The Fast of Esther (Ta'anit Esther) begins Thursday morning and ends after the reading of the Scroll of Esther towards the end of evening prayers Thursday night - when the Festival of Purim begins. 

The joyous month of Adar takes a "day off" to commemorate the fasting and prayers led by Queen Esther against the genocidal decree of the evil Haman. Jews around the world fast in remembrance of the prayers, fasting and repentance that preceded the Jewish People's miraculous deliverance from Haman's plan to annihilate them some 2,500 years ago.

A number of rallies and vigils this year will parallel the dangers that loomed in the time of Queen Esther to those facing the Jewish people today.

Three-Day Purim

Purim falls on Friday this year, except in Jerusalem, where the holiday will coincide with the Sabbath. However, because of the Sabbath, the mitzvot of giving gifts to the poor and sending food to at least two people cannot be carried out, and the residents of the capital will do so on Sunday, making it a three-day holiday. The Book of Esther is also not read aloud on the Sabbath, and Jerusalem will join the rest of the country in hearing it on Thursday night and Friday morning. In Yaffo (Jaffa), Acco, Tzfat, Hevron and elsewhere, both Shushan and regular Purim are celebrated due to uncertainty about their walled status during the relevant period.

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 atmosphere on Purim in particular, and throughout the month of Adar, is one of great joy and thanksgiving to G-d for the miraculous deliverance. Individual communities that enjoyed similar deliverances throughout history have marked the occasion locally with a holiday called "Little Purim."

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.

In addition to hearing the reading of the Megillah, Jews are also obligated to send gifts of ready-to-eat food to at least one friend and to give charity to at least two poor people. 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, concerned about alcohol abuse, have highlighted minority rabbinical opinions that joy should be attained without alcohol, or that the inability to distinguish be attained by going to sleep.

Parades Friday and Sunday

Traditional Israeli Purim parades will be featured throughout the country on Friday, except in Jerusalem where the parade will take place on Sunday. Unusually warm weather is predicted. The Ad-lo-yada parade in Holon will feature characters dressed up as former prime ministers, and other parades will take place in Tel Aviv and Haifa. 

The Ein Yael outdoor nature museum, opposite the Jerusalem Zoo, is holding an event on Friday and Sunday that features a reconstructed ancient Roman street along with presentations and workshops on making ancient spices, oils and perfumes.

Chief Rabbis Ban Firecrackers

Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger announced Monday that Jews should not use firecrackers during the upcoming Purim holiday.  Firecrackers are dangerous and therefore are forbidden by the Torah, they said.

The rabbis quoted the Shulchan Arukh, the primary code of Jewish law, saying, “Any stumbling block that can endanger human life, it is a positive commandment to remove it and stay away from it.”  Firecrackers have caused many serious injuries in recent years, and so clearly fit the definition of a “dangerous stumbling block,” they said.  The two called on parents and teachers to ensure that children in their care do not play with firecrackers on Purim or at any other time of year.

Thousands Send Mishloach Manot to Sderot

Thousands of people have purchased approximately 20,000 mishloach manot food packages for residents of Sderot and Jewish families expelled from Gaza in honor of Purim.  The initiative was organized by the SOS-Israel organization. 

Thousands of the food packages were purchased in Sderot in an effort to boost the local economy.  In addition, thousands of school children have prepared mishloach manot of their own.

SOS-Israel head Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpe explained that the group hopes to provide a Purim package to every resident of Sderot and every Jew who was expelled from Gaza.  “The people of Israel will prove that it has not abandoned its courageous brothers,” Rabbi Wolpe said.  “Serving as guarantors for each other will bring the people of Israel’s final victory in preparation for the redemption,” he added.

For more about the mishloach manot project, see the SOS-Israel website .


More in Purim:

Photo Essay: Shushan Purim in Jerusalem

Photo Essay: Purim in Hevron

Rabbi Tovia Singer interviews Rabbi David Fohrman about Purim

Hillel Fendel contributed to this report.