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Purim is a Jewish holiday commemorating the deliverance of the Jews from execution at the hands of their Persian rulers in the 5th century BCE.
The story as outlined in the biblical Book of Esther is that Haman, prime minister in the court of the Persian King Ahasuerus, was insulted when Mordecai, a Jew, refused to bow to him. Haram convinced the king that all the Jews in the Persian Empire were rebels and was given leave to devise a plan for mass execution. He settled on a date for the execution by casting lots – hence the name Purim, which is the ancient Persian word for “lots”.
Esther, the queen of Ahasuerus and niece of Mordecai, who had been hiding her Jewish heritage, got wind of the plan. She invited Haman to a banquet where she denounced him to the king, accusing him of plotting to kill her and her people.
The king, furious, left the room to calm himself in the palace gardens. He returned to find Haman falling on Esther’s couch. Misinterpreting a plea for mercy as a physical assault, he ordered that Haman himself be executed.
Haman was hanged on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai, and Mordecai was installed in his place.
Purim falls on the 14th day of Adar in the Hebrew calendar, but observances begin with a fast on the day before the festival proper, which commemorates the fasting performed by Esther as she prayed for the deliverance of the Jews. On Purim itself there is a custom of giving gifts of money to the poor, and another of gifting food to at least one friend. The Book of Esther is read in the synagogue both on Purim and the day preceding.
Purim is also a day for feasting, drinking, and merrymaking. A popular Purim food is a three-cornered pastry with a sweet filling called oznei Haman, meaning ‘Haman’s ears’. or hamantaschen, meaning ‘Haman’s pockets’. It is not uncommon for children to go about in costume on Purim, enjoying the carnival atmosphere of the most joyous of the Jewish holidays.
Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of the month of Adar in the Hebrew lunisolar calendar. Adar roughly corresponds with March in the Gregorian calendar. On Hebrew calendar leap years, a 13th month is added to the year. On these years there is an Adar I and an Adar II, and Purim is then celebrated in Adar II.
Esther denouncing Haman