Hillel at John Carroll University Presents: 10 Frequently Asked Questions About Purim
1. Why do we celebrate Purim?
Around 2000 years ago, when Israel was under Persian control, King Achashverosh’s Prime Minister, Haman, tried to exterminate all of the Jewish people. Through a series of miraculous “coincidences,” the Jewish people were saved through the efforts of the the Jewish queen, Esther, and her cousin Mordechai. We celebrate the salvation each year with merriment and the reading of the story.
2. What is the Megillah?
The Megillah is a scroll inscribed with the story of Esther and is read twice on Purim: once at night and once in the morning.
3. Who is to hear the reading of the Megillah?
Men, women, and even children must hear the Megillah. Care must be taken not to interrupt in the middle in order to hear every word.
4. Why is the name of Haman “booed” when the Megillah is read?
Haman was a decedent of Amalek, the arch enemy of the Jewish people beginning in biblical times. It is a mitzvah (or obligation) to wipe out the memory of Amalek. By boing Haman’s name, we try to symbolically erase his memory.
5. Why do we masquerade on Purim?
God’s name is not mentioned in the Megillah because the miracles leading to the salvation seem coincidental. God was “hiding” as it were, behind a mask of nature. Commemorating this, we too hide our identities behind masks.
6. How else do we celebrate Purim?
There are three other mitzvahs associated with Purim: food gifts to one another (also known as Shaloch Manos), charity to the poor, and eating and drinking.
7. How much food must we give and to who?
One should send at least two pieces of ready to eat foods (or drinks) to at least one friend. Obviously, a person may send more than two types and to more than one friend. The more the merrier!
8. How much charity needs be given and to whom?
It is traditional to give two gifts to at least two different poor people on Purim. Preferably, one should give the value of at least a cheap meal ($3-4) to each person.
9. What’s this about drinking?
The Talmud says we should drink on Purim until inebriation. The purpose of this is to recognize God’s kindness without even being able to think clearly. Obviously, intoxication to the level of improper behavior is not permitted.
10. What’s the deal with Hamantashen?
Hamantashen are three-cornered pastries with different fillings. Hamantashen remind us that just like the tasty filling is not visible from the outside, God’s involvement in the Purim miracle, although not noticeable, was very much present.
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