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Welcome Purim

This Spring, Jews worldwide will begin observing one of Judaism’s most joyous and celebratory annual holidays (or “holy days”): Purim, or the Feast of Lots.

Tefillin clad hand reading from a Siddur

This Spring, Jews worldwide will begin observing one of Judaism’s most joyous and celebratory annual holidays (or “holy days”): Purim, or the Feast of Lots.

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.

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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.

In 2012, for instance, Purim (14 Adar on the Hebrew calendar) began at sunset on March 7 and ended at nightfall on March 8, 2012. In 2014, by contrast, Purim begin at sunset on March 15 and ended at nightfall on March 16, 2014.

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Purim typically starts one date later in Jersalem, but why? 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.

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However, Esther didn’t reveal to her royal husband that she was actually not Persian herself, but in fact belonged to Persia’s Jewish minority.

Before long, a scheming court advisor began plotting to exterminate all of the Jews then living within the bounds of the entire Persian Empire, and even successfully obtained the king’s permission to do so. In order to determine the date selected for the planned genocidal massacre (which turned out to be 13 Adar on the Hebrew calendar), this wily advisor drew lots (purim in Hebrew); hence the subsequent holiday’s name of Purim, or the Feast of “Lots.”

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Reed Hall
Related Topics: Faith
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