The Jewish Festival of Lots | What It Celebrates | The Unique Traditions of Purim

From sunset on Thursday, February 25, 2021 until nightfall the following day, Jewish people around the globe will celebrate Purim, the “Festival (of Feast) of Lots,” perhaps the most joyous of all Jewish holidays. It’s a celebration of family and community, with parades, costumes and masks, the exchange of “Purim baskets,” reenactments of the “Purim story,” and a festive meal.

What Are the Origins of Purim?

Purim commemorates the saving of the Jewish community in Persia, believed to have taken place in the 5th century BC. According to the book of Esther, Mordecai (the cousin of Esther and a member of the Jewish community) discovers and foils a plot to kill the king. Though his deeds are recorded in the daily record of the court, the king does not learn of Mordecai’s actions in saving his life.

Later, Haman (viceroy to King Ahasuerus) formulates a plan to kill everyone in the Jewish community, in retribution for the refusal by Mordecai to bow down to him. Haman seeks and obtains permission from the king to fulfill this plan and then casts lots to determine the exact date the slaughter will occur. Upon learning of the plot to kill all members of the Jewish community, Mordecai (himself a Jew) appeals to Esther, asking her to intercede with the king to prevent the slaughter (she has been taken as a wife by the king).  She advises the king that she is Jewish and of Haman’s plan to exterminate her, along with all other members of the Jewish community. Haman is hanged and the king allows Mordecai and others to pre-emptively slay those who seek to kill them.

How Is Purim Celebrated?

Purim is considered less a religious observance than a celebration of the Jewish nation in the world. Among the traditions followed around the world are:

  • Parades, often with most participants in costumes and/or masks—This denotes the fact Esther hid the fact that she was Jewish. Though many of the costumes represent the main characters in the drama—the King, Haman, Esther and Mordecai—there really are no limits to the creativity and originality of the costumes…it’s the idea of being in disguise that’s being honored.
  • Purim baskets—In the scroll of Esther, there’s a reference to “mishloach manot,” or sending portions. That provides the basis for the tradition of giving baskets that include at least two different kinds of food. The purim baskets usually include wine and pastries, snacks and sweets, fruits and even cooked foods.
  • Charitable giving—Often, in lieu of giving a Purim basket, a person may engage in “matanot l’evyonim,” a giving to the needy. Such a gift may be in the form of a present or a donation.
  • Reenacting the Purim story—Jewish holy scripture calls on followers to retell and listen to the story of Purim. In many Jewish communities, there’s a theatrical reenactment on Purim, often with music and traditional dance. Community members dress up as characters from the story or from popular culture to retell the biblical story.
  • The Feast of Purim is celebrated in the afternoon of the full day. The most traditional food items are kreplach (meat-filled pasta triangles) and hamantashen pastries, made with dates and poppy seeds. Other traditions include turkey, Ethiopian or Persian fare and vegetarian foods (Esther is believed to have been a vegetarian in order to maintain a kosher diet).

Gutterman’s—Serving the Jewish Communities in New York and Florida

At Gutterman’s, we bring more than 125 years of experience to individuals and families in New York and Florida, handling all matters related to funeral and burial services for members of the Jewish faith. We have a comprehensive knowledge of Jewish practices, and can advise and assist you with every detail, from the order of a memorial service to the choice of a monument, from the selection of a casket to sitting Shiva or creating a Yahrzeit calendar. We can help you pre-plan your funeral in New York or Florida, and can even assist you with the preparation of an obituary.

While we believe that the pandemic poses a serious health risk to our customers and our staff, we also recognize the importance of grieving, and the integral role of a funeral and burial in Jewish tradition. We strictly adhere to all guidelines recommended by state and federal public health safety officials and are committed to doing our part to minimize the spread of COVID-19. We will work closely with you to determine ways to honor Jewish customs, pay respect to the deceased, and keep everyone safe. To see a statement of the safety measures for all our chapels, visit our website.

To learn how we can be of service after the death of a loved one, contact us online or call us at one of the numbers listed below. During the pandemic, we are available by phone, text message or videoconferencing. We will take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.