On March 6 and 7, 2023, French Jewish families and communities came together to commemorate Purim, one of the most celebrated holidays in the Hebrew calendar. Elie Dahan, regional rabbi of Hauts-de-France, an area which brings together 3,000 faithful, insists on the importance of this celebration which “highlights everyone’s heroism” and which “speaks to everyone”.
Purim originated around the year 537 BC. According to the biblical account, the people of Israel, then in exile in Susa, in the Persian Empire ruled by Emperor Ahasuerus I (or Xerxes I), had turned away from God. At the same time, Hanan, Prime Minister of Ahasuerus I – or Achachveroch – announced to him his wish to annihilate the Jewish people: “In all the provinces of your kingdom there is a single people. (…) If therefore you deem it good, that we give in writing the order to make them disappear, it is 300 tons of money that I will give to the officials for the king’s treasury”, we read in the book of ‘Esther from the Bible. He randomly chooses the date of 13 Adar, hence the Persian word Purim, which means “fate”.
Queen Esther, emblematic figure of Purim
According to Elie Dahan, Queen Esther – or Hadassa – wife of Xerxes I, embodies this “redemptive spark” which allowed the Hebrew people to escape “the first final solution”. It is thanks to her that the plan of extinction of the Jewish people was able to fail and its author, hanged, on 14 Adar. The victory of the Hebrew people, through the action of Esther, is the object of the celebration of Purim.
The young woman brings with her a philosophy of the possible and of determination: “If I’m here, it’s because I can write my story”, sums up Elie Dahan. Moreover, if the book of Esther has come down to posterity, it is because the Jewish sovereign “asked chroniclers to write down her story so that it would reach future generations”, recounts the theologian. In memory, among the many traditions of this Hebrew holiday, Jews read twice from the Megillah – the scroll of parchment on which the story of Esther is written.
A unifying party
Other rituals punctuate the forty-eight hours of festivities. The “Fast of Esther” is observed at the beginning of Purim, in memory of the fast followed by the Hebrews to save themselves from imminent extermination. The next day is a time of general jubilation: “The day of March 7 ends with a great family feast or between the families of the communities”, says Rabbi Elie Dahan.
Other customs include the sharing of gifts, including foodstuffs, donations to the needy, and dressing up for children. Elie Dahan also emphasizes the importance of the transmission of the Purim holiday and the practices associated with it. According to him, Esther’s story is a festive way to “warn children that the future is not going to be happy, but that you have to fight for your survival”.
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