At sunset on March 15 of this year, Jews worldwide will begin observing one of Judaism’s most joyous and celebratory annual holidays (or “holy days”): Purim, or the Feast of Lots.
At sunset on March 15th of this year, Jews worldwide will begin observing one of Judaism’s most joyous and celebratory annual holidays (or “holy days”): Purim, or the Feast of Lots.
Why at sunset? Because Judaism traditionally reckons a “day” as beginning not at 12:00 midnight, nor even at dawn, but instead at sunset. Purim will therefore technically begin at sunset on February 23. It will then last throughout the following day, before concluding at nightfall that evening (the evening of February 24).
Purim always falls upon the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month of Adar (except in the city of Jerusalem, where it uniquely falls upon the fifteenth day of that month). However, that fixed date of 14 Adar on the Jewish religious calendar does not always coincide with February 23/24 on the secular Western (Gregorian) calendar.
The traditional Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, which means that it counts and calculates its lunar months somewhat differently from how the widely-used Gregorian calendar (which is a solar calendar) reckons its own months. This means that there is a certain amount of built-in “drift,” from year to year, between the two calendars.
Last year, for instance, Purim (14 Adar on the Hebrew calendar) began at sunset on March 7 and ended at nightfall on March 8, 2012. Next year, by contrast, Purim will begin at sunset on March 15 and end at nightfall on March 16, 2014.
This year, however, Purim begins at sunset on February 23 – except, as I mentioned previously, in Jerusalem, where it will instead begin at sunset on February 24 (15 Adar). Why the one-day difference in dates, and why only in Jerusalem? Well, that requires getting into the nature and background of this particular Jewish holiday. Purim celebrates events set in ancient Persia, as described in the biblical book of Esther. At the time, many Jews were living within the mighty Persian Empire, and one day the king of Persia decided he needed a new queen. Esther, a beautiful young Jewish woman, caught the king’s eye, and thus became the new Queen of Persia.