There is a fundamental misunderstanding about the holiday of Purim. It is generally believed that the date for Purim is based on the celebration of the Jews of their rescue from the nefarious plans of Haman. That is not quite correct. The plans of Haman to destroy the Jews of the realm of Xerxes were actually undone by Mordecai, Esther and the King nearly a year earlier, in the month of Sivan (late May), long before the date of Purim, which is the 14th (and 15th) of Adar. The timing of the holiday is also not exactly a reflection of the date on which Haman and his tanzim were plotting to annihilate the Jews, thus it is not simply a celebration of the plot being prevented. That plot was for the 13th day of Adar, but Purim is celebrated afterwards, on a different date.

So if the timing of Purim is not to denote the date when the threat to the Jews was removed and if it is not timed to be simply a celebration of that rescue, then what does explain the timing and the essence of Purim?

The answer is quite simple: Purim is the celebration of the killing of anti-Semites. This is quite explicit in the Scroll of Esther. The Jews had been safe from Haman for nearly 10 months, but then, on the 13th day of Adar, they killed over 75,000 anti-Semites. Moreover, they killed them in a well-planned manner, without taking any loot or booty, lest they be accused of acting out of lust for the spoils of the anti-Semites, rather than killing the anti-Semites for its own sake.

Indeed, the entire season around Purim emphasizes the important place in the holiday for the killing of anti-Semites. On the Sabbath before Purim, a special section of the Torah is read in which Jews are reminded of their obligations for all eternity to track down and exterminate the anti-Semites of Amalek. Moreover, the special role for celebrating the killing of anti-Semites in Purim goes further. There is a Rabbinic tradition, that goes back at least to Maimonides, that holds that when the Messiah comes, all Jewish religious holidays other than Purim will be cancelled. Purim will still be celebrated in the Messianic Era. There will be no need to celebrate rescue in a Messianic era where there are no threats to Jews, but there will be a need to recall the role of killing anti-Semites in human history, even when Succot and Passover have been melted into the general Messianic bliss.

Both Purim and the annual ceremony in which Jews are reminded that they must annihilate Amalek are designed to teach something about the nature of anti-Semitism. The fundamental lesson is that there are never any "underlying causes" for anti-Semitism and Jews must not seek them. Amalek represents base hatred of Jews, without any cause. The Amelekites did not attack the Jews in the desert because the Jews occupied their lands or exploited their resources or mistreated them or behaved in an insensitive manner towards them or created an unfair wealth distribution among them. They attacked the Jews for no reason. Anti-Semitism never has underlying causes. The anti-Semitism of the Haman plot is just as devoid of underlying causes, although the Scroll does mention Haman's resentment at being snubbed by Mordecai. Haman is himself an Amalekite, descended from the King of the Amalekites who was foolishly spared by King Saul in an act of misplaced compassion. The hero of that earlier story is Samuel, who slits the throat of Agag, King of the Amalekites, without hesitation and without mercy. For his misplaced PC compassion, Saul is stripped of his dynasty. The hatred of the Jews in the kingdom of Xerxes was without real "underlying cause", just as all anti-Semitism is Amalekite in nature.

The 14th (and 15th) day of Adar, the date for the celebration of Purim, is the day on which the Jews relaxed after killing the more than 75,000 anti-Semites of the Kingdom. It is the day on which they sat back, took in, contemplated and savored, much like the Almighty did Himself on the day after completing the six days of Creation.

To put this differently: The Jews did not offer to pay survivor pensions to the ten sons of Haman after Haman was hanged; the Jews did not whine about how killing those ten was unfair collective punishment of the innocent family of the guilty terrorist; the Jews did not allow Haman's wife to keep her house; the Jews did not bleat about the horror of collectively punishing the 75,000 anti-Semites; Amnesty International and the EU were not invited in; international observers were not allowed to oversee the treatment of the anti-Semites by the Jews; CNN and BBC reporters were not allowed in to report stories about "what the Jews claim was Haman's terrorism"; the Chief Justice of the Supreme Sanhedrin did not order that potential killers of Shushan Jewish children be put back on the streets; the Jewish media did not wring its hands over the sufferings of the Persians and Medes under Israelite occupation; Vashti was not invited to run for the parliament at the head of a lesbian party; Mordecai was not arrested for incitement; people did not spit at Mordecai and Esther as they walked down the street in religious garb and call them ?Dirty dosim; the press was not filled with reports about how Haman had been really trying his best to halt the violence; Jewish leaders did not explain how there was no military solution to the problem of Haman and his tanzim; the Jewish press did not insist that Haman was the only peace partner we have and so he must be cultivated, lest some really radical anti-Semite become the Minister for the King, nor did it insist that the Jews show understanding and sensitivity towards the Agagite ?Other?.


Dr. Steven Plaut teaches at the Graduate School of Business, University of Haifa, Israel.