Happy Purim

Cathleen Falsani, who writes for the Chicago Sun-Times, and is the author of Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace, discusses the Jewish festival of Purim at her blog, The Dude Abides:

When is it appropriate — and even encouraged, both socially and spiritually — to show up at your house of worship in full costume, make all kinds of racket, and even get really snockered?

Well, if you’re a Christian, Muslim or Buddhist, the answer is never.

But if you’re Jewish, it’s Purim!

Even though I’m not Jewish myself, Purim, which began last night at sundown, is one of my favorite religious festivals — and not just because of the costumes and cocktails. It’s essentially a story of joy’s triumph over oppression (with a smart, daring female hero to boot).

Purim commemorates the Jewish people’s escape from total annihilation by the Persian Empire in the 4th century B.C., as told in the biblical Book of Esther.

As the story goes, Jews were living relatively unmolested (if still in captivity) when the Persian King Ahasuerus appointed a rather nasty fellow named Haman as his No. 2 man. Haman hated Jews and one palace official named Mordechai in particular, so he got the king’s permission to kill all Jews.

King Ahasuerus was looking for a new queen and summoned all eligible women in the kingdom to the palace so he can choose a mate. Hadassah, a beautiful (and wise) young Jewish woman and Mordechai’s cousin, knows about Haman’s plans to slaughter the Jews. So she changes her name to Esther and disguises herself before going to the palace, so the king won’t know she’s Jewish. The king falls for her. She invites him to a second banquet the next day, where she reveals her true identity and persuades the king to allow the Jews to defend themselves against Haman’s attack.

Traditionally, this victory for the Jewish people has been marked by a boisterous celebration. There’s a passage in the Talmud that even says Jews should drink on Purim until they’re a little more than tipsy. Getting blotto on Purim is a mitzvah — a blessing.

“A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai,’ ” a passage from the “Megillah,” i.e. the Book of Esther, says.

Linda McMillan offers some ideas on why Christians might celebrate Purim at her blog, Still Fruity.

For more on Purim and a recipe for Hamentaschen read here

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