Chapter Twenty-four

About the Feast of Purim

Purim is a Persian word, the same as Goral in the Hebrew language, meaning lot. This feast is so named because Haman cast the lot that all Jews throughout the land of the King Assuerus [Ahasuerus] should be killed and exterminated on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month of Adar, that is the new moon of February, which was announced all over the land by royal command. However, the whole thing was turned around, and it happened that the same day the enemy wanted to overpower them, the Jews overpowered their enemies, and five hundred men were strangled at Susan [Shushan] along with the ten sons of Haman, and the next day three hundred were slain there. Other Jews throughout the land killed seventy five thousand. All this happened on the thirteenth day, and they rested on the fourteenth. Therefore it was ordered that in eternal remembrance of this deed, on the fourteenth and fifteenth of the new moon in February they should rest, and their pain should be turned into joy, and their sorrow into joyful days, which they and their descendants should hold and keep and never forget, as you can read in the ninth chapter of the book of Esther.

Therefore these days even today are not real holy days and feast-days, but jolly days and eat-days. Work is not actually forbidden, although they abstain from too much work, and they write in the Talmud that there is no luck if one works. Some time ago a man sowed flax-seed. A Rabbi passed by, and scolded him, and damned him, which caused the seed not to rise and grow. Especially the women are told to rest, because this deliverance was brought about by Queen Esther.

In the evening they light the lights of happiness in shul, and the chasan or sexton unwinds the book of Esther (it is written on a broad parchment.) He unfolds it like a letter, and reads it from beginning to end. Women and children have to be present also, and listen to it attentively.

There is also the custom that as often as the name of Haman is mentioned the young Jews knock him, and there is a great commotion. They used to have two stones, on one of which was written "Haman," and they knocked them together until the name had disappeared, and they said and called out: Jimmach Schmo, his name shall be blotted out, or, Schem reschaim jirkabh, the name of the wicked shall rot. Arur Haman, cursed be Haman, Baruch Mordechai, blessed be Mordechai. Arurah zeres, cursed be Seres [Zeresh] Haman's wife. Baruch Esther, blessed be Queen Esther. Arurim col obhede elilim, cursed be all who serve idols. Beruchim col jisrael, blessed be all the people of Israel.

When they read about the ten sons of Haman, they have to say it in one breath, because they write that the ten sons were slain at the same instant, and all their souls departed at the same time.

They celebrate and honor this feast by living it up, and with wine because queen Esther had received the favor that kept all the Jews alive while sitting at the royal table and while the king was enjoying his wine. Therefore it is right and just that they should be happy and enjoy some wine. Therefore they do nothing else these two days but eating, drinking, playing, dancing, whistling, and singing. They recite rhymes and lovely poems. The women dress up in men's clothing, and the men in women's clothing. Although this is explicitly prohibited in the laws, they write however that is this case it is not a sin, because they are doing it only because of Simcha or worldly joy and amusement. In the same way, Rabbi Isaac Tyrnau writes in his Minhagim that it is a Mitzvah, a law and a good deed, to be happy on these days, to drink, ulehistakker meód, Schœlo jakkir etc., and to drink himself so full that he does not know the difference between Arur Haman and Baruch Mordechai, that is, that he cannot distinguish the numerical value of the letters each word contains. It means that he may drink himself so full that he cannot count his five fingers on his hand any more. And this law they keep the most stringently.

They send gifts and alms to the poor Jews, and to each poor man, a rich Jew has to send two different gifts, food and drink, or money and food etc., so that they too may truly enjoy this feast, and it is not allowed to spend the money for other things, or to save it.

With these joyous feast nights they conclude their regular feasts for the year, because from now until Passover they have no more feast-days.

If the prophets still lived, or would arise again, they could well preach as in olden time Is. 5.11:

Woe unto those who are up early in the morning to drink, and then sit until nighttime, so that the wine may heat them up. They have nothing but harps, kettle-drums, pipes and wine in their revelry, and they do not regard the work of the Lord, and do not see the creation of his hands.

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Alan D. Corré
corre@uwm.edu