Grog and Groggers: The Origin of Purim Customs

Mishloach Manot

(כב) כַּיָּמִ֗ים אֲשֶׁר־נָ֨חוּ בָהֶ֤ם הַיְּהוּדִים֙ מֵאֹ֣יְבֵיהֶ֔ם וְהַחֹ֗דֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר֩ נֶהְפַּ֨ךְ לָהֶ֤ם מִיָּגוֹן֙ לְשִׂמְחָ֔ה וּמֵאֵ֖בֶל לְי֣וֹם ט֑וֹב לַעֲשׂ֣וֹת אוֹתָ֗ם יְמֵי֙ מִשְׁתֶּ֣ה וְשִׂמְחָ֔ה וּמִשְׁלֹ֤חַ מָנוֹת֙ אִ֣ישׁ לְרֵעֵ֔הוּ וּמַתָּנ֖וֹת לָֽאֶבְיֹנִֽים׃

(22) the same days on which the Jews enjoyed relief from their foes and the same month which had been transformed for them from one of grief and mourning to one of festive joy. They were to observe them as days of feasting and merrymaking, and as an occasion for sending portions to one another and presents to the poor.

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Esther. After the Jews are delivered from their enemies, this is how Esther and Mordechai want the Jews to celebrate henceforth.

- This is the origin of the concept of “Mishloach Manot”, sending portions (of food) to friends (in Yiddish this is known as “shlach-manos”).

- This is treated in the Talmud (Megillah 7a:20), Mishneh Torah (Scroll of Esther and Hanukkah 2:15), and Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 695:4). They recognize that the word “portions” is plural, and so they rule that there should be two types of food sent to one person, at least. It doesn’t need to be 2 different blessings, as is commonly thought, though.

- There are two explanations of the primary benefit of this mitzvah (commandment):

- Providing food for the feasting

- Enhancing inter-personal connections and unity (since Haman claimed that the Jews were scattered and dispersed - Esther 3:8)

- Today, common things to put in Mishloach Manot are hamantaschen (made or bought), and nut-free candy or clementines or boxes of raisins or tea bags, all of which are easily bought in bulk at local grocery stores.

- In communities where handing out Mishloach Manot is the norm, people will come to the Megillah reading with 2 large bags — one for outgoing Mishloach Manot and one for incoming Mishloach Manot.

- The classical sources are clear that while the minimum is to give Mishloach Manot to 1 person it is better to give to lots of people. HOWEVER, the sources are also clear that if you have extra funds then you should not give fancier Mishloach Manot but rather give more for Matanot LeEvyonim.

Matanot LeEvyonim

(כב) כַּיָּמִ֗ים אֲשֶׁר־נָ֨חוּ בָהֶ֤ם הַיְּהוּדִים֙ מֵאֹ֣יְבֵיהֶ֔ם וְהַחֹ֗דֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר֩ נֶהְפַּ֨ךְ לָהֶ֤ם מִיָּגוֹן֙ לְשִׂמְחָ֔ה וּמֵאֵ֖בֶל לְי֣וֹם ט֑וֹב לַעֲשׂ֣וֹת אוֹתָ֗ם יְמֵי֙ מִשְׁתֶּ֣ה וְשִׂמְחָ֔ה וּמִשְׁלֹ֤חַ מָנוֹת֙ אִ֣ישׁ לְרֵעֵ֔הוּ וּמַתָּנ֖וֹת לָֽאֶבְיֹנִֽים׃

(22) the same days on which the Jews enjoyed relief from their foes and the same month which had been transformed for them from one of grief and mourning to one of festive joy. They were to observe them as days of feasting and merrymaking, and as an occasion for sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor.

Context: This is the same verse as before, but this time focused on giving presents to the poor.

- Matanot LeEvyonim literally means “gifts to the poor”.

- Because both words are plural, it requires giving to at least two people.

- This can be done through giving food or money to 2 individuals who ask for help, or giving enough money (or canned food) to an organization so that at least 2 people can have food.

- Because this is meant to ensure that everybody can have a festive meal on Purim, these organizations should be food-insecurity related, such as Mazon (focused on hunger across the US), Leket Israel (focused on hunger in Israel), or The ARK (focused on hunger amongst Jews in Chicago, among other needs).

- While this commandment is the most overlooked, it is arguably the most important. Maimonides writes that any holiday celebration which does not also look after the needs of the poor is not a celebration of the holiday but rather a celebration of the stomach (Mishneh Torah, Rest on a Holiday, 6:18).

- On Purim we are not to question the true need of people asking for money, nor question what they are going to do with the money.

Hearing the Megillah

(כח) וְהַיָּמִ֣ים הָ֠אֵ֠לֶּה נִזְכָּרִ֨ים וְנַעֲשִׂ֜ים בְּכׇל־דּ֣וֹר וָד֗וֹר מִשְׁפָּחָה֙ וּמִשְׁפָּחָ֔ה מְדִינָ֥ה וּמְדִינָ֖ה וְעִ֣יר וָעִ֑יר וִימֵ֞י הַפּוּרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה לֹ֤א יַֽעַבְרוּ֙ מִתּ֣וֹךְ הַיְּהוּדִ֔ים וְזִכְרָ֖ם לֹא־יָס֥וּף מִזַּרְעָֽם׃ {ס}

(28) Consequently, these days are recalled and observed in every generation: by every family, every province, and every city. And these days of Purim shall never cease among the Jews, and the memory of them shall never perish among their descendants.

Context: This is from the same chapter of Esther, a little further later.

- Megillat Esther is the Biblical Book / Scroll of Esther. It is thought to have been written in the 4th century BCE.

- Reading Megillat Esther on Purim dates back to the Mishnah (Mishnah Megillah 1:1-4, 2:1-5, 4:1, Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 3:7)

- Megillat Esther is usually referred to as “The Megillah” even though Song of Songs / Shir HaShirim, Ruth / Rut, Lamentations / Eicha, and Ecclesiastes / Kohelet are also Megillot / Scrolls. Esther is the only scroll still chanted from an actual scroll these days.

- Megillat Esther is read in the evening at the start of Purim, after the Amidah, and again in the morning after the Torah reading. Some people also do additional readings throughout the day to make sure that everybody has a chance to hear the story.

- Megillat Esther is handwritten in the same fashion as a Torah, though it is only rolled up from one direction.

- People used to have their own family’s handwritten copy of the Megillah. It doesn’t take as long to write (the book is only 10 chapters), so it’s not as expensive as a Torah. These scrolls would be housed in elaborate wooden or silver cases.

- Since the invention of the printing press in the 1400s, the custom of family handwritten scrolls has been on the decline

- In the 2010s and beyond people have been accessing the Megillah using Sefaria on their phones, since electronics are OK on Purim. Therefore, if somebody is staring at their phone during the Megillah reading they might be not paying attention, but the Jewish thing to do is give people the benefit of the doubt that they are actually following the reading (Pirkei Avot 1:6).

- People make noise when Haman’s name is read in order to blot out his name. Often a grogger is used.

- There is a custom to read the name of Haman’s 10 sons in 1 breath (chapter 9).

- Megillat Esther is chanted using a special unique trope (though a few verses about the destruction of the Jews are chanted in Eicha trope: 1:7a, 2:6, 3:15b, 4:1, 4:3, 4:16b, 7:3b, 7:4a, 8:6)

- There are a few “verses of redemption” where the congregation chants first and then the reader repeats: 2:5, 8:15, 8:16, 10:3.

- The first reader starts the reading with 3 blessings and the last reader concludes with 1, both in the evening and in the morning.

Having a Purim Seudah

(כב) כַּיָּמִ֗ים אֲשֶׁר־נָ֨חוּ בָהֶ֤ם הַיְּהוּדִים֙ מֵאֹ֣יְבֵיהֶ֔ם וְהַחֹ֗דֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר֩ נֶהְפַּ֨ךְ לָהֶ֤ם מִיָּגוֹן֙ לְשִׂמְחָ֔ה וּמֵאֵ֖בֶל לְי֣וֹם ט֑וֹב לַעֲשׂ֣וֹת אוֹתָ֗ם יְמֵי֙ מִשְׁתֶּ֣ה וְשִׂמְחָ֔ה וּמִשְׁלֹ֤חַ מָנוֹת֙ אִ֣ישׁ לְרֵעֵ֔הוּ וּמַתָּנ֖וֹת לָֽאֶבְיֹנִֽים׃

(22) the same days on which the Jews enjoyed relief from their foes and the same month which had been transformed for them from one of grief and mourning to one of festive joy. They were to observe them as days of feasting and merrymaking, and as an occasion for sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor.

Context: Back to our original verse, now focused on feasting.

- The Purim feast, known as a seudah, happens during the day because Mordechai / Megillat Esther said that the Jews should observe Purim as “days” of feasting and merrymaking.

- People often have Persian food, because the story happens in Persia, or sometimes Indian and/or Ethiopian food, because the Persian Empire was said to stretch from India to Ethiopia (or at least Kush / Nubia, which is next to Ethiopia) (Esther 1:1).

- It is better to eat your Purim meals with others, because being with others increases joy (Mishnah Berurah 695:9). Zoom is excellent for increasing the number of people one can eat with.

- The “Al HaNissim” paragraph is added to Birkat HaMazon after eating on Purim (it’s also added to the Amidah).

Drinking on Purim

אָמַר רָבָא: מִיחַיַּיב אִינִישׁ לְבַסּוֹמֵי בְּפוּרַיָּא עַד דְּלָא יָדַע בֵּין אָרוּר הָמָן לְבָרוּךְ מָרְדֳּכַי.

רַבָּה וְרַבִּי זֵירָא עֲבַדוּ סְעוּדַת פּוּרִים בַּהֲדֵי הֲדָדֵי. אִיבַּסּוּם. קָם רַבָּה שַׁחְטֵיהּ לְרַבִּי זֵירָא. לְמָחָר, בָּעֵי רַחֲמֵי וְאַחֲיֵיהּ. לְשָׁנָה, אֲמַר לֵיהּ: נֵיתֵי מָר וְנַעֲבֵיד סְעוּדַת פּוּרִים בַּהֲדֵי הֲדָדֵי. אֲמַר לֵיהּ: לָא בְּכֹל שַׁעְתָּא וְשַׁעְתָּא מִתְרְחִישׁ נִיסָּא.

Rava said: A person is obligated to become intoxicated with wine on Purim until he is so intoxicated that he does not know how to distinguish between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordecai.

The Gemara relates that Rabba and Rabbi Zeira prepared a Purim feast with each other, and they became intoxicated to the point that Rabba arose and slaughtered Rabbi Zeira. The next day, when he became sober and realized what he had done, Rabba asked God for mercy, and revived him. The next year, Rabba said to Rabbi Zeira: Let the Master come and let us prepare the Purim feast with each other. He said to him: Miracles do not happen each and every hour, and I do not want to undergo that experience again.

Context: This is from the Babylonian Talmud, Masechet (Tractate) Megillah, which is about Purim (logically enough).

- The Megillah says that Purim should be a day of feasting.

- The Gemara assumes this includes drinking and has a line that one should drink until one can’t tell the difference between “blessed in Mordechai” and “cursed is Haman”.

- Immediately afterwards is a story about how getting drunk on Purim can lead to murder. One can surmise that this is an implicit warning to not overdo things.

- Rabbeinu Efraim (North Africa, 1000s) says that the story cancels out the previous statement

- Rambam (Egypt, 1100s) says that one should drink until you fall asleep, because when you’re asleep you can’t distinguish between Mordechai and Haman (Mishneh Torah, Scroll of Esther and Chanukah 2:15)

- The Meiri (Provence / France, 1200s) says that if you drink too much then you cannot have a properly thankful attitude for the miracles G-d wrought for the Jews of Shushan.

- Rabbi Alexander Zusslin HaKohen (Germany, 1300s) points out that the Gematria (alphanumeric value) of "blessed is Mordechai" and "cursed is Haman" both comes out to 502, but it doesn't take very much alcohol to not be able to figure that out.

- Rabbi Aaron of Lunel (Provence / France, 1300s) says that one should drink so one is generous-minded and helps the poor to enjoy Purim too.

- Rabbi Yosef Haviva (Spain, 1400s) says that one should say funny things on Purim so people think you have trouble distinguishing between things.

- Rabbi Netanel Weil (Germany, 1700s) says that you should drink until, but only up to and not including, you can't distinguish right from wrong.

- The Mishnah Berurah (Poland, 1800s) says that if you drink too much then you won't be able to have the proper intention for washing your hands before the Purim Seudah.

- Finally the Talmud (Babylonia, 500s) says that you shouldn't drink alcohol at all when it's a matter of health, like if you are driving home, pregnant, taking medicine, or an alcoholic. (Note that if you are drinking more than 1 drink per hour, your liver can not process it fast enough and you are endangering your health or the health of others if you drive.)

- For an in-depth examination of this topic, see https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/293689?lang=bi

Wearing Costumes

(י) לֹא־הִגִּ֣ידָה אֶסְתֵּ֔ר אֶת־עַמָּ֖הּ וְאֶת־מֽוֹלַדְתָּ֑הּ כִּ֧י מׇרְדֳּכַ֛י צִוָּ֥ה עָלֶ֖יהָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־תַגִּֽיד׃ {ס}
(10) Esther did not reveal her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had told her not to reveal it.

Context: This is from the Book of Esther, after Esther is taken to the palace.

- The first mention of wearing costumes on Purim is from the Italian rabbi Yehudah Mintz / Mahari Minz (late 1400s-1508) (Responsa #17), where he says that it’s fine to dress up in costume on Purim.

- Moritz Steinschneider (1816-1907) notes that this is the same setting as Carnival season and Mardi Gras, which comes around February (prior to Lent, which is around Passover), and involves public celebration with costumes.

- It is possible that the Jews of Italy noticed that dressing in costumes is similar to the fact that Esther hides her identity from the king (and the name “Esther” is linguistically connected to the word “hidden”).

- Moreover, Mordechai is dressed in the royal garments when Haman parades him through the streets.

- Additionally, G-d is not mentioned in the Megillah, and so it is thought that G-d might be in disguise as well.

- Another theory is based on Rashi’s comment about the Canaanites attacking the Israelites from the area inhabited by Amalek (Numbers 21:1). Rashi thought that the Amalekites disguised themselves as Canaanites so that the Israelites would pray for deliverance from the Canaanites and not get Divine help since the Canaanites weren’t actually attacking them. This episode got written into a piyut (liturgical poem) for “Shabbat Zachor” right before Purim. The theory goes that some French and/or German Jews thought that the Jews were disguising themselves, so they put on costumes on Purim. The main advantage of this theory is that it removes non-Jewish influence from this custom.

- From Italy in the 1400s the custom of costumes spread across Europe. It arrived in the Middle East in the 1800s.
- An advantage of dressing in costume on Purim is that when giving Matanot LeEvyonim the giver and receiver are less likely to recognize each other, thus preserving the dignity of the recipient.

- In the 1800s in America, masquerade Purim balls were the big social events and Purim was the big holiday. This lasted until the rise of Chanukah in the 1920s.

Groggers

(יז) זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ עֲמָלֵ֑ק בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃ (יח) אֲשֶׁ֨ר קָֽרְךָ֜ בַּדֶּ֗רֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּ֤ב בְּךָ֙ כׇּל־הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִ֣ים אַֽחֲרֶ֔יךָ וְאַתָּ֖ה עָיֵ֣ף וְיָגֵ֑עַ וְלֹ֥א יָרֵ֖א אֱלֹהִֽים׃ (יט) וְהָיָ֡ה בְּהָנִ֣יחַ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֣יךָ ׀ לְ֠ךָ֠ מִכׇּל־אֹ֨יְבֶ֜יךָ מִסָּבִ֗יב בָּאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יְהֹוָה־אֱ֠לֹהֶ֠יךָ נֹתֵ֨ן לְךָ֤ נַחֲלָה֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ תִּמְחֶה֙ אֶת־זֵ֣כֶר עֲמָלֵ֔ק מִתַּ֖חַת הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח׃ {פ}

(17) Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt— (18) how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. (19) Therefore, when your God יהוה grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that your God יהוה is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Deuteronomy, amongst a set of rules for when the Israelites make it into the Land of Israel.

- Groggers are used to blot out Haman’s name for each of the 54 times it appears in the Megillah (“grogger” is Yiddish; in Hebrew it’s called a “ra’ashan”)

- The reason for this is that the Torah commands us to blot out Amalek (Deut. 25:19). Agag was the king of Amalek (1 Samuel 15:8). Haman is described as an Agagite (Esther 3:1). Using a syllogism (if A=B and B=C then A=C), Haman is from Amalek.

- The custom dates to the 1200s in Europe, from the French Tosafists. They interpreted blotting out Amalek to mean “even from wood and stones”.

- According to Rabbi Abraham ben Nathan, in the 1200s children in France and Provence used to write Haman’s name on smooth stones from streams and then bang them together when Haman’s name was read from the Megillah to blot out his name.

- Another custom was to write Haman’s name in chalk on the bottom of shoes, and then to stomp when his name was read, thus both blotting out the writing as well as the sound of his name.

- From there, the custom of making noise to blot out Haman's name spread throughout Europe. Rabbi David Abudraham referenced that in the 1300s Jews would break clay pots and bang on tables with their hands or sticks during the Megillah reading.

- In the 1500s, Rabbi Moses Isserles talks about kids banging pieces of wood or stone against each other to blot out Haman's name on Purim, both when it was and wasn't the Megillah reading (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 690:17).

- In the 1600s, kids in modern-day Germany started using firecrackers in synagogue when gunpowder became available. This spread to Poland, Lithuania, Romania, and Russia, and elsewhere. This practice was still observed in Tel-Aviv in the 1930s.

- The modern "grogger" started in Ancient Greece and was adopted by the Romans for their ceremonies.

- Medieval Christians thought that groggers could exorcise demons, and they were used during weddings and storms. Since the 800s, in the 3 days prior to Easter (the Triduum) church bells weren't used to announce the times for prayer (to respect the mournful period), so groggers were used to summon worshipers (today it's called a "crotalus", meaning "rattle", the same meaning as "grogger").

- In 1638, Boston organized its first police force, the "Rattle Watch", which stood guard at night. Groggers were issued to sound alarms because they were small and made lots of noise. New York City followed in 1658. Groggers were used until (pea) whistles were invented in 1883. Groggers then went on to be used by the US Military in WWI and WWII to warn of poison gas attacks once one was already wearing a gas mask (see a picture here: https://forward.com/culture/335491/the-strange-and-violent-history-of-the-ordinary-grogger/).

- Groggers also made their way into classical music. For instance, there's one in the beginning of "Pines of Rome" by Respighi (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvgyfqzLC0A - 0:30-0:40) and also in "Pictures at an Exhibition" by Mussorgsky (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T_aY52jMMY&t=145s). Even Haydn (or Mozart) got into it with "Toy Symphony" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1miohLVZobE). Groggers were also used for violent musical purposes, such as the sound of cannon fire in Beethoven's "Wellington's Victory" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kYHsHFRFxQ 3:25-6:00). It is called a “ratchet” when it’s an instrument.

- On the evening of Easter, there were annual "Burning of Judas" ceremonies where an effigy of Judas Iscariot would be hung and then burned. From Medieval Germany to 19th century Malta, there would next be a ceremony of "The Grinding of Judas' Bones" where Christian children would whirl groggers. The whole process was often very anti-Semitic.

- This was the inspiration for Jews borrowing groggers for Haman (and flipping the anti-Semitic ceremonies on their head in the process). They had already been burning Haman in effigy since the 400s, something the Roman Empire tried to clamp down on, and this was another way of committing violence against Haman while also drowning out his name.

- The first known evidence of groggers being used on Purim is from the 1700s, both in Europe (Holland and Italy) and in New York.

- The word "grogger" is Yiddish, but it has translations in other languages. In Hebrew it is a "ra'ashan" (from "ra'ash", meaning "noise"), in Polish it is a "terkotka", in French it's a "crecelle", and in Hungarian it's a "kereplo".

- Spanish and Portuguese Jews consider groggers a breach of decorum and don't use them in their synagogues.

Hamantaschen

(ט) אִם־עַל־הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ ט֔וֹב יִכָּתֵ֖ב לְאַבְּדָ֑ם וַעֲשֶׂ֨רֶת אֲלָפִ֜ים כִּכַּר־כֶּ֗סֶף אֶשְׁקוֹל֙ עַל־יְדֵי֙ עֹשֵׂ֣י הַמְּלָאכָ֔ה לְהָבִ֖יא אֶל־גִּנְזֵ֥י הַמֶּֽלֶךְ׃

(9) If it please Your Majesty, let an edict be drawn for their destruction, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the stewards for deposit in the royal treasury.

Context: This is from the Book of Esther again, where Haman is trying to get the king to agree to the death of the Jews.

- The first reference to hamantaschen comes in the 1500s. In the oldest surviving Hebrew play, Leone de’Sommi Portaleone (Jewish Italian, 1525-1590) wrote “A Comedy of Betrothal” in Mantua, Italy for a Purim carnival. It was a play making fun of rabbis trying to base new customs in the Torah. One of the characters says that the reason we eat “oznei Haman” (“Haman ears”) is because G-d commanded the Israelites to eat the manna, and in Hebrew “the manna” sound the same as “Haman” (both are “hah-mahn”).

- The reason for this new tradition is that in Medieval Europe it was customary to cut off the ears of somebody about to be hung, and so this was read back into the story of the punishment of Haman. Thus, eating these "Haman ears" became a way to remember the punishment of Haman. Note that "oznayim" was just a term for pastries in general.

- Pretty soon, the “oznei Haman” of Italy reached 1500s Central Europe, where Germany is today. In the winter, people snacked on the seeds of the poppy plant, known as “mohn” in Yiddish. On special occasions, these seeds would be turned into jam and enclosed in pastry. These were known as “poppy pockets”, or “mohn-taschen” in Yiddish. When the “oznei Haman” met the “mohn-taschen”, the “hamantaschen” was born (note that in Yiddish the singular of “hamantaschen” is “hamantasch”, but that has dropped in English).

- With the connection of Haman to the “haman-taschen”, a new explanation was needed. it was suggested that if Haman offered a bribe to the king to kill the Jews, then certainly he was not above filling his own pockets (“taschen”, in Yiddish) with bribes. The poppy seeds would then represent the individual coins.

- Hamantaschen may have been what the Shulchan Aruch had in mind in 1563, because it says that one should eat seeds on Purim in accordance with the vegetarian food that the Talmud says Esther ate in the palace. (Orach Chayim 695:2). Others say that Esther specifically ate only poppy seeds while preparing to go before the king.

- While hamantaschen are probably triangular because that’s a good way to enclose a filling, other post-de facto explanations connect it with the pyramid-shaped die unearthed from Ancient Persia, as well as the claim of the Midrash (well before hamantaschen were invented) that when Haman recognized the three Patriarchs his strength weakened (which plays into the fact that “tash” is Hebrew for “weaken”).

- It is possible that the triangle-shaped cookies filled with black dots of poppy seeds may have connections to fertility, particularly given that they were eaten prior to the onset of spring. If this direction intrigues you, here are 3 links to further investigate: 1. https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/299414.4?lang=bi 2. https://www.heyalma.com/yes-theres-a-reason-hamantaschen-look-like-vaginas/ 3. https://lilith.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/v23i01_Spring_1998-08.pdf

- Prune hamantaschen came into being in 1731 in Bavaria. That year, David Brandeis sold some plum jam to the daughter of a Christian bookbinder. The bookbinder died shortly thereafter of tuberculosis, and the daughter accused Brandeis of poisoning her father. Brandeis and his family were imprisoned; the court of appeals investigated and found that he was innocent. Brandeis and his family were released shortly before Purim, and the Jews of his town celebrated by making prune hamantaschen. These spread throughout Central Europe, and when the Jews moved east they brought this second flavor of hamantaschen with them.

- In the late 1700s in England and America, the tricornes, or “three-cornered hat” became fashionable, and political leaders like George Washington wore them. The hamantaschen also having three corners, it became assumed that Haman wore such a hat when he became the king’s advisor (though that is a historical impossibility). This interpretation spread to the Spanish-speaking world where hamantaschen are sometimes called “sombreros de Aman”.

- In the 1900s, Rabbi Ya’akov Kamenetsky suggested that the reason that we eat Haman’s ears/hat is because eating is a way of destroying something and we are destroying the embodiment of evil.

- Hamantaschen evolved from a pastry to more of a cookie when baking powder became widely available in the first half of the 20th century, replacing yeast in most hamantaschen recipes.

- Purim has other traditional foods that cover some of the same themes as hamantaschen. Just like hamantaschen are connected to eating Haman in some way, Sephardic Jews eat deep-fried strips of dough called “orejas de Haman” (Haman’s ears) and some Scandinavian and Western European Jews eat decorated gingerbread cookies that represent Haman.

- Just like hamantaschen have a hidden filling, representing that Esther hid her identity as a Jew (among other things being hidden in this story), Ashkenazic Jews sometimes eat kreplach (a meat or potato-filled dumpling), pierogi, stuffed cabbage, or knishes. Ravioli or wonton would probably also fit this category, even if they are less traditional. Italian Jews often eat spinach-filled pasta on Purim or “burriche”, which are meat or vegetables inside of puff pastry. Persian and Iraqi Jews often eat “sambusak”, which are savory turnovers containing ground lamb or cheese or chickpeas or chicken or spinach. Samosas would probably also fit into this category, and would go with the “ruling from India to Ethiopia” theme.

- According to the Talmud, Esther ate a strictly vegetarian diet in the palace, so nuts and seeds are part of Purim foods around the world. Jews in Iraq eat “Hadgi badah”, which are sugar cookies that have cardamon and almonds. Jews in Lebanon and Syria eat “mamoul”, which are semolina cookies containing nuts or dates.

- There are other Purim foods which don’t fit into any of those categories. Hungarian and Romanian Jews eat arany galuska, a dessert of fried dough balls and vanilla custard. Medieval Jews ate nilish on Purim, which was a type of waffle. Moroccan Jews bake "ojos de Haman"which is bread shaped like a head and then you pluck out the "eyes" (made out of eggs). Polish Jews bake koilitch, a raisin challah that's braided to look like a the rope Haman swung from and decorated with candies to show the colorful nature of the holiday. Sephardi Jews also eat folares, pastry dough wrapped around decorated hard-boiled eggs to create animals or Purim characters that are displayed and then eaten.

Purim Shpiel

​​​​​​​Context: This is an example of a Purim Shpiel, this being “The Book of Purim” instead of “The Book of Mormon”.

- “Shpiel” is a Yiddish word that means “play” (both the noun and the verb, as in “shpiel balalaika”)

- The first public reenactment of the Purim story goes back to around 400 CE, when the Theodosian Code of the Roman Empire prohibited Jews from hanging Haman in effigy (Emperor Theodosius II issued this law on May 29, 408 CE).

- In the 1400s, Ashkenazi Jews would entertain audiences by reciting silly monologues on Purim, either rhymed paraphrases of Megillat Esther or parodies of holy texts. This was probably a Jewish version of the Christian and secular performances happening around this time.

- In the 1500s, yeshiva students would wear costumes and masks and perform during the Purim meal in people’s homes. Presumably they would then be invited to have some food afterwards.

- In the 1600s, amateur and professional performers (including acrobats) would go on tour to people’s homes to perform during the Purim meal. The format of the shpiel became more defined, with a narrator to introduce, conduct, and conclude the shpiel. Prologues and epilogues were more defined as well — prologues would bless the audience, explain what was going to happen, and introduce the actors, while epilogues would give parting blessings and ask for money. Sometimes there would be cantorial contests built into the shpiel.

- A common line for roving Shpielers was “Today is Purim, tomorrow it’s gone, give us a coin, and throw us out!” It rhymes in Yiddish - Haint is Purim (today is Purim), morgen is oys (tomorrow it’s finished), gib mir a penny (give me a penny), und vorf mir arroys (and throw me out).

- Groups of excited children would follow the shpielers from house to house and watch through the windows.

- By the 1700s in Eastern Europe, the Purim Shpiel became song and dance routines that were primarily social satire and only loosely connected to the story of Purim.

- In the 1700s in Central Europe, some shpiel scripts were Biblically connected, though only “the Achashveirosh Shpiel” was related to the Book of Esther. Other Biblical shpiel scripts were based on Joseph, David and Goliath, the Binding of Isaac, Hannah and Penina, and the wisdom of Solomon. Nonetheless, these scripts also incorporated elements of current life.

- Shpiels were now much bigger affairs with musical accompaniment, long scripts, and large casts. Therefore, they moved from private homes to public places with admission prices. They were not considered appropriate to be performed inside synagogues.

- Shpiels in the 1700s derived much of their humor from eroticism, profanity, and obscenity. In 1728, Purim shpiels were banned in Hamburg, Germany, and anybody caught performing one would be fined. Also in the 1700s, an “Achashveirosh Shpiel” script was burned in Frankfurt, Germany, because of its lewdness.

- In the 1800s, European Jews who followed the ideas of the Haskalah (Enlightenment) would include the Hasidim as characters in their Purim shpiels.

- By 1876, Yiddish theatre took off as a separate thing after 400 years of Purim shpiels.

- Just as Hamlet has been set in all sorts of settings, like Nazi Germany, the Purim shpiel has given the opportunity to set the Megillah in many settings. For example, in 1965 Dov Seltzer turned Itzik Manger’s “Poems of the Megillah” into a Yiddish musical, setting the story in early 20th century Eastern Europe. This was the first Yiddish play performed in Israel.

- Today, Purim shpiels come in 3 flavors. The first is any dramatic performance of the Purim story. The second is a parody of something else that already exists (such as “The Book of Purim” instead of “The Book of Mormon”). The third lovingly makes fun of one’s community. Regardless of which type of Purim shpiel it is, scripts (and lyrics) are usually written so that kids think it’s funny, but adults think it’s hilarious.

- Arguably, Purim parody songs are a 21st century version of the Purim Shpiel. For example: https://youtu.be/MjmLkEcaUAA (The Maccabeats “An Encanto Purim”and https://youtu.be/aR7IV1dRlSM (“We don’t talk about Haman”, a parody of the movie “Encanto”). Another example is https://youtu.be/eC4yh5oYlpA (“The Fandom of the Amidah”, an parody of “The Phantom of the Opera”).

The Song “Chag Purim”

Note: The transliteration in this video is from the Ladino style, so the "j" represents the "ch" sound.

- The song “Chag Purim” was written by Russian-Israeli poet and children's author Levin Kipnis (1894-1990), who also composed “Sivivon, Sov Sov Sov”, "Ner Li", and "Ani Purim"

- The tune was originally used by the Cherynobl or Belz Chasadim for the 7th Hakafa on Simchat Torah.

- Here are the lyrics for the first verse: Chag Purim, Chag Purim, Chag gadol layehudim /
Masechot, ra'ashanim, shirim verikudim. / Hava narishah - rash, rash, rash, Hava narishah - rash, rash, rash, Hava narishah - rash, rash, rash, Bara'ashanim.

- There’s also a lesser-known second verse: Chag Purim, Chag Purim, zeh el zeh sholchim manot, / Machmadim, mamtakim, Tunifim migdanot. / Hava narishah - rash, rash, rash, Hava narishah - rash, rash, rash, Hava narishah - rash, rash, rash, Bara'ashanim.

- Other variations of the lyrics in the first verse go "Chag gadol layeladim", which means "a great holiday for the children", but really Purim is a great holiday for Jews of all ages, so many people use "chag gadol laYehudim".

- Another variation is to replace "shirim" with "zmirot", both of which mean "songs".

- Both of these variations came later.

With appreciation to: Nelly Altenburger, Yonah Bookstein, Wikipedia, Kosher.com, NJOP, BJ.org, MyJewishLearning, Cantor Neil Schwartz, Halachipedia, TheYeshivaWorld.com, ReformJudaism.org, the National Library of Israel, Shalom Hartman Institute, Hannah Rosenberg, Janine Jankovitz Pastor, Ariela Pelaia, LearnReligions.com, Times of Israel, Schechter Institute, Jewish Music Toronto,

Appendix: The International Version of the Purim Story

The story of Purim is an international tale.

King Ahashverosh was Finnish with his disobedient wife Vashti. "You Congo now!" he ordered her.

After she had Ghana way, the king’s messengers went Roman the land to find a new queen.

And India end, the beautiful Esther won the crown.

Meanwhile, Mordecai sat outside the palace, where the Chile Haman would Czech up on him daily.

"I Haiti you because you refuse to bow to me!" Haman scolded Mordecai. "USA very stubborn man. You Jews are such Bahamas! If you keep this up, Denmark my words! I will have all your people killed! Just Kuwait and see."

Mordecai went into mourning and tore his clothes–a custom known as Korea. He urged Esther to plead with the king.

The Jews fasted for three days and grew very Hungary.

Esther approached the king and asked, "Kenya Belize come to a banquet I’ve prepared for you and Haman?"

At the feast, she invited her guests to a second banquet to eat Samoa.

The king asked, "Esther, why Jamaica big meal like this? Just tell me what you want. Unto half my United Kingdom will I give you."

Esther replied, "Spain full for me to say this, but Haman is Russian to kill my people."

Haman’s loud Wales could be heard as he carried Honduran this scene.

"Oman!" Haman cried bitterly. "Iraq my brains in an effort to destroy the Jews. But that sneaky Mordecai–Egypt me!"

Haman and his 10 sons were hanged and went immediately to the Netherlands.

And to Sweden the deal, the Jews were allowed to Polish off the rest of their foes as well.

"You lost your enemies and Uganda friend," the king smiled.

And that is why the Purim story Israeli a miracle. God decided to China light on God’s chosen people.

So now, let’s celebrate! Forget all your Syria’s business and just be happy! Serb up some wine and Taiwan on!

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/purim-international/