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Purim’s Tale: Retelling the Ancient Jewish Story of Survival

Nowadays, Judaism has around 14-15 million followers divided into main three branches. These branches are Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and Reform Judaism. Although they share a standard set of beliefs, the interpretations can vary in each one of the branches. 

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Regardless of the Jewish branch, chances are that most members of the community will participate in Purim. This holiday commemorates the survival of the Jews during the time of the Persian empire when they suffered terrible persecution. 

Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about Purim and why Jewish people celebrate it.  

What Is Purim? 

When we talk about beliefs, many ideas come to mind. The most common is usually religion. Among the variety of religions in the world, Judaism is one of the most prominent.  

Judaism is a monotheistic religion that originated in the Middle East. The oldest records of this religion date from about four thousand years ago, making it one of the oldest continuing religion historians have found. 

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Purim is a Jewish holiday or festival to commemorate Jewish people making it through a period of persecution during the fifth century B.C.E. when Persians wanted them dead.  

An interesting fact you should know is that Purim is the plural of “pur” in Hebrew for “casting lots” or “lots,” which refers to the act of making a random selection tied to the story behind Purim.  People commonly call this annual celebration the Feast of Lots too. 

What’s The Story Behind Purim? 

Purim artwork
Wall Art depicting the scrolls of the story of Purim. See it here.

In the Book of Esther, the story unfolds with Haman, the chief minister to King Ahasuerus, becoming enraged because Mordecai, a Jew, refuses to bow to him. Offended by Mordecai’s defiance and harboring a deep hatred for the Jewish people, Haman persuades King Ahasuerus that the Jews are a threat to his reign and obtains the king’s permission to annihilate them.

Haman successfully convinced the King and got his consent to proceed with the execution of the Jewish people. Haman set the date of the execution for the 13th day of Adar’s month, which is March. 

The Chief Minister had an apparatus built which would execute by hanging and casting lots. The construction made it difficult for the plan to remain a secret, and it eventually reached Queen Esther, a Jew and the wife of Ahasuerus. She was also Mordecai’s adoptive daughter. 

She couldn’t accept it and suggested the King hold a banquet where Haman would be at. Esther risked her life at this banquet when she accused Haman of being a wicked man who wanted to exterminate her people and asked for mercy. 

The King became upset and went to the gardens of the palace to compose himself. Once he returned to the banquet room, he saw Haman collapsing into the piece of furniture where Esther was. 

When Ahasuerus saw this, he thought that Haman’s actions were an attack on the queen. As a consequence, he demanded Haman and his family’s execution by hanging and Mordecai’s ascension to the position Haman had. 

This allowed Esther and Mordecai to create a royal decree which stated that the Jewish people could attack their enemies on the 13th day of Adar’s month. After their victory, they declared the next day a holiday, naming it Purim.  

Symbols of Purim 

Purim symbol in pine wood
A Ra’ashan made of pine wood and copper silver plate. See it here. 

Purim has interesting symbols that represent it. There is the ra’ashan, which is a wooden noisemaker that has an important meaning for Purim. During Purim, it’s used to make noise during the telling of the tale of Purim every time the name of Haman is said.  

Every time people blast the ra’ashan, they’re tainting and sullying Haman’s name to make it clear they’re not fond of him or of the place he holds in Purim’s background story. This is one way to eradicate the memory of Haman from history. 

Purim puppets
Purim puppets. See these here.

Apart from the ra’ashan, Jewish people also use gift-wrapped food and triangular cookies as symbols. During the celebration, there are also puppets used for representations of the story. 

How Do Jewish People Celebrate Purim? 

Believe it or not, Purim is the most joyous Jewish holiday. There are many steps to celebrate and commemorate the survival of their peers, but all of them encourage Jewish people to be cheerful and thankful. 

Jewish people celebrate Purim during the 14th day of the month of Adar in accordance with the original story from the Book of Esther. In 2022, it was celebrated from March 16th, 2022 to March 17th, 2022. In 2023, Jewish communities celebrated Purim from March 6th, 2023 to March 7th, 2023. This year, Purim 2024 starts from Saturday, March 23 and ends Sunday night, March 24.

What Customs Are Followed at Purim? 

Purim bread food

People start the observance of the holiday by dressing in costumes. These costumes can be related to Purim and its characters, or they may not be related. They may wish people Happy Purim by saying “Chag Purim Sameach!” 

It’s obligatory to listen to the story behind Purim on Purim’s Day. They chant this story from the Book of Esther, and it’s necessary for Jewish people to hear every word regarding the salvation of the Jews in the Persian kingdom. 

Another custom that’s necessary to perform is making loud noise with a ra’ashan, which is a noisemaker, every time they mention Haman in the story. They do this to fulfill the obligation to tarnish his name. 

Besides that, there are other traditions Jewish people follow during Purim. Some of them are giving gifts, donating to charity, and performing a Purim spiel where they enact the story behind Purim in a humorous way. 

Purim Food 

During Purim, Jewish communities send their loved ones food, snacks, and treats. Aside from this, it’s also tradition to have a big dinner during the evening of this Jewish holiday Purim. In addition to this, alcohol consumption for people to get drunk is obligatory. 

Some of the traditional food that people will eat during this holiday are Kreplach, which is a dumpling filled with fillings like mashed potatoes or meat; Hamantaschen, which is a triangular cookie that they fill with jam of different flavors and it’s meant to represent Haman’s ears. There are also dishes that contain beans and vegetables. 

Wrapping Up 

Many religions have important holidays. In the case of Judaism, Purim is a cheerful holiday that Jewish people celebrate to commemorate an important moment in their history, their survival.  

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Juan Salazar Sanchez
Juan Salazar Sanchez

Juan Sanchez has been a freelance writer for years, with a particular focus on Mythology and History, especially Greek mythology. He has been a part of the Symbol Sage team for several years, and has contributed immensely to the team. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling and reading.