Colorful and vibrant Purim customs from across the globe

This week, Jews around the world will be celebrating Purim in commemoration of our triumph over Haman, who sought to annihilate the Jewish people. How do different Jewish communities across the world celebrate this festive occasion?
Photo Credit: Reuters/Channel 2 News

This week, Jews around the world will be celebrating Purim, the festival commemorating our triumph over Haman, the evil vizier under King Ahasuerus who sought to annihilate the Jewish people. Throughout the Jewish world, Jews read the Book of Esther (Megillat Esther) inside of the synagogue and Jews usually prepare gifts of food known as Mishloach Manot in order to bring to family and friends.  

Additionally, according to the Talmud, a Jew is obligated to get drunk on Purim until “he does not know the difference between cursed be Haman and blessed be Mordechai.” Traditionally, all Jews hold festive meals in honor of the holiday. However, at the same time, different Jewish communities across the planet also have their own unique customs and foods that they eat in order to celebrate the joyful holiday.

In the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, the children come to the synagogue dressed up in costumes. It is usually popular for the children to dress up as the main protagonists of the Purim story: Mordechai, Queen Esther, King Ahasuerus and the wicked Haman.  These young people come to the synagogue accompanied by special noise-makers.  Whenever the name of the evil Haman is proclaimed in the Megillah reading, the children make tons of noise in order to blot out the name of the evil Haman. In addition, Ashkenazi Jews also put on elaborate Purim spiels, which are humorous plays. In addition, Ashkenazi Jews traditionally eat a three-triangle pastry called a Hamantaschen that is filled with either dates, figs, chocolate or fruit.

Conversely, Iraqi and Yemenite Jews do not have a custom of dressing up for Purim or making tons of noise whenever Haman’s name is mentioned in the synagogue. In Yemen, Jewish children used to make a wooden effigy to symbolize Haman, which they placed on a wagon to prance around the neighborhood. While dragging around the Haman effigy, Yemenite Jewish children would sing songs about Haman and at the end of the procession, they would literally hang the Haman effigies! In the Baghdad Jewish community, Jews would write Haman on a piece of paper and erase it utilizing wine. Iraqi Jews also make a pastry known as Sambusak El Tawa, which is filled with chicken and vegetables. In addition, Iraqi Jews like most other Mizrahi Jewish communities give their children presents for Purim.

Unlike Yemenite and Iraqi Jews, Moroccan Jews do make noise whenever the name Haman is mentioned. However, instead of utilizing noise-makers, they ululate, thus making a high pitched sound that is common in Arabic culture as a sign of great emotional intensity. In addition, Moroccan Jewish children fill up a kaftan (similar to a Mexican piñata) with Hamanis (traditional Moroccan Purim candies). The children hang the kaftan from a pole and then they beat it with bats so that the hamanis can fall down for all of the children to eat. Moroccan Jews also traditionally make special Purim breads, which taste like sweet challah. Raisins and hard-boiled eggs are kneaded into the center of the bread in order to symbolize Haman’s eye.

In the Egyptian Jewish community, Jews would parade around on camels, donkeys, and horses in order to memorialize how Mordechai was paraded around the city of Shushan by Haman, which marked the beginning of Haman’s demise from power. All of these traditions illustrate that Jews around the world have varying customs of how to blot out Haman’s name from history in compliance with Exodus 17:14, “I shall surely erase the memory of Amelek.” Haman was a known descendent of Amalek and Queen Esther, as a descendant of King Saul, completed G-d’s command to annihilate Amalek by ridding the Jewish people of Haman and his supporters.

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