Purim, which starts at sundown on Wednesday, March 23, is one of Judaism’s most fun holidays. Most of us know about the Megillah (the book of Esther), hamentashen (three-sided cookies) and making noise with groggers (noisemakers) when we hear the evil Haman’s name. Below are a few things about this holiday that might surprise you (from My Jewish Learning):
1. Esther was a vegetarian: According to midrash (torah-based stories taught by rabbinical Jewish sages of the post-Temple era), while Queen Esther lived in the court of King Ahasuerus, she followed a vegetarian diet consisting largely of legumes so that she would not break the laws of kashrut (keeping Kosher). For this reason, there is a tradition of eating beans and peas on Purim. (After all, you’ll need something healthy after all the hamantaschen.)
2. You’re supposed to find a messenger to deliver your mishloach manot, the gift baskets traditionally exchanged with friends and family on Purim. Why? The verse in the Book of Esther about mishloach manot stipulates that we should send gifts to one another, not just give gifts to one another. As a result, it’s better to send your packets of goodies to a friend via a messenger, than to just give them outright.
3. The Book of Esther is the only biblical book that does not include G-d’s name. The Book of Esther also makes no references to the Temple, to prayer, or to Jewish practices such as kashrut.
4. Purim is celebrated one day later inside walled cities than it is everywhere else. The Book of Esther differentiates between Jews who lived and fought their enemies for two days within the walled, capital city of Shushan and those who lived in unwalled towns, where only one day was needed to subdue the enemy. The Rabbis determined we should make that same distinction when memorializing the event. Accordingly, if a person lives in a city that has been walled since the days of Joshua (circa 1250 B.C.E.), as Shushan was, Purim is celebrated on the fifteenth of the month of Adar, a day referred to as “Shushan Purim.”
5. Hamantaschen might have been designed to symbolize Haman’s hat — or his ears or pockets. Some say these cookies represent Haman’s ears (the Hebrew name for them, oznei Haman, means just this), and refer to a custom of cutting off a criminal’s ears before his execution. Another theory is that the three corners represent the three patriarchs whose power weakened Haman and gave strength to Esther to save the Jews. Yet another theory: Because the German word tasche means “pouch” or “pocket,” the cookies could signify Haman’s pockets and the money he offered the king for permission to kill the Jewish people.
Hope this was enlightening, if not interesting (it was for me!) For all those who celebrate, we wish you a Happy Purim!