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The very festive holiday of Purim will begin on Saturday night – not, as in most years, directly after the Fast of Esther, which is commemorated today (Thursday). The fast was advanced because the Sabbath is not allowed to be a day of fasting, and neither may the fast be shifted to Friday (as opposed to the Fast of Tevet, which sometimes falls a-priori on Friday). The first available day for the pre-Purim fast, therefore, was Thursday.

The Purim holiday will last until Sunday evening; in Jerusalem, it begins Sunday evening and ends at sundown on Monday. In some areas it is celebrated on both days. The criteria for the date is whether the city was walled in the times of Joshua Bin-Nun’s conquest of the Land of Israel – a standard set by the Sages in order to aggrandize the stature of the Land of Israel.

Saturday night Sabbath-ending prayers will be followed immediately by the public and joyous reading of the Scroll of Esther, after which the Havdalah blessings are recited at home and the festivities begin. The holiday commemorates the events described in the Book of Esther, to wit: After the anti-Semitic Haman, Grand Vizier of the Persian Empire, plots to destroy the Jews of the empire's 127 countries, and after the Jews then embark upon a path of repentance and spiritual self-reckoning, a series of Divinely-contrived events foils the murderous scheme and allows them to rise up and defeat their enemies.

In addition to the reading of the above Scroll, the day’s special commandments also include the giving of charity to at least two needy people, a festive meal, sharing food portions (Mishloach Manot) with at least one person, and in general being happy and thankful to G-d for His deliverance.

The joy of Purim is often supplemented, augmented, and helped along by the imbibing of varying quantities of wine and other intoxicating beverages. The Sages ruled that once one can no longer distinguish (adloyada) between “Blessed is Mordechai” and “Accursed is Haman” - the two who led the forces of good and evil, respectively, in the Purim story - no further wine need be downed. Some take upon themselves the stringency of refraining from wine altogether, and fulfill the commands to be joyous and undiscriminating via sleeping or otherwise.

Costumes are often worn on Purim, especially by children, symbolizing the hidden, Divinely-"au contraire" aspects of Jewish history, in that events that appear to be leading in a negative direction can often end up in precisely the opposite place.

Celebrating the miraculous salvation and the Jews’ return to a nationally-united, Torah way of life, Purim has traditionally symbolized the defeat of anti-Semitic tyranny and Jewish assimilation. The happy, carnival-like holiday is not a public holiday in Israel, but many offices, shops, and public institutions operate on a reduced basis. Many cities features adlyoda parades, clowns, costumes, and - in religious neighborhoods - sound trucks, people dancing from house to house and crowds of masquerading children rushing to deliver mishloach manot .
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