Purim begins Wednesday, March 23, 2016 at sunset and continues until sunset Thursday, March 24.
Purim is a freewill offering holiday, not commanded by the LORD under the Law of Moses, but rather instituted by the Jews to commemorate deliverance from a planned systematic genocide, as recorded in the Bible book of Esther. (See Esther 9:27-28)
Celebrating Purim includes four parts:
- Read the entire book of Esther (the “Megillat Esther”) aloud in one sitting. You’ve heard the expression, “the whole megillah.” This is where it came from. The Hebrew word megillah means “scroll.” Bible books were originally written on scrolls, and are still hand-printed onto scrolls for ceremonial purposes.If you want to make your reading fancy, print this printable Hebrew/English book of Esther on parchment paper, then tape the pages together, and make a scroll for your Megillat Esther reading. Or you can read Esther from your everyday Bible. It isn’t very long. During the reading, noisemakers (called groggers) are used to drown out the sound of the name of Haman, the hateful one who plotted to kill the Jews. Sometimes children put on Purim plays or pantomime as Esther is read. This play is called a Purim spiel.
- Party! Rejoice because of God’s deliverance. Eat and drink, because the events of the book of Esther center around feasting and wine. Dress up in costume to disguise your identity, just as Esther kept her true identity hidden and Haman kept his true character hidden. And because costumes are fun.
Optional: Get rip-roaring drunk. The Talmud (not the Bible) says, “A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai’” (Meghilla 7b). Maimonides wrote, “That one should …drink wine until he is drunk and falls asleep from drunkenness” on Purim (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Megillah 2:15). Tradition tells us to get drunk on this one day only, to strip away all pretense of social etiquette and reveal our true hidden natures.
I personally think we can skip the tradition of drinking altogether, or at least drink in moderation. In my opinion, too much harm occurs when rage, arrogance, or recklessness reveals itself through alcohol. And there is only the whisper of a line between getting drunk enough to “fall asleep from drunkenness” and getting drunk enough to die from alcohol poisoning or asphyxiation.
- Give gifts to the poor. The tradition is to share with two people who are less fortunate than yourself: one gift for each person, during the day, after the reading of the book of Esther. Even if you are also poor, you can find something to share: food, an article of clothing, a blanket, wildflowers, time, etc.
- Give food gifts to one another. Send a food or drink that consists of at least two portions to at least one person, or to as many people as you wish, through a messenger. It should be something that either needs no preparation, or is already prepared and ready to eat.
A traditional food that is eaten and given away on Purim is called hamantaschen, literally, “Haman’s ears.” Haman got into trouble by eavesdropping, but Haman’s ears are delicious! They’re three-pointed cookies filled with jams, poppy seeds, chocolate, or whatever you like.
Traditional Hamantaschen recipe
1 1/3 cup shortening (Fleischmann’s vegetable oil spread is pareve, if you’re cooking kosher)
1 cup sugar
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour + a little to dust the rolling surface
6 tablespoons water or orange juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
filling of your choice, such as poppy seeds, Nutella, jam, orange marmalade
plastic wrap, baking sheet, mixing bowl, spoon
Directions: (1) Blend shortening and sugar together until creamy. (2) Blend in eggs, one at a time, until creamy. (3) Stir in water (or juice) and vanilla extract until well mixed. (4) Stir in flour, a little bit at a time, until blended. (5) Put the mix onto plastic wrap, cover and chill thoroughly. (6) When chilled, dust a rolling surface, and gently roll or pat the dough to ¼ inch thickness. Use a round cookie cutter or the top of a glass to cut out circles. (7) In each circle, place a teaspoon of filling. Pinch into three corners, with the filling peeking out from the center. (8) Bake on an oiled cookie sheet at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until golden. Makes about two dozen.
Use refrigerated, ready-to-bake, sugar cookie dough (Pillsbury sugar cookies is a good pareve choice). Roll out the dough and cut into circles with either a cookie cutter or the open end of a drinking glass. Brush the cookie circles with orange juice, or sprinkle with orange zest, if you like. Then fill each cookie circle with a teaspoon of filling, and pinch the sides to form a three-cornered tart.What does your family or congregation do for Purim? Do you get drunk? Give gifts? Dress up? Stuff your face? All of the above?
Chag Sameach! (“Happy Holiday!”)