Hebrew for Purim 101: The Jewish Party Holiday!

Purim is the amazing, fun Jewish holiday you might have never heard of. Outside the Jewish community, other Jewish holidays like Chanukah, Passover and even Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah tend to get all the attention, and they're all great holidays.

But Purim is an amazing holiday for adults and kids alike.

What's Purim Like?

It's so unique you have to compare it to THREE other holidays combined:

  1. Halloween, because everyone dresses up; but with a silly and fun vibe rather than scary.
  2. New Year's Eve, because it's the one holiday where getting tipsy isn't just allowed, it's expected!
  3. April Fool's, because it's a tradition to make jokes and play pranks!

How do you pronounce Purim?

פּוּרִים (audio)

What's Purim?

Purim is a Jewish party holiday to celebrate the heroine Queen Esther saving Jews in Persia from a plot by the murderous evil-doer Haman.

There's an old joke that almost every Jewish holiday is basically "they tried to kill us, we stopped them, let's eat." Purim is definitely one of those holidays!

The story behind Purim is long enough that literally it gives its name to an expression "the whole megillah" meaning "the whole story" (or often, "the whole shebang.")

After the Babylonian exile, many Jews liked Persia and the Persian people so much that they decided to stay, instead of returning to the land of Israel. Generally life was good at the height of the Persian empire.

But according to Megillat Esther, the Book of Esther, at one point there was a Persian king known as Achashverosh who had a silly argument with his wife and banished her, looking for another wife. He chose Esther, who was a pretty young woman without parents who live with her cousin Mordechai. Mordechai was a respected government official who saved the king by unconvering an assassination plot.

Mordechai soon came into conflict with an aggressively ambitious high official, Haman, who decided to insist that everyone bow down low to him. As a Jew, Mordechai found that unacceptable, so he refused. Haman was so angry that he decided not just to plot to kill Mordechai in revenge, but actually to murder all of the Jews in Persia. He tricked the king, who was foolish and trusted Haman, into signing an order without realizing he was signing his own wife's death warrant.

In those days, a Persian Queen had far less power than the King. Queen Esther couldn't stop the mass murder plot herself, and even for her, just approaching the king's court without being invited would risk the death penalty. But Queen Esther knew she had to risk it.

Esther asked the other Jews of Persia to fast with her for three whole days before going to meet the king, because it wasn't just her life on the line, but the lives of all Persian Jews. Luckily, the king stopped her from being killed immediately when she showed up. Esther managed to convince the king to find a way to counteract the death proclamation he'd signed.

In the end, Haman was the one put to death.

Why is it called Purim? What does it mean?

When Haman decided to murder the Jews of Persia, he did what's called casting lots to choose the day, which is an old expression meaning it was a random selection, like throwing dice. That's where the holiday gets its name: Purim means "lots" or chance.

How do Jews celebrate Purim?

Purim is the craziest holiday. There are traditions of giving gifts to friends and charity to the poor, of telling jokes and playing pranks, of dressing up in silly costumes, and even a tradition of getting drunk enough that you can't distinguish between Haman and Mordechai. On Purim the whole megillah is read, and everyone makes noise to drown out Haman's name whenever it's mentioned.

Purim Greetings

The usual greeting on Purim is just "happy Purim" or in Hebrew it is:

purim sameach: פּוּרִים שָׂמֵחַ (audio)

More Purim Words

Let's look at some more Purim words you can practice reading...

Esther — The heroine of the story! אֶסְתֵר (audio) "ess-TER"

Megillah — The scroll that holds the story! מְגִילָה (audio) "meg-ee-LAH"

Ra'ashan — A noisemaker, known in Yiddish as a "gragger": רַעֲשָׁן (audio) "rah-ah-SHAN"

Want to learn about more Jewish holidays? Check these out: