On Monday night and Tuesday, Jews all over the world will celebrate the festival of Purim. Among others, they will hear the Book of Esther twice, exchange food gifts (mishloach manot) and give charity to the poor. But the holiday presents many aspects that are significantly less known.
- WHICH DAYS CAN PURIM FALL ON?
The Megillah explicitly states that Haman had chosen the 13th day of the month of Adar for the annihilation of the Jews (Esther 9:1). But the holiday of Purim commemorates the victory and the cessation of the killing of the enemies of the Jews which was celebrated by the Jews of Persia on the 14th of Adar (Esther 9:17).
But in Shushan, the killing of the enemies, most notably the sons of Haman, continued for an additional day. So the Jews of Shushan celebrated the following day; on the 15th of Adar (Esther 9:15), known as Shushan Purim. Shushan Purim is still observed in cities that were walled in the days of Joshua, most notably Jerusalem.
But not always. When the 15th falls on Shabbat, Shushan Purim is only partially observed on the 15th because the megillah of Esther is not read on Shabbat. In addition, the Purim feast on Shabbat would be indistinguishable from the regular Shabbat meals which would dishonor both the Shabbat and the holiday. Observance is therefore extended to the 16th, making for a three-day Purim.
Indeed, the Mishna concerning the holiday begins by saying, “The Megilla is read on the eleventh, on the twelfth, on the thirteenth, on the fourteenth, or on the fifteenth of the month of Adar, not earlier and not later.”
The problem of a Shabbat Purim is so troublesome that when the sages established the Hebrew calendar, they arranged it in such a manner that the 14th of Adar would never fall on Shabbat.
- PURIM IS CELEBRATED ONE DAY LATER IN THE HEART OF THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
As explained above, Purim is celebrated one day later in cities that had walls when the Jews entered Israel after leaving Egypt. While most people are aware that Shushan Purim (as it is called) is celebrated one day later in Jerusalem, few people know that a small group of Jews hold morning prayers and a reading of Megillat Esther at the Shalom al Israel Synagogue in Jericho on Shushan Purim. The Jericho synagogue stands on a mosaic that dates to the late 6th or early 7th century CE and was discovered in 1936. A house was built on top of the mosaic to preserve it.
After the 1995 Oslo Accords, control of the site was given to the Palestinian Authority (PA).At the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000, the site became a source of conflict. Since July 2007, Jewish prayer services in the Jericho synagogue have been allowed once every week.
- TOMB OF MORDECHAI AND ESTHER STILL EXISTS IN THE HEART OF IRAN
The burial site of Purim heroes Mordechai and Esther stands proudly in the heart of Iran, proclaiming the Jews’ Biblical victory from within their most prominent modern enemy. Located in Hamadan, 200 miles west of Tehran, claims to be the Biblical city of Shushan, the capital of ancient Persia and the setting for the story of Purim. The site is proudly displayed, and known to all, and Persian Jews visit the site annually en masse to read the Book of Esther. In 2008, the Iranian government added the site to its National Heritage list, thereby putting it under government protection.
- NOT ALL THE JEWS LIKE WHAT MORDECHAI DID
Of course, Haman was evil. And, of course, Mordechai was a righteous Jew who saved the Persian Jews from the Amalekite courtier. But the Book of Esther made a peculiar hint in its closing verse:
For Mordechai the Yehudi ranked next to King Ahasuerus and was highly regarded by the Yehudim and popular with the multitude of his brethren; he sought the good of his people and interceded for the welfare of all his kindred. Esther 10:3
The word translated here as ‘multitude’ is actually ‘rov’ (רֹב אֶחָיו), literally meaning ‘the majority of his fellow’. The medieval French commentator known as Rashi explained this as “The majority of his fellows, but not all.” Rashi explains that many people in the Sanhedrin were angry at Mordechai for becoming friendly with the non-Jewish royal court. Or, in the words of Ibn Ezra, “It is impossible to please everybody because of jealousy.”
It is also important to note that Mordechai was the first (and only) person referred to in the Bible as a “Jew” (ish yehudi a man of yehuda) (Esther 3:4) and the Book of Esther refers to the “Jews” (yehudim Esther 3:6). It is also the first time that the Jews are described (by Haman) as being a “belief” (Esther 3:8) that is different than others.
- ESTHER: A MOST PECULIAR BOOK
The Book of Esther is unique in many ways. The Megillat Esther (Book of Esther) became the last of the 24 books of the Tanakh to be canonized by the Sages of the Great Assembly. According to the Talmud, it was a redaction by the Great Assembly of an original text by Mordechai. It is usually dated to the 4th century BCE.
The Purim miracle is considered the last miracle that was allowed to be recorded in the Tanakh, as the Sages state, “Esther is the end of all the miracles” (Yoma 29a). Jewish tradition teaches that the Jews were given the Torah under Mount Sinai with God threatening to drop the mountain on them if they refused. Yet we received the Torah in the time of Mordechai and Esther (Esther 9:27).
Jewish tradition teaches that the Jews were given the Torah under Mount Sinai with God threatening to drop the mountain on them if they refused. Yet we received the Torah in the time of Mordechai and Esther (Esther 9:27).
In effect, the writing of Megilat Esther concludes the Hebrew Bible even though (or perhaps because) it does not mention the name of God. The only other book of the Bible that does not mention the name of God is Song of Songs. Though it is not unique in this respect, the Book of Esther is unusual in that it describes events that took place outside of Israel.
- ESTHER WAS A VEGETARIAN
According to the Midrash, prior to the fateful beauty contest and while Esther lived in the court of King Ahasuerus, she followed a vegetarian diet consisting largely of legumes so that she would not break the laws of kashrut. For this reason, there is a tradition of eating beans and peas on Purim.
And Vashti was the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian emperor who destroyed the first Holy Temple.
- A BELATED PURIM FEAST WAS HELD IN A NAZI CASTLE
In 1945, while World War II was still being fought, a group of American soldiers held Purim services in the main dining room of a castle that had belonged to Nazi propagandist, Dr. Joseph Goebels. According to JTA coverage at the time, the Jewish chaplain “carefully arranged the candles over a swastika-bedecked bookcase in Goebbels’ main dining room,” and Jewish soldiers explained to their Christian comrades in attendance “about Haman and why it was so fitting that Purim services should be held in a castle belonging to Goebbels.”
- STALIN’S PLOT TO MURDER MILLIONS OF JEWS WAS STOPPED BY PURIM
In February 1953, Stalin commissioned the construction of four camps in Kazakhstan, Siberia and the Arctic North. Many years later, his plans to use these camps to exterminate Russia’s two to four million Jews came to light. This was revealed in a 2003 article in the French Newspaper, ‘Paris-Soir’ written by P.K. Ponomarenko, Soviet Ambassador in Poland and later recounted by eyewitnesses.
“A week before the Purim of 1953… Jewish faces were far from merry,” recounted Mrs. Batyah Barg, author of the autobiography Voices in the Silence. “In train stations all over Russia, train cars were being requisitioned to carry huge caravans of Jews into exile and slow death. Reliable sources confirmed that the expulsion would begin on the sixth of March, just a few days after Purim.”
That Purim night, Stalin “collapsed in a fit of rage” during a meeting in which his supporters expressed opposition to his evil plan, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. That Purim, thousands of Jewish prisoners were freed. Joseph Stalin died on March 5, just a few days later, to the great relief of Russian Jewry.
- GULF WAR PURIM MIRACLE
The Gulf War was a 1990–1991 armed campaign waged by a 35-country military coalition in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait spearheaded by the United States. 39 Scud missiles landed in Israel over the course of 42 days, mostly in heavily populated areas. It was feared that the despotic Saddam Hussein had armed the missiles with some form of gas or chemical weapon. Months earlier, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, had predicted the Gulf War would conclude on Purim. And that is precisely what happened. The missiles falling in Israel caused only one death. By contrast, one scud missile fell on a U.S. Army barrack in Saudi Arabia, killing 28 US soldiers.