BY RON FEINBERG / WEB EDITOR //
Purim is only a day or so away, and it’s time to party.
The festive holiday – a bit of Mardi Gras with a very Jewish accent – begins Saturday night (Feb. 23), and once again we’ll be reading about a land far, far away and a beautiful queen who saved her people.
Did I mention there will be drinking?
The story of Purim is the stuff of fairy tales, a delightful yarn filled with good and evil and, if you happen to be Jewish, a really great ending. The players include a powerful king, Ahasuerus, and a really nasty guy, Haman; a hero, Mordechai, and a beautiful queen, Esther.
Once upon a time the king got rid of his queen and picked a new wife. Meanwhile, the really bad guy gets really angry at our hero and orders that he and all his fellow Jews be killed.
But our beautiful queen – that would be Esther – just so happens to be a cousin of our hero and, of course, a Jewess. The plot thickens.
The king, with lots of help from Esther, learns that Mordechai has uncovered a plot to kill the king, saving his life. He also learns that his queen is Jewish and the really evil guy, Haman, wants her cousin and all the other Jews in Persia slaughtered.
Purim, by the way, means “lots” in Hebrew; as in, Haman decided to cast lots to figure out the day to kill the Jews.
But back to the story: The king decides instead that Haman should be killed and that the Jews, if attacked, can defend themselves. They are, and they do!
Really, this is all too detailed to make up. Also, it’s pretty much all written down in the biblical Book of Esther, Megillat Esther, the last of the 24 books of the Jewish Bible to be canonized by the sages of the Great Assembly.
It’s also worth mentioning that Purim is a very sweet holiday – and when I say sweet, I literally mean sweet! Hamantashen, a tasty cookie filled with any of a variety of goodies (poppy seeds, prunes, nuts, dates, cherries or chocolate to name a few favorite fillings) is traditionally eaten during the holiday.
The cookie is named after Haman and, depending on what you read and who you believe, is shaped to resemble the three-cornered hat worn by the villain, the pyramidal pattern of dice used in parlor games of the day when our story played out, or – and this is my all-time favorite explanation – Haman’s ears! Yummy, right?
Another tasty and good bit of news is that some of the Great Assembly’s fellow sages – that would be the rabbis of the Talmud – came up with a wonderful idea when trying to figure out how best to recall Esther, Mordechai and their heroic deeds. They decided Purim would be a grand time to have a party and get drunk.
“A person,” the rabbis of the Talmud suggested, “is obligated to drink on Purim until he can no longer distinguish between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai.’” Much has been written about this obligation, but that’s fodder for next year’s column on the holiday.
Meanwhile, here’s my recipe for a festive holiday: gin, tonic, three ice cubes and a wedge of lime. Enjoy and chag sameach.