Dates and Origins of Purim

Purim Hamentashen
Hamentashen (Rebecca Siegel / CC-by)

Purim Dates in 2017, 2018 and 2019

Purim is celebrated at the following dates:

  • Sunday, March 12th 2017
  • Thursday, March 1st 2018
  • Thursday, March 21st 2019

Purim commemorates the Jewish people being saved from Haman, who was planning on killing all of the Jews in the Persian Empire. It is celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar.

Origin

In the Ancient Persian Empire, the royal vizier to King Ahasuerus, Haman, planned to kill all the Jews. His plans were foiled, however, by his cousin Mordecai and Esther in the book of Esther. This book begins with an 180-day drinking feast for the army of Persia, Civil servants and concluding with a seven-day drinking feast in the province of Shushan. During the feast, Ahasuerus gets extremely drunk and orders his wife Vashti to display her beauty in front of the court, wearing only her royal crown. She refuses, however, because a skin condition makes uncomfortable with the request. Ahasuerus then promptly has her removed from her post and orders all young women to be presented to him for a new queen. He chooses Esther, who is fostered by Mordecai, as his new wife. Shortly thereafter, Mordecai discovers a plot to have Ahasuerus assassinated and has the perpetrators hanged, thus saving the king's life.

Haman is then appointed as the Viceroy. Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman several times, prompting Haman to seek revenge on Mordecai. Since Mordecai is Jewish, Haman makes a plan to kill all the Jews in Persia, for which he gains funding from Ahasuerus. Mordecai finds out about the plot and publicly goes into mourning, prompting other Jews in Shushan to do likewise. Esther invites Ahasuerus to a banquet alongside Haman. During this feast, Mordecai offends Haman once again by refusing to bow to him and Haman builds Gallows to hang him the next day.

Ahasuerus suffers from insomnia that night and has court records read to him to help him fall asleep. It is then that he discovers that Mordecai had previously saved his life. The next day, he asks Haman what should be done for a man the king wishes to honor. Thinking it would be himself, Haman suggests dressing the man in the king's royal robes and led around on the king's royal horse. Haman is horrified when this treatment is bestowed upon Mordecai. That night, Esther hosts a second banquet, at which she reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman intends to exterminate her people. Ahasuerus is enraged and has Haman hanged on his own Gallows. Because the previous decree about killing Jews could not be annulled, the king allows Mordecai to initiate a second decree the Jews could preemptively kill those who posed a lethal risk. Because of this, Haman's ten sons, as well as five hundred attackers, are killed along with 75,000 Jewish enemies throughout the kingdom. Mordecai assumes second in command to Ahasuerus and starts and annual commemoration of the Jewish people being saved from annihilation.

Celebration

There are four obligations, or Mitzvot, that must be done on Purim.

  • 1.) Listening to a public reading of the book of Esther, usually in a synagogue in the evening and again on the following morning (k'riat megillah)
  • 2.) Sending gifts of food to friends (mishloach manot)
  • 3.) Giving charity to the poor (matanot la'evyonim)
  • 4.) Eating a festive meal (se`udat mitzvah)

Drinking alcohol, specifically wine, is central to the celebration. According to the Rabbi Rava, one should drink until one can "no longer distinguish between arur Haman ('Cursed is Haman') and baruch Mordechai ('Blessed is Mordecai')."

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