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young kids in costume

On Purim, we can greet one another with “Chag Purim sameach!” which means “Happy Purim!” and some people shorten that to “Purim sameach.”  In Yiddish, the traditional greeting is for a "freilechen Purim.”

Answer By: 
George Robinson
Purim grogger, mask, hamantaschen

As joyous as the holiday is, it is also a time for serious reflection on the duties of a Jew toward her community, particularly in a post-Holocaust world. The day before the holiday is a minor fast day, the Fast of Esther, timed to coincide with Esther’s own fast on the day during which she decided to tell Ahashverosh that she is a Jew and to avert the massacre of her people.

One of the primary obligations of Purim, beyond the revelry, is matanot l'evyonim (gifts to the poor) — gifts given at this season to those in need so that they, too, can celebrate Purim with a special meal. Many families have committed to participating in this important social justice aspect of the holiday. One should give money to at least two needy people or good causes, and send gifts of food or drink, called mishloach manot, to friends.  And, finally, one should have a Purim s’udah (festive meal), with family and friends sharing in the joy of the holiday.

George Robinson is the author of the critically acclaimed Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals (revised edition, Atria Books, 2016) and Essential Torah: A Complete Guide to the Five Books of Moses (Schocken Books, 2006). Mr. Robinson is the film critic for The Jewish Week, the largest Jewish newspaper in North America, and a frequent contributor to Hadassah Magazine. He is adjunct assistant professor of media studies at Borough of Manhattan Community College, and has been critic-in-residence at several Jewish film festivals around the country. Robinson was a contributor to the recent edition of Encyclopedia Judaica and has written frequently for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsday, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly. Mr. Robinson lives in New York City with his wife Margalit Fox, a reporter for the New York Times and an author in her own right.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor S. Appell
a purim mask

Though both Purim and Halloween share the custom of dressing in costume, that is about all the two holidays have in common.  Halloween is thought to have originated as a Celtic festival and later became a Christian holiday. Dressing in costume on Halloween probably dates back to the 16th century. The tradition of wearing costumes on Purim finds its origins in the Purim spiel, or play, which is a skit, often humorous, based on the Purim story. While at one time people dressed as the characters in the story, today people also select costumes based on characters from children’s stories and popular culture.

The story of Purim, from the Book of Esther, tells about how Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai save the Jews of Persia from Haman, the king’s evil prime minister. Rather than going door-to-door and asking for candy, Purim is celebrated by public readings of the Purim story, dressing in costume, giving gifts of food to friends and neighbors, and attending Purim carnivals with games.

Mishloach manot are gifts of food that friends (and prospective new friends!) exchange on Purim. We are instructed in the scroll of Esther (9:19) to send gifts to one another. Jewish families make mishloach manot  at home and distribute them to friends. Often presented in baskets, mishloach manot include at least two different types of food, including hamantaschen, the traditional three-sided pastry eaten on Purim.   Many families purchase or bake hamantaschen to include in these baskets and to enjoy at homeMishloach manot may also include a wide variety of foods and treats. These gifts are frequently referred to by their Yiddish name, shalachmanos.

Matanot l'evyonim (gifts to the poor), a second Purim tradition, are gifts given at this season to those in need so that they, too, can celebrate Purim with a special meal (Esther 9:22). Many families have committed to participating in this important social justice aspect of the holiday

Check out this cute video for creative mishloahc manot ideas:

Answer By: 
Rabbi Daniel B. Syme

Hamantaschen originated in Europe. The term derives from two German words, mohn (poppy seed) and taschen (pockets). The association with Purim was solidified by substituting the name of Haman for mohn. Some hold that the hamantaschen symbolize the three-cornered hat that Haman wore.

There are actually many foods that came to be associated with Purim, but hamantaschen emerged as the most popular delicacy. The three-cornered pastry, traditionally filled with poppy seeds, apricots, or prunes, has become an essential element in Purim's joy. 

Find recipes for making hamentaschen and check out our hamantaschen guide.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor S. Appell

Though Purim is a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar, it is widely observed and a favorite of children. According to the scroll of Esther 9:22, we are to observe Purim as a time of “feasting and gladness.” The holiday is marked not only the by reading of the scroll, but by Purim plays (spiels) and the wearing of costumes. A festive meal is eaten (se'udah) on Purim afternoon. These led to the rise of carnivals, incorporating these traditions and often adding games for children. In Israel, Purim is joyfully observed by parades and people of all ages dressed in costumes.

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