Sometimes referred to as the "Jewish Mardi Gras," the Feast of Purim celebrates how Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai saved the Jews from the wicked Haman. The word Purim means "lots" in reference to the lottery Haman used to determine the day of the planned slaughter.
At Purim people hold parties, perform plays, wear costumes, present beauty contests, and give gifts of food and drink. Adults are also expected to drink until they can't tell the difference between the phrases "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordecai." Triangular fruit-filled cookies, called hamentaschen, said to resemble Haman's three-cornered hat, are especially popular.
The book of Esther is read in synagogues. When Haman is mentioned, people stomp their feet, hiss, boo, or shake noisemakers to obliterate his name.
Often a March Holiday
Sabbath restrictions do not normally apply to Purim, which takes place on the 14th day of Adar, the 12th month of the Jewish calendar. It usually falls in March, but in 2002 it occurs in February. A fast, the Fast of Esther, may also be observed from dawn to sundown before Purim.
A Jewish Girl Becomes Queen
Esther was a beautiful and intelligent Jewish girl raised by her cousin Mordecai after her parents died.
One day Esther was commanded to join the harem of the Persian king, Ahasuerus. He fell in love with Esther and she became his favorite wife, the queen. But Mordecai warned Esther not to reveal that she was Jewish.
Mordecai Refuses to Bow
Later, the courtier Haman became the king's adviser. Ahasuerus ordered everyone to bow before Haman. But Mordecai refused to bow before any man, infuriating Haman.
Haman vowed to destroy all Jews. He told Ahasuerus that a certain group of people refused to obey the law. Ahasuerus told Haman to do whatever he thought best.
Haman Plans to Kill the Jews
Haman prepared to slaughter all Jews. He built a gallows for Mordecai.
Learning of the plans, Esther fasted for three days and then appeared uninvited before Ahasuerus. She took a risk, since anyone who came to the king uninvited could be executed.
Esther Pleads for Mercy
Esther told the king that she and all her people were to be slain. She begged Ahasuerus to let her people live. Ahasuerus asked who would do such a thing. Esther replied, "The enemy is this wicked Haman." The king called his guards, who took Haman and hanged him on the gallows prepared for Mordecai. The order to kill the Jews was cancelled and Mordecai became the king's adviser.