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    A Purim alphabet

    ADAR – 12th month of the Jewish calendar. Haman cast lots (see “Purim”) to fix a date to destroy the Jews and decided on 14 Adar. A leap year has two Adars; Purim falls in the second.

    AD-LO-YADA (“SO ONE DOES NOT KNOW”) – jolly Purim carnival inspired by the dictum, “One is duty-bound on Purim to become so merry that he does not know the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai'”. (See also here, here, and here.)

    AHASUERUS (Heb. Achashverosh) – weak, indecisive king of the 127 provinces of Persia. Possibly Xerxes. The Talmud calls him a tippesh – an idiot.

    AL HA-NISSIM (“For the miracles”) – a prayer inserted in the Amidah and Grace After Meals to thank God for saving the Jewish people.

    AMALEK – biblical enemy of Israel; ancestor of Haman. On Purim morning the Torah reading narrates the story of Amalek and the duty to remember forget his wickedness.

    BIGTAN – Persian chamberlain who conspired with Teresh to assassinate the king.

    ELIJAH – said to have informed Mordechai of the anti-Jewish edict issued by the king on Haman’s recommendation.

    ESTHER (“star”) – Jewish girl (Hadassah in Hebrew) chosen to marry the king. Her appeal to her husband saved the Jews of Persia from destruction by Haman. She was Mordechai’s cousin and ward. The Purim story is told in the Book of Esther or Megillah. (See also here.)

    ETHIOPIA – extremity of the Persian kingdom, which stretched from India to Ethiopia.

    GODnot mentioned by name in the Book of Esther but directed the events behind the scenes.

    HADASSAH (“myrtle”) – Esther’s Hebrew name.

    HAMAN – prime minister of Persia. Villain of the Purim story (Haman HaRasha – “Haman the Wicked”); hanged on the gallows he had erected for Mordechai’s execution (some apply to him the words of Psalm 7:16: “He dug a pit and fell in”).

    HAMAN’S TEN SONS – hanged with him. The ten names are read in one breath to show they all shared their father’s wicked policy.

    HAMANTASCHEN (“Haman’s Pockets”) – three-cornered pastries filled with poppy-seed, jam or chocolate. Also called Oznei Haman – “Haman’s Ears”. Other delicacies are iced cakes decorated with the words “Esther”, “Mordechai”, etc.

    HARBONAH – a royal courtier indirectly involved in saving the Jews from destruction.

    INDIA – extremity of the Persian empire, which stretched from India to Ethiopia.

    MEGILLAH (“Scroll”) – biblical Book of Esther; read evening and morning during Purim services. When the name of Haman is mentioned, a noise is made to show disapproval. The name of the author is not recorded in the book itself; some attribute it to Mordechai. The book shows a detailed knowledge of the usages of the Persian royal court. Some wished to exclude it from the Hebrew Scriptures because it omits the name of God. (See also here, here, here, here, and here.)

    MISHLO’ACH MANOT (“sending of portions”) – Purim joy is shared by sending food gifts to others and charity to the poor.

    MORDECHAI – learned Jew; a linguist from the tribe of Benjamin. He angered Haman by refusing to bow down to him. Became Prime Minister after Haman’s downfall. Cousin of Esther. When he rose to high office some criticised him for involving himself in politics.

    PERSIA – Jews had a long association with Persia and generally enjoyed religious and political tolerance until the 17th century. Comparatively few Jews now remain in modern Iran.

    PURIM (“Lots”) – celebration of the victory over Haman and his forces. In a mood of jollity and relaxation, masquerades and dressing-up are common. Jewish tradition believes that Purim will never be abolished, probably because it represents the eternal triumph of faith and loyalty. Many Jewish communities had local Purims which commemorated their deliverance from danger.

    PURIMSPIEL – light-hearted Purim play, sometimes in rhyme, often caricaturing the main characters in the story. Known from at least the 7th century; frequently in Yiddish but also known in French, Spanish, Portuguese, etc. A well-known version is called Haman, der grosse Judenfresser – “Haman, the great Jew-eater”.

    PURIM TORAH – lighthearted parodies in the style of serious Torah discourses.

    SE’UDAT PURIM – Purim banquet. Beginning on Purim afternoon, it continues into the evening.

    SHUSHAN PURIM – the day after Purim. The Jews of the capital, Shushan, needed an extra day to defeat Haman’s forces. Purim is celebrated on this date in Jerusalem as in other cities that had walls in the time of Joshua.

    TA’ANIT ESTHER (“Fast of Esther”) – the day before Purim; it reflects the fast when the Jews waged war against their enemies.

    TERESH – Persian chamberlain who conspired with Bigtan to assassinate the king.

    VASHTI – the king’s first wife, banished when she would not cavort before her husband and the nobles at a drunken orgy. After a nationwide search, replaced by Esther.

    ZERESH – wife and adviser of Haman.

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