When is Purim (07.05.2018)
Observed in Countries with Jewish populations
Observed on Fourteenth of Adar, the 12th month of the Jewish calendar
Observed by Jews
The Jewish festival of Purim commemorates the deliverance of Persian Jews from the cruel schemes and plotting of the evil Persian noble Haman (sixth century B.C.E.), who wished to exterminate them. It is a joyous festival marked with singing, dancing, feasting, and dressing in costumes. The story behind this festival is written in the Megillah, a scroll that recounts the biblical story of Esther, the Persian king’s brave Jewish queen. The word purim means “lots” and is a reference to a lottery that Haman used to select the date on which to kill all the Jews.
The 13th day of Adar was chosen by Haman for the massacre of the Jews. This was a crucial day for the Jewish community, because it was a matter of life and death for them. In cities that were walled during the reign of Joshua, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month because, according to the book of Esther, in Shushan (an ancient city of the Elamite, Persian, and Parthian Empires of Iran and today called Shush), the fierce encounters between the Jews and Haman’s forces ended on the 14th of Adar. Hence, the celebration of Purim on the 15th day is known as Shushan Purim. As with almost all Jewish festivals, Purim starts at sundown on the previous day Esther made sure that Haman and his 10 sons were hanged on the gallows he had built to hang Mordechai and all the Jews.
Origins and History
The festival of Purim is the celebration of Jewish deliverance from extermination as recounted in the book of Esther, which dates back to the third or fourth century B.C.E. Though these dates are sometimes disputed, they are largely accepted by modern scholars.
During the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (605–562), the Jews belonging to the kingdom of Judah were forced to leave their land and deported to Babylon. This epoch of Jewish history is known as the Babylonian Captivity or Babylonian Exile.
Nebuchadnezzar II is known to have conquered Judah and Jerusalem; he also destroyed the First Temple of Jerusalem. Eventually the Persians took over the kingdom of Babylon.
According to the book of Esther, King Ahasuerus was the ruler of Persia at that time (this was probably a reference to Xerxes I, r. 485–65.) The other central characters in this tale of intrigue and reversal of fortune are: Esther, Ahasuerus’s beautiful Jewish queen; her cousin Mordechai, who raised her; and the king’s scheming Persian advisor Haman. King Ahasuerus did not know that Esther was a Jew; Mordechai had told her to conceal this fact. Haman hated Mordechai because Mordechai had refused to bow down to him, so Haman convinced the king to let him to decide the fate of the Jewish people. When he plotted to massacre them Mordechai asked Esther to beg the king to spare the Jewish people. In those times no one could approach the king unless summoned by him and risked death if they did so without permission. Esther fasted for three days and then visited the king, who welcomed her. She told the king about Haman’s plans to exterminate the Jews and pleaded with him to save them. As a result the king withdrew the decree against the Jews, Haman was sentenced to death on the gallows, and the Jews became the king’s favored people.
Esther’s brave act prevented the massacre of the Jewish people, so this event is celebrated by Jews all over the world.
While some scholars believe the book of Esther to be a historical work, many others dismiss it as fiction.
The criticism stems from the fact that there are descriptions given in the book of Esther that contradict the accounts of Persian history recorded by Greek historians. For example, King Ahasuerus has been identified with different Persian rulers, and there are conflicting views about his identity.