Queen Esther ~ Painting by John Cox
Listen to: She Said No To The King! by Rabbi Rayzel Raphael and MIRAJ
Long, long ago, a poor young Jewish woman named Esther is chosen, Cinderella-style, to be the Queen of Persia. But while her new husband, King Ahasuerus, drinks, eats, and plays, his dastardly prime minister, Hamen, schemes.
Infuriated by Esther’s cousin Mordecai’s refusal to bow down before him (“I am a Jew,” said Mordecai, “and Jews do not bow down to human beings”), Hamen vows that Mordecai, along with every Jew in Persia, will be killed. Ahasuerus is too distracted by his card games to pay much attention to Hamen’s decree, so it is up to Esther to save her people. Risking all, she approaches her hot-tempered husband (who did not know until now that Esther herself is Jewish) to see what can be done. Luckily, Esther’s courage and cleverness prevail.
Twenty-five hundred years later, Jews all over the world still celebrate Purim, a noisy, lighthearted holiday to commemorate the days when sorrow turned into joy.
It is customary to prepare and enjoy a festive meal on Purim, complete with wine, challah, and dessert. The traditional Ashkenazi pastry for Purim is Hamantashen. Queen Esther foiled Haman’s plans to murder the kingdom’s Jews. The pastries look like either pockets or the hat of of Haman and symbolizes his deceitfulness. As you eat the pastry, you “destroy” Haman’s secret deceit.
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1 1/3 cups plus 4 teaspoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Various jams (raspberry, blackberry, apricot, or prepared fillings such as poppy seed or prune pastry filing)
Cream butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add sugar and mix for one minute longer, then egg, vanilla extract, orange zest and salt, mixing until combined. Finally, add the flour. The mixture should come together and be a tad sticky. If it feels too wet, add an additional tablespoon of flour.
Form dough into a disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
To form the hamantaschen, roll out the dough on a well-floured surface until it is about 1/4-inch thick. Using a round cookie cutter (3 inches is traditional, but very large; I used one that was 2 1/2 inches), cut the dough into circles. Spoon a teaspoon of you filling of choice in the center. Fold the dough in from three sides and firmly crimp the corners and give them a little twist to ensure they stay closed. Leave the filling mostly open in the center. Bake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool on racks. Resist the urge to try a still-hot one unless a jam-burnt tongue is as much of your Purim tradition as are these cookies. Enjoy! Freilichen Purim!
Purim Customs From Around the World
On Purim eve, torches containing gunpowder would be ignited. During the Megillah reading, the gunpowder exploded with a deafening noise. In one town in Germany, on the eve of Purim, two candles would be lit in the synagogue. One was called “Haman” and the other “Zeresh” (Haman’s wife). The candles were allowed to burn down completely, and were not extinguished. Thus should the haters of Israel be burnt. Doll-shaped cakes, called “Haman”, were also prepared. The children would cut off the doll’s head and eat it with great glee.
The youngsters would divide into two camps and throw nuts at each other. The adults rode through the streets of the town on horseback, with cypress branches in their hands. They also placed an effigy of Haman in a high place, and encircled it, to the sound of trumpets.
Children used to take smooth stones, write or engrave Haman’s name on them, and strike them together during the Megillah reading whenever Haman’s name was mentioned, in order to erase it, in compliance with the verse: “I shall surely wipe out the memory of Amalek”.
“Haman-shaped” cakes were baked on the eve of “Shabbat Zachor”, and placed on the window ledges until the festive Purim meal. During the meal, the cakes were sliced so that participants could fulfill the precept “And they shall devour Haman with open mouth”.
Many wax candles were lit for the Purim meal; children were invited to light the candles as on Hanukkah.
The young men rode through the Jewish street on horsebacks, camels and asses, in memory of the verse “and they brought him on horseback through the street of the city”.
The children prepared a large effigy of Haman, and filled its clothes with gunpowder. In the middle of the courtyard, they set up a large stick, from which they “hung” Haman. They then threw oil over the effigy and set it alight.
The men also participated in the great tumult, stamping their feet loudly during the Megillah reading.
All the schoolchildren participated in burning an effigy of Haman. The younger children made small “Hamans” out of paper, and the older children made a large “Haman” out of rags, old clothes and straw. All the townspeople gathered by the school. A large bonfire was prepared and everyone stood round it. By turn, all the children went up and threw the “Hamans” they had made into the fire. They then beat the burning “Haman” with special sticks that they had prepared in honor of Purim. After all the “Hamans” had been thrown on the fire, salt and sulfur were added. All the participants stood round the fire, hitting the burning Haman with sticks and shouting “Long live Mordechai, cursed be Haman, blessed be Esther, cursed be Zeresh”.
The youngsters threw an effigy of Haman into the fire and jumped over the fire, competing to see who could jump highest.
The ground would usually be covered with snow at Purim time. A large snow-Haman was built next to the synagogue. This Haman had a funny-shaped torso, long thick legs, like an elephant’s, a large head, eyes of charcoal, a carrot for a nose, and a piece of beetroot for the mouth. A “gold chain” made out of water melon peels was hung over the stomach as a symbol of office, and a broken pot was placed on the head.
After the meal, the whole community gathered round the Haman. A large fire was made around it of wood, rags and paper, and they stood and watched until Haman melted in the heat and disappeared, singing until it was completely melted.
The women prepared blackened wood by the kitchen fire. When the men came home after the Megillah reading, they would ask, what’s this, and the women would reply: Haman. The men then said: “burn him”, and the wood was immediately thrown into the fire.
The children drew pictures of Haman on planks or cardboard. During the Megillah reading, the planks were thrown to the ground and trampled on, making a lot of noise. Wooden gloves (a kind of wooden sandals) were held in the hands and clapped together, also making a loud noise.
The synagogue carpets were taken up and the congregants trampled underneath them, in case Haman was hiding there.
Even before Purim, the children of the “Heder” would set up two sticks “lengthwise and crosswise”, like a kind of cross, cover them and declare in a loud voice: “Haman the wicked.” This is the source of the Yemenite Jewish saying: “In Adar – we put up Haman crosses”.
In the Yemenite town of Asaddeh, it was customary to make a large effigy of Haman out of rags. This Haman was placed on a donkey and led by the children from house to house. Each householder gave the children sweetmeats, and beat, spat or even threw dirty water over the Haman on the donkey.
In some places in Yemen, the children used to put a kind of scarecrow in a wooden cart with a horse. Two beads were stuck into its head for eyes, a beard was attached, and it was dressed in colorful tattered clothes, and adorned with a kind of absurd decoration. The children placed the scarecrow on a wooden horse and preceded it, calling out: “thus shall be done to the wicked Haman”.
On the eve of Purim, they dragged the cart through the streets shouting: “Haman”, and dancing and singing: Here comes Haman Riding a lame horse He burst and exploded, woe to his mother, Here she comes.
The “Haman” was then hung from a high tree in the courtyard of the synagogue, where it was “abused” and taunted. Stones and “arrows” were hurled at it until it was torn to shreds. In some places Haman’s cross was left until the end of Purim, and then taken down and burnt. It was covered with kerosene and set alight. The participants departed only when nothing was left but dust and ashes.
“Purim”, a manual edited by the Center for Fostering Jewish Awareness;
“Purim”, teaching material edited by Y. Frishman;
“Hag ve-Moed”, Rivka Tzadik;
“Festivals and Holidays in Education”, Dr. Yehuda Bergman