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Purim

Purim (the word comes from the Assyrian or Persian pur-"lots") is the most joyful holiday in the Jewish calendar. It is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the month of adar (in Israel on the fifteenth-i.e., either in February or in March).

Purim is celebrated in commemoration of when the Jews in Susa were saved from the extermination planned by Haman, a dignitary at the court of the king of Persia, Ahashverus. Through a provocation orchestrated by Haman, they were to be accused of blasphemy and disrespect of the government. Then they were to be killed. The plans were ruined by the king's wife, Ester, and her uncle, Mordechai. As a result, it was Haman and his ten sons who were killed, and the Persian Jews were put under the protection of the king.

Sources show that this holiday has been celebrated since the first century AD-first under the name Mordechai Day, and then under its current name, "Purim".

The holiday is preceded by a one-day fast, Tannit Ester (Hebrew, Ester's fast), which is observed in commemoration of the queen's fast before her visit to Ahashverus. It is also a custom during this holiday to give alms to the poor, and to give small gifts to one's friends and neighbors-usually sweets, fruit or alcohol. Among the foods traditionally eaten during this holiday are hamantashe ("Haman's ears", "Haman's pocket")-three-cornered yeast cakes with poppy-seed, plum jam, or fruit and nut fillings.
In the synagogue, Megilat Ester (The Scroll of Ester) is read, which is the story of the Jews' fate in Susa, Haman's intrigue, and the courage of Ester and Mordechai. During the reading, those present try their best to drown out Haman's name when it is uttered. They do this by making noise, whether by shouting, whistling or using noise-makers�all this in the belief that the names of the evil-doers should be erased. After the service, a party is thrown, during which alcohol is served, in addition to all manner of special treats. Traditionally on this holiday, one is required to drink alcoholic beverages until one no longer distinguishes between good and evil (ad lo yada, Hebrew: let him know)-which is to say, until one begins to confuse the words: "may Mordechai be blessed, may Haman be damned". This has many meanings. It is a reminder that the Jews were saved during a feast at the king's. Some commentators stress the mystical significance of ad lo yada�as an entrance into a world in which concepts become ambiguous, in which they mingle and create a harmonious whole.

Such recommendations have made Purim the most joyous of the Jewish festivals, something akin to a general carnival. That day, even the strictest ban on men dressing in skirts and women in men's clothes can be broken. As a result, during Purim there are usually masquerade balls, other masked events and other boisterous social gatherings. Students at religious schools usually write humorous presentations, in which they explain the basic precepts of faith in an absurd way, and sometimes criticize their teachers and undermine the authority of the rabbis.

The Purim celebrations gave rise to a special kind of play, the purimshpil (Yiddish, Purim play). At first, these were comprised of texts about the story in the Book of Ester; later, they expanded to include other Biblical themes, which were often depicted in a humorous or parodistic manner. Groups of purimshpilers would go from house to house, giving short, humorous shows, and in return would receive gifts of money or something to eat. These Purim shows became the basis of modern Jewish theater.
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