Jews Celebrate Purim: Their Victory Over Evil in Ancient Persia

Purim, one of the most joyous of holidays on the Jewish calendar, is celebrated around the world from the night of March 6 through March 8, marking a chapter in history when Jews narrowly escaped extermination by their Persian rulers in the 4th century B.C.

Queen Esther denouncing Haman (Public Domain)
Queen Esther denouncing Haman (Public Domain)

As the story behind Purim goes, a Jew-hating man named Haman was prime minister of the Persian empire, which extended far and wide into as many as 127 lands. Haman became infuriated one day when Mordechai, a leader of the Jews, refused to bow to him. The minister then persuaded King Ahasuerus of Persia to kill all the Jews in the kingdom.

Haman drew lots to decide the day on which the Jews would be massacred. He settled on the 13th day of Adar, the 12th month of the Jewish calendar that roughly corresponds to February or March. The word “Purim” literally means lots.

It did not take long for Esther, the most favorite of the king’s many queens, to learn of Haman’s plot. Unbeknownst to Ahasuerus, however, Esther, an adopted daughter of Mordechai, was Jewish and had been concealing her identity. She met the king, boldly disclosed she was a Jew, and told him of Haman’s plot. Ahasuerus grew enraged and ordered that Haman be hanged.

Subsequently, on the urging of Esther and Mordecai, the king issued an edict allowing Jews to attack their enemies across the empire on the 13th day of Adar. After their victorious battle, the Jews declared the following day a holiday. They named it Purim, referring to Haman’s lots.

Bravery is a central theme in the Purim story. Esther demonstrated great courage by revealing her true identity to the king in an attempt to save her people from being slaughtered.

Purim begins with a day of fasting called Taʿanit Esther (Fast of Esther) on the 13th day of Adar 13. The Book of Esther, the book of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, is read in synagogues. Celebrants are also enjoined to gift money and food and to donate to the poor.


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