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Purim, the annual festival instituted to commemorate the preservation of the Jews in Persia from the massacre with which they were threatened through the machinations of Haman (Esth 9; Joseph. Ant. xi. 6, 13). It was probably called Purim by the Jews in irony. Their great enemy Haman appears to have been very superstitious and much given to casting lots (Esth 3:7). They gave the name Purim, or Lots, to the commemorative festival, because he had thrown lots to ascertain what day would be auspicious for him to carry into effect the bloody decree which the king had issued at his instance (Esth 9:24).

The festival lasted two days, and was regularly observed on the 14th and 15th of Adar. But if the 14th happened to fall on the Sabbath, or on the second or fourth day of the week, the commencement of the festival was deferred till the next day. It is not easy to conjecture what may have been the ancient mode of observance, so as to have given the occasion something of the dignity of a national religious festival. The traditions of the Jews, and their modern usage respecting it are curious. It is stated that eighty-five of the Jewish elders objected at first to the institution of the feast, when it was proposed by Mordecai (Jerus. Gem. Megillah--Lightfoot on John 10:21). A preliminary fast was appointed, called "the fast of Esther," to be observed on the 13th of Adar, in memory of the fast which Esther and her maids observed, and which she enjoined, through Mordecai, on the Jews of Shushan (Esth 4:16). If the 13th was a Sabbath, the fast was put back to the fifth day of the week; it could not be held on the sixth day, because those who might be engaged in preparing food for the Sabbath would necessarily have to taste the dishes to prove them. According to modern custom, as soon as the stars begin to appear, when the 14th of the month has commenced, candles are lighted up in token of rejoicing, and the people assemble in the synagogue.* After a short prayer and thanksgiving, the reading of the Book of Esther commences. The book is written in a peculiar manner on..."the Roll" (Megillah). The reader translates the text, as he goes on, into the vernacular tongue of the place, and makes comments on particular passages. He reads in a histrionic manner, suiting his tones and gestures to the changes in the subject matter. When he comes to the name of Haman the whole congregation cry out, "May his name be blotted out,"** or "Let the name of the ungodly perish." At the same time, in some places, the boys who are present make a great noise with their hands, with mallets, and with pieces of wood or stone on which they have written the name of Haman, and which they rub together so as to obliterate the writing. When the names of the sons of Haman are read (9:7-9) the reader utters them with a continuous enunciation, so as to make them into one word, to signify that they were hanged all at once. When the Megillah is read through, the whole congregation exclaim, "Cursed be Haman; blessed be Mordecai; cursed be Zoresh (the wife of Haman); blessed be Esther; cursed be all idolators; blessed be all Israelites, and blessed be Harbonah who hanged Haman." The volume is then solemnly rolled up. All go home and partake of a repast said to consist mainly of milk and eggs. In the morning service in the synagogue, on the 14th, after the prayers, the passage is read from the Law (Exo 17:8-16) which relates the destruction of the Amalekites, the people of Agag (1 Sam 15:8), the supposed ancestor of Haman (Esth 3:1). The Megillah is then read again in the same manner, and with the same responses from the congregation, as on the preceding evening. All who possibly can are bound to hear the reading of the Megillah--men, women, children, cripples, invalids, and even idiots--though they may, if they please, listen to it outside the synagogue (Mishna, Rosh. Has. iii. 7).

This service is said to have taken place in former times on the 15th in walled towns, but on the 14th in the country and unwalled towns, according to Esther 9:18,19.

Revelation 3:5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
(Please see Book of Life.)

The 14th of Adar, as the very day of the deliverance of the Jews, is more solemnly kept then the 13th. But when the service in the synagogue is over, all give themselves up to merrymaking. Games of all sorts, with dancing and music, commence. In the evening a quaint dramatic entertainment, the subject of which is connected with the occasion, sometimes takes place, and men frequently put on female attire, declaring that the festivities of Purim, according to Esther 9:22, suspend the law of Deuteronomy 22:5, which forbids one sex to wear the dress of the other. A dainty meal then follows, sometimes with a free indulgence of wine, both unmixed and mulled...

On the 15th the rejoicing is continued, and gifts consisting chiefly of sweetmeats and other eatables, are interchanged. Offerings for the poor are also made by all who can afford to do so, in proportion to their means (Esth 9:19,22).

When the month Adar used to be doubled, in the Jewish leap-year, the festival was repeated on the 14th and 15th of the second Adar.

It would seem that the Jews were tempted to associate the Christians with the Persians and Amalekites in the curses of the synagogue. Hence probably arose the popularity of the feast of Purim in those ages in which the feeling of enmity was so strongly manifested between Jews and Christians. Several Jewish proverbs are preserved which strikingly show the way in which Purim was regarded, such as, "The Temple may fail, but Purim never"; "The Prophets may fail, but not the Megillah." It was said that no books would survive in the Messiah's kingdom except the Law and the Megillah. This affection for the book and the festival connected with it is the more remarkable because the events on which they are founded affected only an exiled portion of the Hebrew race, and because there was so much in them to shock the principles and prejudices of the Jewish mind.

Ewald, in support of his theory that there was in patriarchal times a religious festival at every new and full moon, conjectures that Purim was originally the full moon feast of Adar, as the Passover was that of Nisan, and Tabernacles that of Tisri...

(Dr. William Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, 1872)

The Half Shekel

Before the reading of the scroll, it is customary to pass a plate in the synagogue in remembrance of the ancient injunction for each Israelite male to donate one-half shekel annually toward the maintenance of the Temple (Exo 30:13). Usually, one to three silver coins (such as a silver dollar or half-dollar) are on the plate that is circulated. Each worshiper places a gift of money on the plate so that the silver coins become his. The coins are picked up and immediately donated back to the plate, thus fulfilling the ancient command. The collection is usually given to charity in fulfillemnt of Mordecai's command to give "gifts to the poor" during Purim (Esth 9:22).

Exodus 30:11-16
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them. This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the LORD. Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the LORD. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls. And thou shalt take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; that it may be a memorial unto the children of Israel before the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls.


God has often delivered Israel in the past, but her full deliverance awaits the coming of the Deliverer (Rom 11:26). For only when the Messiah (the rightful Heir to David's throne) comes will the yoke of Gentile oppression be forever removed from Israel's neck.

This truth is unknowingly proclaimed each Purim season as the Purim chorus is sung: Utzu etzah, vetufar; dabru davar, velo yakum; ki immanuel. It is actually the Hebrew text of the Lord's future warning to the Antichrist and his allied nations: "Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; Speak the word, but it will not stand, For God is with us" (Isa 8:10).

(The Feasts of the Lord, Kevin Howard, Marvin Rosenthal)

Some rabbis note a messianic aspect to this holy day. Being a day of deliverance and rest from one's problems, Purim was naturally related to the greater day of rest in the days of Messiah. As one commentary relates:

The Patriarch Jacob had longed to institute that every day of the week be like the Sabbath of messianic times--totally saturated with the holiness of that Sabbath--but he was unsuccessful, for it was premature. He was successful, however, in that his descendants would be able to experience some taste of this messianic Sabbath even during the week, at such times as Chanukah and Purim (Sfas Emes, as quoted in the Artscroll Series book on Chanukah, p. 107).

(God's Appointed Times, Barney Kasdan)

PURIM KATAN ("minor Purim"), the name given to the 14th and 15th days of the first month of Adar in a leap year, when Purim is celebrated during the second month of Adar. (The Karaites were the only sect to celebrate Purim during the first Adar in a leap year.) According to talmudic tradition, Purim should be celebrated in the second Adar because that was the date of the original Purim (which occurred in a leap year). The rabbis also wanted to bring the period of the redemption of Esther closer to that of the redemption of the Israelites from Egypt celebrated in the following month of Nisan (Meg. 6b). Purim Katan has none of the ritual or liturgical features of Purim: the megillah is not read, and no gifts are sent to the poor (Meg. 1:4).

PURIM MESHULLASH ("Triple Purim"). As stated in the article on Purim, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of Adar ("Shushan Purim") in Jerusalem, which "has been a walled city from the days of Joshua ben Nun," whereas elsewhere it is celebrated on the 14th of the month. When, however, the 14th of Adar falls on Friday, the celebration in Jerusalem and other cities said to be "walled cities from the time of Joshua" extends over three days, and is thus called Purim Meshullash. The megillah, the Scroll of Esther, is read on the 14th but the additional prayers for Purim are included in the Sabbath service on the 15th and the haftarah of the previous Sabbath, Shabbat Zakhor (I Sam. 15. 234), is repeated. The special festive meal however is held on the Sunday, so as to distinguish it from the normal Sabbath festive meal, and it is on this day gifts are exchanged ("mishlo'ah manot," popularly called "shelakhmones") and donations to the poor are made.

(Encyclopaedia Judaica, CD-ROM edition)

Dear Rabbi,

In the Book of Esther, why are certain letters in the names of Haman's sons written so much smaller than the others and why are some letters in the text (such as a tav towards the end of the book) larger than the others?

In Megillat Esther, and elsewhere in the Torah, you find several places where a letter is written slightly larger or slightly smaller than the other letters. This is an ancient tradition, and the reason for each instance isn't always explained.

The particular ones you mentioned (Esther 9:7,9) aren't explained in any classical sources. Recently, however, it has been discovered that these letters, which occur in the section describing the hanging deaths of Haman's ten sons, may contain an uncanny hint to the Nuremberg trials in which ten Nazis were tried and hung for their anti-Semitic crimes, as follows:

As you may know, the Jewish calendar year is represented by Hebrew letters. The small letters in the names of Haman's ten sons are: "tav" "shin" "zain." The large letter is "vav." These letters represent the year 707 ("tav shin zain" equal 707) of the sixth millennium (represented by the large "vav" which equals 6). Thus you have the Jewish date 5707, or 1946 by the civil calendar. On the first of October, 1946 - 6 Tishrei 5707 on the Jewish calendar - the Nuremberg Military Tribunal tried ten Nazis and sentenced them to death by hanging for their modern "Hamanism." One of them, the notorious Julius Streiker, even cried "Purim-Fest 1946" as his cryptic last words.

(Ask the Rabbi,


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