Belief in brief: The scenes of Purim

Friday, March 21, 2008 | 2:18 p.m. CDT; updated 5:51 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Purim, considered by some Americans to be the “Jewish Mardi Gras,” is a celebration of the story of Esther and her deliverance of the Jews in Persia 2300 years ago. Purim is celebrated in the Hebrew month of Adar II, which usually falls between February and March on the lunar calendar, and is marked by the reading of the Megillah — the story of the deliverance of the Jews in Persia in the Book of Esther — masquerading, feasting and charity.


Esther: A young and beautiful Jewish woman living in Persia.

Mordecai: Esther’s cousin, who raised her as a daughter.

King Ahasuerus: The king of Persia who fell in love with Esther, making her queen without knowing her religious faith.

Haman: The anti-Semitic advisor to King Ahasuerus.


The story begins as Mordecai enters to take Esther to King Ahasuerus so that she may join his harem and eventually become queen. Secretly, Mordecai urges Esther not to reveal her faith so she can avoid Haman’s hostility towards the Jews and because Mordecai believed a special time would come when Esther would reveal her faith.

After entering the king’s palace, Mordecai refuses to bow down to Haman, fueling Haman’s rage against the Jews. King Ahasuerus gives Haman permission to do what he may regarding the Jews, so Haman makes plans to massacre them.

In her new privileged position of queen, Esther, at the urging of Mordecai, agrees to take on the dangerous task of speaking with King Ahasuerus without being summoned. She fasts for three days, approaches King Ahasuerus, and reveals Haman’s plot, as well as her own identity as a Jew. Haman is subsequently hanged on the gallows that had initially been prepared for Mordecai, and the Jews remain unscathed.


Jewish men and women dress in brightly colored costumes and sit with their children as the story of Esther is being told. Whenever Haman’s name is mentioned, the children rattle noisemakers as a form of booing and to keep the story fun and engaging.

A plate of hamantaschen, triangular fruit-filled pastries traditional during Purim, is usually made for attendees. A feast called Seudat Purim generally follows the service, and it is commanded that all “eat, drink, and be merry!”

Mishloach Manot, or baskets filled with hamantaschen, food and drinks, are delivered to friends and family, and Matanot La’evyonim, or gifts, are donated to charity during the Purim festivities.


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