Below is a collection of Purim lesson plans, interactive tools, and articles created by The Lookstein Center staff or contributed to the site by Jewish educators.
Purim Holiday overview
- What: Purim is a one day Jewish holiday. It celebrates Jewish deliverance from the plot of Haman the Aggagite to massacre all the Jews living in the Persian kingdom. Purim is preceded by the Fast of Esther (Taanit Esther) which commemorates the three day fast Queen Esther and the nation observed before she requested help from King Ahasuerosh.
- Where: The story of Purim is found in Megillat Esther.
- When: Purim occurs on the 14th of Adar (or the 15th in Jerusalem and other walled cities). In a Jewish leap year, the month of Adar is repeated and the holiday is celebrated in Adar II, so it always falls one month before Passover. This holiday falls during late February or March.
- Why: Purim is a story of intrigue in the time of the Persian Empire. Mordecai the Jew refuses to bow down to the King’s second-in-command Haman, so Haman declares that all Jews will be massacred on the 14th of Adar (this date was chosen based on the choosing of lots, purim in Hebrew, where the holiday derives its name). Until this point, the queen of Persia, Queen Esther has hidden her Jewish identity from her husband the King, but now she realizes that she must reveal it in order to save her nation. Queen Esther reveals her Jewish identity to the King at a small party with just the two of them and Haman present. The King decides to overturn Haman’s decree and change the day of a proposed massacre into a day for the Jews to seek revenge against their oppressors, changing the 14th of Adar from a day of sadness and mourning to a day of joyous celebrations for the Jews.
- How: It is a custom to disguide ourselves in costumes in comemoration of how God concealed Himself when orchestarting the miracle of Purim (God’s name does not appear in Megillat Esther). In addition, there are four commandments to be fulfilled on Purim: hearing Megillat Esther, Matanot L’Evyonim (giving to the needy), Mishloach Manot (giving to friends), and Seuda (eating a festive meal).
The Four Main Mitzvot of Purim Are:
- Reading the Megillah (Kriyat Megillah – קריאת מגילה): On Purim, Jews gather to read the story of the holidays as is recorded in the Book of Esther. It is customary to make noise whenever the name of Haman is read in order to “blot out” his name.
- Giving Charity (Matanot Laevyonim – מתנות לאביונים): On Purim, Jews are required to give gifts to the poor in order to commemorate the charity God gave the Jews by overturning Haman’s evil decree. The requirement is to give at least one gift to two different needy people, at least two gifts in total.
- The Festive Meal (Seuda – סעודה): In the afternoon of Purim we are instructed to partake in a festive meal. According to the Vilna Gaon, this feast is commemorative of the feast Esther had with the King and Haman where she asked the King to save the Jews.
- Sending Gifts to one Another (Mishloach Manot – משלוח מנות): We are commanded to give one another food gifts on Purim. The commandment is to send one gift of two portions of ready-made food to another. This commandment is commemorative of the brotherly love that awoke amongst the Jews after the story of Purim occurred. The most common food to be given in these gifts is Hamentaschen, triangular pastry pockets with various fillings.
Special Prayers for Purim:
On Purim, there are also special prayers recited. Al Hanissim is added to the Amidah prayer and Birkat HaMazon. There are also special blessings recited before and after the Megillah is read, both at night and again in the morning.
The Purim Story's Main Cast of Characters
- Ahasueros אחשורוש – The reigning King of the Persian Empire.
- Esther אסתר – A Jewess who becomes Queen of the Persian Empire. Also known as Hadassah.
- Haman המן – Close advisor to the King, a descendant of Amalek.
- Mordecai מרדכי – Queen Esther’s uncle, one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Persia.
- Vashti ושתי – King Ahasueros’ wife before Esther. She was expelled for not fulfilling Ahasueros’ commands.
- Zeresh זרש – Haman’s wife.
Festival of Lots
gifts to the poor
The Fast of Esther
and it was changed (refers to the overturning of Haman’s decree which saw a change in the Jews’ fate)
Hamentaschen, triangular pastry (Lit. Haman’s ears)
month of the Jewish calendar
capital of Persia
Purim play, spoof
Purim Educational Themes
- Brotherly love
- Overcoming obstacles
- Disclosed vs. Concealed Identity
- Hesed, acts of kindness
- Heroes and heroines (Giborim)
- Venahafoch Hu,the reversal of Haman’s evil decree
QUICK EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES FROM THE LOOKSTEIN CENTER
- Mishlaoch Manot – Create a creative food basket to give out on Purim. The contents can be themed in order to teach a specific lesson.
- Matanot Laevyonim – Bring plants, picture frames, etc, to residents in an assisted living facility. Variations can be: bring toys or games for children in a homeless shelter, bring food to a soup kitchen, bring books to a battered women’s shelter, bring toys to a children’s hospital, etc.
- Jewish Heroes Project #1 – Discuss the heroes of Megillat Esther and the concept of Jewish heroism with students. What are the values of heroes, what are their actions? How does a Jewish hero affect the Jewish community/greater society? How does their Judaism affect their behavior? Students select and research a Jewish hero and prepare an audio/visual presentation of their Jewish hero (poster, video, podcast, collage, etc.)
- Jewish Heroes Project #2 – Discuss the heroes of Megillat Esther. Students select and research their own Jewish hero, notable for his/her impact on Jewish/greater society. On Purim, organize a “living museum,” in which students dress up as their heroes. The students should be able to give basic biographical information about their hero, in addition to discussing their impact. Each student has to interview another hero (hint: use the 5 W’s to focus the students). Upon completion, teachers can publish or hang up hero interviews in the classroom.
- Interactive Megillah Reading – Some ideas include putting on skits during the reading of Megillat Esther, using a stop sign and fun noisemakers to encourage the making of noise when Haman’s name is read and having the reader use different voices for the different characters in the Megillah while he/she is reading.
- Megillah Magic – Visit a sofer (scribe) at work to learn about the parchment, ink, and work that goes behind making a megillah. Younger students can then make megillot in school using crayons, paper, tape, and ribbons.
- Baking Hamentaschen – Baking hamentaschen together for the holiday can be a great background to telling the story of Purim or explaining the commandment of Mishloach Manot. The filling of the hamentaschen can be themed: local fruits, organic ingredients, etc.
- Noisemaker Arts – Have your students design or create their own noisemakers to use when listening to the Megillah and partaking in making noise when Haman’s name is read, ideally using recycled materials.
- Purim & Drinking – Many people drink on Purim. Lead a class discussion on where students draw the line with alcohol consumption. What is an appropriate amount? What is excessive?
- Costume contest – Have the whole class dress up and see who can come up with the best costume. Use this to explore the theme of God’s concealed actions during the miracle of Purim.
- Murder Mystery – Create a murder mystery using the theme of disguises. Students should try to understand who is the murderer, parallel to understanding who was the savior in the story of Purim.
- Purim Carnival – Organize a Purim carnival where the proceeds go to charity, fulfilling the commandment of Matanot Laevyonim.
- Venahafoch Hu #1– Allow the students to be the teachers for the day, turning the school topsy-turvy, like the decree in the story of Purim.
- Venahafoch Hu #2 – In the weeks leading up to Purim, have special dress-up days (i.e. hat day, tie day, clash day, etc.) where the students dress differently in order to build on the theme of V’nahafoch Hu (the overturning of Haman’s decree).
Interviews with Characters from the Megilla – This lesson plan from The Lookstein Center for middle school students explores the personalities involved in the Purim story.
Who is Behind the Mask? – This lesson plan from The Lookstein Center’s journal, Jewish Educational Leadership, teaches students about the metaphorical masks we all wear through an interactive art project.
A Global Purim – This worksheet for middle school students teaches the story of Purim through a geography lesson.
Purim Unmasked– This lesson slideshow from Benji Levy at Moriah College takes a deeper look at themes of the Megilla.
Write My Megillah – A Life’s Story Scroll – This interactive lesson plan from the Israel Forever Foundation guides students into writing their own life stories as a megillah.
VIDEOS AND SONGS
Mayim Bialik: The Story of Purim – This short video by Mayim Bialik provides a brief explanation of the events of the Purim story.
What is Purim? – This short video by Bimbam gives an overview of the holiday’s origions, miztvot, and traditions.
Purim Medley – This animated video by Micha Gamerman has a medley of popular Purim songs in Hebrew.
The Maccabeats: Purim Song – This song parody by the Maccabeats gives an overview of the Purim story.
Shalom Sesame: Purim Story – This animated video by Shalom Sesame tells the story of Purim
for young children.
Quick Purim Play – This short retelling of the Purim story works well for students of all ages.
Temple Beth Israel Purim Play – This script includes instructions for costumes and puppets for a more interactive play experience.
Bnei Akiva Hadracha Purim Play – This 60-minute play gives a more in-depth chaacter exploration of the Purim story.
A Dr. Seuss Purim Shpiel– This Purim shpiel, inspired by Dr. Seuss, is a great activity for younger students.
ARTICLES AND TEXTS
A Look Back and a Look Ahead at Megilla Reading – In this blog post from The Lookstein Center, Rabbi Aharon Assaraf shares insights into the role of Megilla reading historically and going forward towards the future.
Megillat Esther from an Educational Perspective – This article from Dr. Gabriel H. Cohn, educator and Biblical scholar at Bar Ilan University, explores the story of Megillat Esther from an educational perspective (Hebrew).
A Time for Spiritual Sobriety – This article by from The Lookstein Center by Moshe Sokolow shares the teachings of Rav Soleveitchik on the paradoxical nature of Purim.
Who Is Amalek? – This article explores the history of Am Yisrael‘s conflict with Amalek.
The Use of Wine – This two-part article explores the role of wine in Judaism as well as Biblical and Rabbinical sources on the use and abuse of wine. Part 2 can be found here.
Did Vashti Have a Tail? – In this article, Penina Besdin Karut reflects on the teaching of Midrash Aggadah in elementary day schools.
“Many Thoughts in the Heart of Man…” – This article by Moshe David Simon explores the satirical nature of the Book of Esther.
Celebrated for Action: The Purim Story as a Model for Today – This article from the Israel Forever Foundation explores what lessons from the Purim story are relevant for Jewish people today.
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