This Purim page includes everything you need to know about Purim: background information for the teacher, vocabulary, educational themes, activities, lesson plans, plays, and articles. To contribute material, please click here (for example, see this from Rabbi Benji Levy).
Background Information: The Story of Purim
Plays, Skits and Spiels
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). 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, Queen Esther has hidden her Jewish identity from her husband the King, but now she realizes that she reveal it in order to save her nation. Queen Esther reveals her Jewish identity to 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.
Purim Main Cast of Characters:
Ahasueros – the reigning King of the Persian Empire.
Esther – a Jewess who becomes Queen of the Persian Empire. Also known as Hadassah.
Haman the Aggagite – close advisor to the King, a descendant of Amalek.
Mordecai – Queen Esther’s uncle, one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Persia.
Vashti – King Ahasueros’ wife before Esther. She was expelled for not fulfilling Ahasueros’ commands.
Zeresh – Haman’s wife.
How: There are four commandments to be fulfilled on Purim. These are in addition to the custom to disguise ourselves in costumes in commemoration of how God concealed himself when orchestrating the miracle of Purim (God’s name does not appear in Megillat Esther). The four commandments are:
- Reading the Megillah (Kriyat Megillah – קריאת מגילה): On Purim, Jews gather to read the story ofthe holidayas it 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: On Purim, there are also special prayers recited. Al Hanissim is added to the Amidah prayer and Birkat HaMazon. The Megillah is read twice, once at night and again in the morning.
Festival of Lots
gifts to the poor
The Fast of Esther
and we shall change it
Hamentaschen, triangular pastry (Lit. Haman’s ears)
month of the Jewish calendar
capital of Persia
Purim play, spoof
- 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
- 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. concept of Jewish heroism with students. What are the values of heros, what are their actions? How does a Jewish hero effect the Jewish community/greater society? How does their Judaism effect 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”: 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). Publish/hang up hero interviews.
- Interactive Megillah Reading – put on skits during the reading of Megillat Esther, have a stop sign and fun noisemakers to encourage the making of noise when Haman’s name is read. Have the reader use different voices for the different characters in the Megillah while he is reading.
- Megillah Magic – Visit a sofer (scribe) at work. Learn about the parchment, ink and work that goes behind making a megillah. Make megillot in school using crayons, paper, tape and ribbons.
- Baking Hamentaschen – bake 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. Use 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? Jewish sources on alcohol consumption can be found here and here.
- 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. There can be a costume contest during the carnival as well.
- 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 turning the decree of Haman around.
A Global Purim – fun Purim worksheet combining geography and the Purim story for middle and high school
A Purim Feast for the Mind – Purim webquest for middle and high school – students make a dinner party for guests from the Purim story
Hammer in the Holidays – Jewish Holidays (including Purim) lesson plan and game for elementary school
Interviews with Characters from the Purim Story – students research characters from Megillat Esther in this lesson plan for middle school
Megillat Esther: Repairing Sha’ul’s Mistake – high school Purim lesson plan
Megillat Esther Worksheet – students learn about Megillat Esther by answering “who said to who” and “who are we” questions in this Purim worksheet for middle and high school
Using Multiple Intelligences to Teach Megillat Esther – students put on Purim skits and pantomimes in this middle school lesson
Tracking Down Amalek – webquest in which students learn about Haman’s nation, Amalek.
A Time for Spiritual Sobriety: The Rav on Purim by Moshe Sokolow
Did Vashti Have a Tail? Reflections on Teaching Midrash Aggadah in Elementary Day Schools by Penina Besdin Kraut
Information sheet on Purim (in Hebrew) by the Lookstein Center
“Many Thoughts in the Heart of Man…”: Irony and Theology in the Book of Esther by Moshe David Simon
Women’s Megilla Reading by Aryeh Frimmer
Purim Play by Amos, Peter and Beni Wilson
Purim Play by George Konnoff and the congregation of The Temple Beth Israel (with instructions for costumes/puppets)
Purim Play by World Bnei Akiva
A Dr Seuss Purim Shpiel by Dana Baruch and Robbi Sherwin
Themes in Bereshit 9 and Chazal’s View on Drinking – worksheet and assignment for high school
Wine Usage in Judaism (Chapter One, Alcohol and Drugs in Judaism) – textual unit for high school
Biblical and Rabbinical Positions on the Use and Abuse of Wine (Chapter Two, Alchohol and Drugs in Judaism) – article