Sunday, March 04, 2007

Happy Purim

Purim is a Jewish holiday commemorating a time when the Jewish people in Persia were saved from extermination.

The Book of Esther in the Bible relates the story of Purim. Esther was a beautiful young Jewish woman living in Persia, raised by her cousin Mordecai. Esther became part of the King of Persia’s harem, but he was not aware that she was Jewish. King Ahasuerus loved her more than his other women and made her queen.

Haman was one of the king’s advisors. He hated Mordecai because Mordecai refused to bow down to him. So Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people. Haman told the king, "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm. Their laws are different from those of every other people's, and they do not observe the king's laws; therefore it is not befitting the king to tolerate them." Esther 3:8. The king gave the fate of the Jewish people to Haman, to do with as he pleased. Haman planned to exterminate all of the Jews.

Mordecai persuaded Esther to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people, a dangeous thing to do because anyone who came into the king’s presence without being summoned could be put to death. Esther fasted for three days to prepare, then went into the king, who welcomed her. She told him of Haman's plot, the Jewish people were saved, and Haman was hanged on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai.

The word "Purim" means "lots" and refers to the lottery Haman used to choose the date for the massacre.

The day before Purim, the Fast of Esther is held to commemerate Esther's three days of fasting. On Purim, celebrations are held which include the reading the Book of Esther (whenever Haman is mentioned, it is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle noisemakers), feasting, sending gifts of food and drink and making gifts to charity. It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations, perform plays and parodies, and hold beauty contests.

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