Updated: Mar 1, 2021
This is a summery of a pre - Purim class we had at our shul (Temple Beth Ora), and the first part of an ongoing series on Jewish Home Rituals. (Adar 5781/ Feb. 2021)
the days wherein the Jews had rest from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning into a good day; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor. (Esther 9:22)
Judaism has a strong tradition of Ritual Feasts ,“Se’udat Mitzvah” [ Se’udah = feast, Mitzvah = commandment] feasts we hold for important life cycle events and during festivals. To further illustrate the importance of this ritual, let’s notice that our table itself, the prosaic place where you have your breakfast and supper is considered an Alter:
As long as the Temple stood, the altar atoned for Israel’s transgressions. Now that it is destroyed, a person’s table atones for his transgressions. (Talmud Bavli, B’rachot 55a)
This is just one example of how post-destruction Judaism moved our ritual hub not just to the Synagogue, but also into our homes. Perhaps the home was always a ritual centre and we were only continuing what had always been the case.
And so the Table is the Alter, and the food we place on it is the sacrifice, and every meal we have (when done properly) is an act of thanksgiving and connection with he divine. It is important to understand that the ritual experts in this case are the woman and man of the house, each in his and her own way own ritual knowledge which is passed down from parent to child and enacted within the home sphere. And so in traditional and millennia long practices the man was the priest of the house when he blessed the Shabbat through wine and bread, and the woman was the priestess as she lit the sacred fire of Shabbat and festival candles, to name but a few occasions.
This brings us back to the Purim Feast, and to the way it ties in and strengthens the other aspects of the holy-day.
The festival of Purim has 4 ritual/religious obligations:
K'riat megillah: Listening to the public reading, of the Book of Esther
Mishloach manot: Sending food gifts to friends.
matanot la'evyonim: Giving charity to the poor.
Se`udat mitzvah: Eating a festive meal.
A selection of some traditional Purim food from around the world:
Some authorities, say that you should eat different kinds of seeds on Purim, to commemorate the seeds Daniel and his friends ate in Babylon, and also to remember the seeds that Esther ate. For the Talmud (Maseches Megillah 16b) states, [it is written] "He favored her and her maids with preferential treatment…" (2:9) [this means], that he gave her seeds for her food. (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 142)
And so we find a tradition in many communities to eat seeds and nuts and vegetarian dishes, in honour of Queen Esther.
Here are a few of the dishes and treats, and I'd love to hear your own family traditions!
In some communities, different types of puddings (sweet rice pudding, rose water and pistachio, cream and eggs) were all served as part of the Purim feast.
Another Purim cake enjoyed by Middle Eastern Jews were nut Ma’amouls, made with Semolina flour.
And of course we have the various "Hamman" related cakes, either in the form of Oznei Hamman [most probably the oldest known version for the
se cookies arrive from Spain or Italy sometime in the 1550’s and where they were deep fried and dipped in sugar], or the triangular baked cakes known as hamantaschen / Hamman's pockets.
Some food, like Oznei Hamman, celebrates the destruction of our enemy, while other foods remind us of the strength and power of hope even in darkest places.
Going back to where we started, remember this is a sacred feast, and the food we bring and enjoy is an offering. The drink (wine or other) is a libation. And here at the end of winter we bring the best that we have to remind ourselves that days will get longer, food will return and life is waking up.