggers) and use them whenever the name of Haman is mentioned. It is also traditional on Purim for Jews to eat triangular shaped cookies called “Haman’s ears” - in Yiddish Hamentaschen (Haman pockets).

Purim is the one holiday when Jews are supposed to get drunk – to the point that they lose the ability to distinguish between Mordechai and Haman. This condition is denoted by a compound word “ad-loy-ada” meaning "until he does not know the difference." In modern Israel, a carnival - called an “ad-loy-ada” is celebrated in almost every Israeli city on Purim.

The story of Purim is recounted in the Old Testament Book of Esther :

King Ahasuerus of Persia held a feast in the capital city of Shushan (Susa). When his wife, Queen Vashti, failed to attend the feast when summoned, the King said he never wanted to see her again, and resolved to marry another Queen. The King’s aides organized a beauty contest. They sent messengers to fetch all the beautiful young women of the kingdom for the King to select a new queen from among them. A Jewish man, named Mordechai, who lived in Shushan, had raised his uncle’s daughter, Hadassah,  since her parents had died. Mordechai had the beautiful Hadassah enter the contest. The king found her to be the most beautiful of all the maidens in the kingdom, and chose her to be queen. For the contest and thereafter, Hadassah hid the fact that she was Jewish, and used the name of Esther, a Persian/Middle Eastern name derived from the pagan goddess Ishtar.

Some time later, two of the King’s aides plotted to assassinate him. Mordechai learned of the plot and told Queen Esther, who informed the King in Mordechai’s name. The would-be assassins were caught and hanged.

The King had a grand vizier named Haman. All the King’s servants bowed before Haman, except Mordechai, because Jews are not allowed by religion to bow. Haman was told. When Haman saw with his own eyes that Mordechai would not bow, it enraged him. But punishing Mordechai alone was not enough for Haman. He decided to destroy all the Jews. Haman cast lots (Purim) to choose which would be the month and day for exterminating the Jews.

Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus: “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in your kingdom. Their laws are different from everyone else’s. They don’t observe the King’s laws. They should not be tolerated. Please sign a decree to destroy them, and I will pay 10,000 silver talents to those who carry out the decree.”

The King gave Haman his blessings for this plan. Haman sent a decree in the King’s name throughout the kingdom to slay all the Jews, young and old, children and women in a single day, the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and to rob them of all their possessions.

When Mordechai learned of the decree he dressed in mourning and wept aloud, as did all the Jews of the kingdom. Esther learned of the plot from Mordechai and went to the king. She said to him, “If it please the King, let the King come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him and bring Haman.” So the King invited Haman to the banquet.

Haman was very happy. He sent for his friends and his wife Zeresh and boasted how Queen Esther had invited him the next day to a banquet with the King. “Yet all of this means nothing to me so long as I see that Jew Mordechai sitting at the King’s gate,” he said. Haman’s wife and all his friends told him to erect a gallows, speak to the King, and have Mordechai hanged on it. Haman had the gallows built.

That night, when the King couldn’t sleep, his servants read to him from the book of chronicles about how Mordechai had denounced the two men who had plotted to assassinate him. The king decided to reward Mordechai. He summoned Haman and asked him. “What should be done for the man whom the King especially wants to honor?”

Haman thought the King meant him, and said, “The man whom the King especially wants to honor should be given a royal robe that the King has worn and a horse that the King has ridden, one wearing a royal crown on its head. Then get one of the King’s most noble officers and let him attire the man whom the King especially wants to honor and parade him on horseback through the city, and cry out 'thus shall be done to the man whom the King most desires to honor''”

The King told Haman to get the robe and the horse and to do all that he suggested for Mordechai the Jew who sits at the King’s gate. “Do not omit a single detail that you have suggested,” said the King. Haman had to do for his enemy Mordechai exactly as he had proposed for himself, and was humiliated.

At the banquet the King again asked Esther what she wished, and the Queen replied: “If I am pleasing to the King, let my life and the life of my people be granted to me as my wish, because we have been sold to be destroyed, slain and exterminated.”

The King then demanded to know who it was that dared do this. “An adversary and an enemy. This wicked Haman,” said the Queen. Haman was arrested and hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordechai. The King then gave Haman’s whole estate to Queen Esther, and rescinded the decree killing the Jews. The thirteenth day of Adar was decreed as a day of vengeance on the enemies of the Jews, and the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar were decreed as holidays.

Purim became a symbol for miraculous redemption from decrees and persecutions for the Jews. Different communities instituted "small Purims ( Purim Katan ) to commemorate their own deliverance. Egyptian Jews observe a Purim on  the 28th of Adar in homage to their deliverance some 400 years ago from the evil decree of Pasha Ahmed Shitann. Frankfort Jews celebrated Purim Frankfurt on the 20th of Adar commemorating their rescue in March 1616. Purim Saragossa on the 17th of Shvat commemorates a fourteenth century deliverance. Purim Tiberias on the 4th of Kislev, commemorates the rescue of the city from attack 200 years ago by the ruler of Damascus.

It is not known which Persian King might be Ahasuerus, or Achashveirosh as pronounced in Hebrew. An "Ahashveirosh" (Ahasuerus) is mentioned in the book of Ezra 4:6, but there is no king with a corresponding name. The same book of Ezra also mentions Artaxerxes. There were several kings of the Achaemenid dynasty who might have been "Ahasuerus" or the entire story may be a fable. Following are the kings of the Achaemenid dynasty:

559-530 Cyrus the Great
529-522 Cambyses
522 Smerdis (Bardia)
521-486 Darius I the Great
485-465 Xerxes I
464-424 Artaxerxes I
424 Xerxes II
424 Sogdianus
423-405 Darius II
404-359 Artaxerxes II
358-338 Artaxerxes III
337-336 Arses
335-330 Darius III

Hamentaschen Recipe - Haman's Ears

On Purim it is traditional to eat three cornered pastries filled with prune jam or poppy seeds. These are called "Hamentaschen" - which simply means, Haman pockets in Yiddish, and they are "pockets" of dough. 

Recipe for Hamentaschen

Pastry Dough

  • ½ cup (125 ml) butter
  • 1 cup (250 ml) sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 (500 ml) cups flour
  • 2 tsp. (10 ml) baking powder
  • 2 tbsp. (30 ml) milk
  • Lemon extract
  • Cream the butter and sugar, and add the egg.  Sift flour and baking powder together and add a small amount  to the butter/sugar mixture. Now add milk, then add the remaining flour.  Mix in lemon extract.
    Roll the dough out 1/8 to ¼ inch (2.5 to 5 mm) thick. 
    Cut into rounds, dot each with a spoonful of filling (see below).
    Form into triangles, and bake at 375 degrees (190 C) for 15 to 30 minutes until delicately browned.

    Poppy Seed Filling

  • 1 cup (250 ml) poppy seed
  • 1 cup (250 ml) milk
  • 1 oz. (30 g) butter
  • 2 tbsp. (30 ml) honey or brown sugar.
  • 1 grated apple
    Bring poppy seed and milk to boil in a saucepan, add butter and honey or sugar, and boil until thick.  Cool, then add grated apple.

    Prune Filling

  • 1 lb. (500 g) pitted  prunes
  • 1 cup (250 ml) raisins
  • 1 tbsp. (15 ml) lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. (5 ml) lemon rind, grated
  • ½ cup (125 ml) sugar (brown sugar may be substituted)
  • 1 tbsp. (15 ml) honey
  • Soak the prunes for two hours in hot water.  Drain.  Chop the prunes and raisins finely.  Mix all ingredients thoroughly.

    Other variations include apricot and cherry filling..

    Mishloach Manot

    On Purim  day, it is customary to exchange gifts of food. The exchange is  called Mishloach Manot (sending of portions). Megillath Esther 9:22 states:

    As the days wherein the Jews rested from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning into a good day: that they should make them days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.

    Mishloach Manot: PurimThis is supposedly done to ensure that everyone has enough food for the Purim feast and to increase love and friendship between Jews, disproving Haman's accusations that there is strife and dissension among Jews. This is an ideal opportunity to repair broken relationships by sending packages to people with whom you have quarreled.


    Some traditions of  Mishloach Manot:

    On the day of Purim one must send two items of different foods to at least one person.

    It is best to send packages by a messenger, such as a child accompanied by an adult, but they may be delivered in person. If nobody is home or the intended recipient is not at home, the commandment is not fulfilled. The packages should be sent and received on Purim day if possible.

    It is good to send more than two items, but it is better to spend more on gifts to the poor (Matanot La'evyonim) than on Mishloach Manot. There is no greater joy than gladdening the hearts of orphans, widows, and needy people. One who does so is likened to God, as in  Isaiah 57:15  "to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the downtrodden."

    It is best to send ready to eat food such as hamentaschen, fruits and nuts or drinks, rather than food that requires cooking.

    At least one package must be bought without ma'aser (charity tithe) money. If you wish to send additional packages to poor people, you may use ma'aser money.

    Women are obligated to perform Mishloach Manot as they were also included in the Purim miracle.

    A husband and wife can send Mishloach Manot jointly, and children over age six can participate. A note should be attached indicating that the package is being sent on behalf of more than one person.

    Do not send Mishloach Manot to a mourner.

    Mourners must send Mishloach Manot, but the package should not be too elaborate.

    If a person receives Mishloach Manot, they do not have to reciprocate, but it a nice thing to do.

    More Judaica  

    More about Jewish Holidays  

    Adapted from Purim  at  Middle East - MidEastWeb,  by permission, and from other sources

    Some photos courtesy of ajudaica

    Purim eCards, Purim Greetings Cards, Free Purim Greetings, Free Purim Cards From HiGreetings.com - Celebrate this joyous occasion of Purim with feasting and merry making. Don't forget to send Purim eCards and greetings cards to your loved ones and friends.


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