The Almanac

What It Is:

As told in the biblical Book of Esther, the Purim story recounts how Haman, the chief minister to King Ahasuerus, plotted to destroy the Jews of Persia. In Shushan, capital of Persia, Haman cast lots (purim) that fixed the date of the Jews’ doom to the 13th of Adar. Esther, the king’s Jewish wife, was urged by her cousin, Mordechai, to intercede on the Jews’ behalf. The Jews were saved, Haman hanged and Purim became a festival for rejoicing.

What’s It All About

Purim celebrates Jewish survival. Its plot and characters can be seen as archetypes for the persecuted and persecutors of all ages.

Reality Check:

Ahasuerus has been identified with Xerxes I, who ruled Persia from 486 to 465 B.C.E. The first observance of Purim dates from the Hasmonean period, but scholars have long debated the historical basis for the Purim story.

What To Do:

Attend synagogue services on Purim eve (Feb. 25) for
the raucous reading of the Book of Esther from a handwritten scroll, or

Enjoy one of the numerous Purim carnivals around town
(see Calendar page 48). Eat a festive meal.

Give shalach manot. According to Jewish law, we give a
gift consisting of food items to at least one friend, and at least two gifts of
charity to the poor.


Graggers: Noisemakers used to drown out the name of
Haman during the reading of the Megillah.

Costumes: Children traditionally dress up as characters
from the Purim story or in other outlandish get-ups.

Graggers, masks and costumes are available at Jewish gift stores.

Eating and Drinking:

Hamantashen: Triangular fruit-filled pastries, meaning
“Haman’s Ears.” Make your own or stop by any Jewish bakery.

Liquor: It’s customary for Jews to drink on Purim until
we can’t tell the difference between evil Haman and good Mordechai. Enjoy in
moderation, and don’t even think of driving afterward.

An Interesting Note:

Nowhere in the Book of Esther is God mentioned. Some scholars believe the book itself is a kind of Purim joke.

Learn More:

“The Harlot by the Side of the Road,” by Jonathan Kirsch, is an exploration of Esther’s racier side.

“The Jewish Way” by Irving Greenberg.

“Purim: Its Observance and Significance” by Avie Gold.

And More:

Visit and click on “Purim Links.”