1. Myth: Mordechai Was Esther’s Uncle

Art by Rivka Korf Studio
Art by Rivka Korf Studio

The Jewish holiday of Purim was established during the Persian exile, after the Jews had been saved from the genocidal scheming of Haman, advisor to King Achashverosh. The main heroes are Esther, the Jewish wife of the king, and her relative Mordechai. In many books and audio retellings of the Purim story, Mordechai is presented as Esther’s uncle, who had raised her after her parents’ passing.

Fact: Mordechai Was Esther’s Cousin

It is true that Mordechai raised Esther. However, the Megillah (Scroll of Esther) clearly states that he was her cousin, not uncle.1 Interestingly, the sages tell us that Esther was not just Mordechai’s cousin—she was also his wife!

Read: How Could Esther Marry a Non-Jewish King?

2. Myth: Haman Had a Three-Cornered Hat and Pointy Ears

Art by Rivka Korf Studio
Art by Rivka Korf Studio

On Purim, it is customary to eat a three-cornered pastry often filled with poppy seeds (fruit jams are also common), known as hamantaschen (“Haman pockets”) in Yiddish, and oznei haman (“Haman ears”) in Hebrew.

Urban legend (as supported by many illustrated editions of the Megillah) is that the cookies’ shape commemorates the three-cornered hat Haman wore. Another legend, especially popular in Israel, is that the tasty treats reflect the shape of Haman’s ears.

Fact: We Know Nothing About Haman’s Wardrobe or Auricles

There is no evidence whatsoever suggesting that Haman’s hat had three corners, nor is there any credible tradition about his ears.

In fact, the pastry’s most important feature is not its shape, but its traditional seed filling, called mon in Yiddish. Eating seeds on Purim recalls the devotion of Daniel (and later, Esther) who subsisted on seeds while living in royal surroundings to avoid eating anything non-kosher.2

Mon (poppy) is preferred3 because it is homonymous with the manot (“portions”), which we send each other as part of the Purim celebration.

So why are the hamantaschen sometimes called “ears”? Well, “oznayim” (ears) can sometimes refer to non-Purim pastries. In describing the manna which fell from heaven while the Jews were in the desert, both Rabbi Yosef ibn Kaspi (1279-1340) and Rabbi Don Yitzchak Abarbanel (1437-1508) describe a pastry called oznayim, with no mention of Haman or Purim at all. (And in many Eastern European cultures, there are stuffed dumplings referred to as “little ears.”)

Read: The History and Meaning of Hamantaschen

3. Myth: Haman’s Sons Were Hanged on the Gallows He Had Prepared for Mordechai

A major focal point of the Megillah is the part where we read of Haman and his ten sons being strung up on the gallows (“tree” in Hebrew) that he had prepared for Mordechai. When asked how Haman’s sons died, many people would probably answer “hanging.”

Fact: They Were Already Dead

A careful reading of chapters 8 and 9 of Esther tells us that the king ordered Haman to be strung up on the tree he had prepared for Mordechai immediately after the plot was discovered (on Passover eve).4 His sons’ deaths, however, took place nearly a year later on Adar 13, when they were killed by sword among all other enemies in the city of Shushan.5 Only after they were dead, did the king give permission to have their bodies hung on the gallows.6 Haman’s sons were thus hung but not hanged.

Read: The Basic Purim Story

4. Myth: You Need to Give “Two Blessings”

One of the four Purim mitzvahs (along with listening to the Megillah, giving gifts to the poor, and feasting) is to give mishloach manot: (at least two) portions of food. The source for mishloach manot is in the Megillah. “Mordechai... enjoined the [Jews] to make the fourteenth day of the month of Adar... feasting and joy, and sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.”7

A common misconception, propagated by preschool teachers and others, is that the two portions must warrant distinct blessings (brachot). Thus, an orange (over which we say “ha’eitz”) can be combined with a candy bar (over which we say “shehakol”), but pasta salad and a danish would be problematic, since they are both “mezonot.”

Fact: The Blessing Is Not Relevant

The halachah is that one must send two food portions, but they can be of the same blessing. In fact, the example given in the Code of Jewish Law is “two portions of meat.” Now, the blessing on all meat is “shehakol,” so there is surely no requirement for the two food items to have different blessings.

Browse beautiful mishloach manot gift baskets here.

Read: Why Send Mishloach Manot Through a Messenger

5. Myth: Everyone Needs to Get Drunk

The sages say that a person should drink on Purim to the point that they “don’t discern between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai.’” Some take this quite literally and drink so much wine that they lose awareness of their surroundings. In some communities (especially among the young), people may feel pressure to drink so much that they act inappropriately and even harm themselves and others.

Fact: Maintaining Your Mental and Physical Health Takes Primary Importance

For someone battling addiction, even the smallest sip can be life-threatening. Drinking, according to the sages of the Talmud, can heighten the joy and excitement of Purim, so they declared it an actual mitzvah—as long as you are confident that your behavior will remain at the high standard expected by the Torah. If you are planning to drive, or you know that drinking can otherwise get you in trouble, then alcohol might as well be pork juice.

Read: 10 Ways You Can Help Alcoholics and Addicts on Purim

6. Myth: One Megillah Reading Is Enough

One of the four Purim mitzvahs is to listen to the Megillah being read in Hebrew from a handwritten parchment scroll. The other three mitzvahs (sending food portions, giving gifts to the poor, and enjoying a feast) are all done only on Purim day. The Megillah, however, is read once at night and then again the next day. There is a popular misconception that hearing it once is enough.

Fact: You Need to Hear It at Night and Again During the Day

The sages of the Talmud tell us that we need to hear the Megillah twice.8

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi taught that this is a reflection of the verse in Psalms, “O my G‑d, I call in the daytime . . . and in the night I am not silent,”9 which is part of a chapter that the sages of the Talmud associate with Queen Esther.10 As the threat of genocide loomed, the distressed Jews of the Purim story cried out to G‑d during the day and night. As such, we recall His kindness on the eve of Purim and then again the following day.

Rabbi Chelbo would quote Ula of Biri, who associated this practice with the verse in Psalms, “So that my soul will sing praises to You and not be silent . . . I will thank You forever.”11 Reading the Megillah twice is thus an expression of thanksgiving to G‑d, as well as a testament to His everlasting kindness.

Do you have your own megillah? You can purchase one right here.

Read: Why Do We Read the Megillah Twice?

7. Myth: You Do Not Need to Hear Haman’s Name

Art by Rivka Korf Studio
Art by Rivka Korf Studio

A beloved Purim tradition is to twirl graggers (ratchets), bang, shout, stamp our feet and generally make a ruckus when Haman’s name is mentioned in the course of the Megillah reading. (Do you want some fun graggers? Check out this great selection here!)

Some people are so overzealous in “stamping out Haman” that they don’t hear his name chanted aloud by the reader.

Fact: You Need to Hear Every Word of the Megillah

We are required to hear every word of the Megillah, even those that refer to unsavory folk. In many communities, the reader will pause after saying Haman’s name to give everyone a chance to make noise before repeating it once again and continuing the reading. It is important not to make any noise during this repetition. After all, if someone misses even one word, they need to hear the entire reading again!

Read: Why We Boo for Haman

8. Myth: Purim Is the Jewish Halloween

A beloved Purim custom is to don masks and dress up in costume. This has led many to erroneously label it the “Jewish Halloween.”

Fact: Halloween Doesn’t Hold a Candle to Purim

The custom to dress up on Purim was recorded as many as 500 years ago—long before the modern holiday of Halloween took shape.

But the difference runs far deeper than that. What do Jewish kids do when they put on their costumes? They give out treats to their friends and hand coins to beggars. Quite the polar opposite of Halloween, when children are taught to cause mischief and beg for treats.

Read: Why Do We Dress Up on Purim?

9. Myth: Purim Is a Minor Holiday

Along with Chanukah, Purim is often dismissively referred to as a minor holiday, since it was instituted hundreds of years after Moses communicated G‑d’s command to keep Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot. This can send the (not so subtle) message that its observance is not terribly important.

Fact: Purim is Mandated in the Bible and Its Message Is Vital

Similar to Chanukah, work is permitted on Purim, and it is counted among the seven “rabbinic” mitzvahs. Yet, the Book of Esther is part of the Biblical canon, and the observance of the holiday is clearly spelled out there in chapter 9.

In a sense, Purim has a relevance and urgency to us, above all other holidays. Purim developed bottom up, the product of the faith and prayers of the Jewish nation then living outside of Israel, under a foreign power. They had every reason to abandon Judaism to save their lives, but they chose to proudly maintain their commitment, even though it put them squarely in Haman’s crosshairs.

Read: 15 Purim Facts Every Jew Should Know