Jews in Israel and throughout the world Saturday night began celebrating the thwarting of a genocidal decree in 356 BCE, which was followed by the two-day killing of tens of thousands of the Iranian anti-Semites who were poised to wipe out the Jews.

The Festival of Purim celebrates the hidden hand of G-d working through a seemingly fortuitous sequence of events that brought a Jewess named Hadassah to the Persian King’s palace under the assumed name Esther (meaning “hidden”) and allowed her to use her position to thwart the genocidal plans of the monarch’s Jew-hating advisor Haman.

The holiday, though sometimes erroneously treated as a children’s festival, was considered by Jewish sages and mystics to be the holiest day of the year, surpassing Yom Kippur and the high holidays in its stature. The Talmud says that even in Messianic times, after other holy days will no longer be marked, Purim will remain in effect.

The Megillah, or Scroll, of Esther is read Saturday evening, as well as the following day. Jews are also obligated to send gifts of ready-to-eat food to at least one friend and to give charity to a number of poor. A festive meal takes place during the joyous day, during which wine is imbibed, the Purim story recounted, songs are sung and the contemporary relevance of the holiday’s lessons are expounded upon.

Though wine plays a central role in the holiday, with the sages exhorting Jews to drink until they can no longer distinguish between the hero Mordechai and the villainous Haman, organizations such as the Orthodox Union have highlighted minority rabbinical opinions that joy should be attained without alcohol, or that the inablility to distinguish be attained by going to sleep.

In cities that were walled at the time of the Megillah’s events – notably Jerusalem - the Megillah is read on the 15th of Adar (Sunday night/Monday). In Yaffo (Jaffa), Acco, Tzfat and Hevron the Megillah is read on both days due to uncertainty about the walled status in those times.

This year, several outdoor Megillah readings are taking place throughout the country. In Tel Aviv, the Megillah was read on the corner of Rothschild and Sheinkin Street – a bastion of the city’s Bohemian set.

In Haifa, a similar reading took place as well and Chabad and Breslev Hassidim are making the rounds ensuring that IDF soldiers in far flung bases and positions can hear the Megillah.

The IDF has put a complete closure on Palestinian Authority administered parts of Judea, Samaria and Gaza ahead of the holiday. Police are on high alert, with 70 intelligence reports of impending terrorist attacks.

The following are a selection of Torah essays about the holiday:'s Purim articles

Wikipedia site on Shushan today and photos of the Iranian town of Susa

Megillat Esther in Hebrew and English

Jacob Richman's Purim Links

{Editor's note: We of course realize that Iran is the modern name of Persia, and that the anti-Semites killed in the time of Purim would not identify themselves as Iranian, nonetheless, levity is a purim tradition.}