Purim begins this year on Saturday evening, March 15, 2014, and continues through Sunday night, March 16. What follows is a brief step-by-step guide to Purim observance. We have also included links to additional Purim resources.
The festival of Purim is celebrated every year on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar (late winter/early spring). It commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia from Haman’s plot “to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in a single day.”
The Story in a Nutshell
The Persian empire of the 4th century BCE extended over 127 lands, and all the Jews were its subjects. When King Ahasuerus had his wife, Queen Vashti, executed for failing to follow his orders, he orchestrated a beauty pageant to find a new queen. A Jewish girl, Esther, found favor in his eyes and became the new queen—though she refused to divulge the identity of her nationality.
Meanwhile, the anti-Semitic Haman was appointed prime minister of the empire. Mordechai, the leader of the Jews (and Esther’s cousin), defied the king’s orders and refused to bow to Haman. Haman was incensed and convinced the king to issue a decree ordering the extermination of all the Jews on the 13th of Adar—a date chosen by a lottery Haman made.
Mordechai galvanized all the Jews, convincing them to repent, fast and pray to G‑d. Meanwhile, Esther asked the king and Haman to join her for a feast. At the feast, Esther revealed to the king her Jewish identity. Haman was hanged, Mordechai was appointed prime minister in his stead, and a new decree was issued—granting the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies.
On the 13th of Adar the Jews mobilized and killed many of their enemies. On the 14th of Adar they rested and celebrated.
|Note! If you live in Jerusalem, the Purim laws vary; click here for details.
Your Purim To-Do List
1) Listen to the Megillah
To relive the miraculous events of Purim, listen to the reading of the megillah (the Scroll of Esther) twice: once on Purim eve, Saturday night, March 15, and again on Purim day, March 16.
To properly fulfill the mitzvah, it is crucial to hear every single word of the megillah.
At certain points in the reading where Haman’s name is mentioned, it is customary to twirl graggers (Purim noisemakers) and stamp one’s feet to “eradicate” his evil name. Tell the children that Purim is the only time when it’s a mitzvah to make noise!
2) Give to the Needy (Matanot La’Evyonim)
Concern for the needy is a year-round responsibility; but on Purim it is a special mitzvah to remember the poor.
Give charity to at least two (but preferably more) needy individuals on Purim day, March 16.
The mitzvah is best fulfilled by giving directly to the needy. If, however, you cannot find poor people, place at least two coins into a charity box. As with the other mitzvahs of Purim, even small children should be taught to fulfill this mitzvah.
3) Send Food Portions to Friends (Mishloach Manot)
On Purim we emphasize the importance of Jewish unity and friendship by sending gifts of food to friends.
On Purim day, March 16, send a gift of at least two kinds of ready-to-eat foods (e.g., pastry, fruit, beverage) to at least one friend. Men should send to men, and women to women. It is preferable that the gifts be delivered via a third party. Children, in addition to sending their own gifts of food to their friends, make enthusiastic messengers.
4) Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Purim should be celebrated with a special festive meal on Purim day, at which family and friends gather together to rejoice in the Purim spirit. It is a mitzvah to drink wine or other inebriating drinks at this meal.
Special Prayers (Al HaNissim, Torah reading)
On Purim we include the Al HaNissim prayer, which describes the Purim miracle, in the evening, morning and afternoon prayers, as well as in the Grace After Meals. In the morning service there is a special reading from the Torah scroll in the synagogue (Exodus 17:8–16).
Purim Customs: Masquerades and Hamantashen
A time-honored Purim custom is for children to dress up and disguise themselves—an allusion to the fact that the miracle of Purim was disguised in natural garments. This is also the significance behind a traditional Purim food, the hamantash—a pastry whose filling is hidden within a three-cornered crust.
Pre- and Post-Purim Observances
Torah Reading of Zachor
On the Shabbat before Purim (this year, March 15), a special reading is held in the synagogue. We read the Torah section called Zachor (“Remember”), in which we are enjoined to remember the deeds of (the nation of) Amalek (Haman’s ancestor) who sought to destroy the Jewish people.
The Fast of Esther
To commemorate the prayer and fasting that the Jewish people held during the Purim story, we fast on the day before Purim. This year we fast on Thursday, March 13. The fast begins approximately an hour before sunrise, and lasts until nightfall. Click here for exact times for your location.
The “Half Coins” (Machatzit HaShekel)
It is a tradition to give three coins in “half” denominations—e.g., three half-dollar coins—to charity, to commemorate the half-shekel that each Jew contributed as his share in the communal offerings in the time of the Holy Temple. This custom, usually performed in the synagogue, is done on the afternoon of the “Fast of Esther,” or before the reading of the Megillah.
In certain ancient walled cities—Jerusalem is the primary example—Purim is observed not on the 14th of Adar (the date of its observance everywhere else), but on the 15th of Adar. This is to commemorate that fact that in the ancient walled city of Shushan, where the battles between the Jews and their enemies extended for an additional day, the original Purim celebration was held on the 15th of Adar.
The 15th of Adar is thus called “Shushan Purim,” and is a day of joy and celebration also in those places where it is not observed as the actual Purim.
Useful Purim Links:
- Click here for our mega-Purim site.
- Here for a global Purim event directory.
- Here for Purim FAQ.
- Here for the story of Purim.
- Here for Purim insight and inspiration.
- Here for Purim stories.
- Here for Purim multimedia.
- Here for our Purim Kids’ Zone.
- Here for Purim shopping.
- Here for Purim recipes.
- And here for our Purim Costume Contest.