By Jim Bradford Military Jewish lay leaderFebruary 18, 2010
Purim is a celebration observed one month before Passover on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Adar II.
This year, the Fast of Esther will be Thursday and Purim Feb. 28.
Jews around the world will observe these two days, mentally preparing for Passover. The Fast of Esther commemorates the time in history when Jews in Persia (modern day Iraq and Iran) fasted and prayed to be spared from the massacre planned by Haman, a military leader who worked for the king of Persia.
Purim commemorates the day when, through the intervention of Mordecai and his adopted daughter, Queen Esther, the Jews of Persia escaped being victims of Haman's plot to exterminate them.
The events described in the Hebrew Bible's book of Esther took place around 450 B.C. The name Purim derives from the word "pur" which means lottery, and is associated with the gambling method used by Haman to select the date on which he intended to massacre the Jews.
The plans of Haman have had their unfortunate parallel in the evil designs of other rulers (such as Adolph Hitler and the Nazis) throughout the centuries for the Jewish people.
Jewish survival was often subject to the whim and caprice of the local ruler as epitomized by the story of Purim.
The sudden turn of events in the story of Purim (Esther and Mordecai were able to warn and arm their fellow Jews against Haman) enabled the Jewish community to defend itself and has provided a spark of hope and encouragement to Jewish communities throughout the centuries.
The most prominent ritual in the observance of the festival is to attend the synagogue on Purim Eve to listen to the reading of the scroll of Esther, also known as the Megillah.
The Megillah is also read at the Schachrit Service the day of Purim. Men and women are required to listen to the reading of the Megillah and the congregation makes catcalls each time the name of Haman is read in the Megillah.
A second requirement of Purim observance is to "eat plenty of the special foods prepared for the occasion, drink and be merry." A festive Family dinner - called a seudah - is held and is in fulfillment of the directive within the book of Esther that the celebration be "days of feasting, games and merry-making."
The third and fourth requirements of the observance are that each person, l2 years and older, send portions to a friend as a gesture of friendship and condolence.
The portions consist of food or drink and each person gives gifts to at least two poor people or worthy causes.
Although there is no prohibition of work on Purim as there is on the Sabbath or other holy days, it is traditional to abstain from one's regular job on Purim and celebrate the day in the appropriate manner.