Historical Background

The holiday of Purim (Hebrew for lots), next to Hanukkah, is one of the joyous holidays. purym means fate, destiny, which is why this day is also called the Festival of Lots (casting lots). It is supposed to have originated in one of the Jewish communities of the eastern Diaspora in the mid-2nd century BCE and owes its historical name to the events described in the Book of Estherwhich probably took place in the 5th century BCE. This is when the Jews were delivered from the hands of Haman (he exists in culture and literature as the archetype of the anti-Semite), the grand vizier and first minister of the king of the Medes and Persians. Haman was a descendant of Amalek, of the Amalekite family, a man who devoted his life to hatred. Indescribable and unfounded hostility caused Amalek to attack the Jewish people wandering through the desert. Thus, he became a symbol of pervasive evil, hatred, and the infliction of harm on innocent people. The goal of Haman was to exterminate all the Jews in Persia, so he continued the tradition of merciless cruelty. He decided that he would cast lots to choose the day on which his plans were to come to fruition – fate decided that it would be the 13th or 14th day of Adar. Fortunately, as we read in the Book of Esther, Queen Esther revealed Haman's plans to King Ahasuerus, which effectively dashed Haman’s hopes and intentions. A death sentence was carried out on Haman and his ten sons, while the Jews, according to the Book, killed 75,000 people in Persia. The Jewish people won an undisputed victory, which is commemorated each year during the Feast of Purim.[1]The holiday of Purim (Hebrew for lots), next to Hanukkah, is one of the joyous holidays.

Celebration of the Holiday

Most of the years the Purim holiday is celebrated in March. On the eve of the anniversary of this great event, i.e. on the 13th day of Adar, Jews are obligated to observe a strict fast, also called the Fast of Esther that ends at sunset. On this day in the evening, the Book of Esther is read in synagogues. This text may be read publicly by everyone, except for the handicapped, minors and women. Every time Haman's name is mentioned, people in the synagogue stomp their feet or make noise with special rattles and clappers. Why? Because Amalek, the enemy of mankind and an unjust invader, must be razed to the ground, he must be defeated. Victory over the descendant of Amalek – Haman – is possible only together. It must be remembered that he attacked people for no reason and must be punished for it. The Torah teaches to fight against hatred and evil in the community.
On the 14th of Adar, the actual day of Purim, fasting and public mourning is forbidden. After a series of prayers, alcohol is served during the afternoon meal, the consumption of which is considered a mitzvah (religious obligation), because in this way joy is expressed at the death of Haman. The general merriment and familiarity make this time a Jewish carnival. Students, dressed as rabbis, give humorous lectures; there are also performances, beauty contests and fancy dress balls. The Feast of Lots is also a time when Jews do not forget about the poorest and needy – alms and Purim gifts are distributed.
One of the fascinating facts about the Book of Esther is that the word “God” does not appear even once in the text; yet, according to rabbinic teachings, His presence is certain and palpable. The Lord acted and guided the people with an invisible hand. Purim is a celebration of victory over Haman, the man who wanted to destroy the entire Jewish world for no reason. One of the Chassidim, in explaining the meaning and history of the holiday, states that the whole “Purim story” is only the background of God's true action, which is hidden. This love that can befall a believer is symbolized by a cookie.

Symbolic Cookies

One of the greatest symbols of the Purim holiday are the triangular cookies – hamantaschen – that are intrinsically associated with it (photo 1).

hamantasze - ciastka na żydowskie Święto Purim
Fot. 1. Ciastka hamantasze. (Źródło: www.pixabay.com)

This traditional Jewish pastry is also called “Haman’s ears”. They owe their name to their form – they are pouches of dough filled with sweet poppy seed filling. Today we can find hamantaschen with marmalade or jam. However, these inconspicuous triangular pastries carry a unique symbolic meaning. The dough may be barren and tasteless, but it is under this shell that all the sweetness lies – exactly like living according to the teachings of God. As soon as we break through the hard crust of life, we meet the sweet love of God, which is everywhere.

Julita Semrau

Translated by Kasia Smialkowski

Sources:

Purimowe trójkątne ciastka? Co znaczy Hamantaszen? Walka z najeźdźcą Życie po chasydzku #1, [online], [dostęp: 16.03.2022]
PURIM – Zniszczyć najeźdźców! Slava Ukraini! Spotkanie Live Zapytaj Żyda Q&A  ,[online], [dostęp: 16.02.2022]
Hamantasze, [online] https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamantasze, [dostęp: 16.03.2022]
Purim, [online], https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purim, [dostęp: 16.03.2022]
Purimszpile, [online], https://delet.jhi.pl/pl/psj?articleId=13615, [dostęp: 16.03.2022]
Purim, [online], https://delet.jhi.pl/pl/psj?articleId=19115, [dostęp: 16.06.2022]

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1 The holiday of Purim (Hebrew for lots), next to Hanukkah, is one of the joyous holidays.
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