A friend once told me that all the good holidays in Judaism fall into the same mold: “They tried to kill us. They failed. Let’s eat.” And while that may be true for a few holidays, it is never truer than on Purim, the holiday which celebrates the Jews’s escape from a Persian genocide thanks to the attractiveness and intelligence of a secret Jew, Esther, the queen of Persia. Esther’s story is told in the Book of Esther, one of the last books to be added to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.
Especially in Israel, Purim has become something like Halloween mixed with Saint Patrick’s Day. Children wear costumes and eat special cookies– my wife makes amazing hamentaschen– while religiously observant men are commanded to get so drunk that they cannot even “distinguish between ‘[…] Haman’ and ‘[…] Mordecai.'”, the antagonist and protagonist of the Esther story. I did not believe that when I was told, but yes– it’s in the Talmud (Tractate Megillah, Ch. 1, 7b).
In this post, we will be introduced to the world of the Persian Jews, a competition to become queen, and finally the decree of the king of Persia to massacre all of the Jews in his kingdom. Spoiler alert: the Jews survive. Read on for this fantastic story.
Continue reading Purim in the Bible – The Book of Esther
For Roman Catholics, today is Ash Wednesday and the first day of Lent. In 43 more days, it will be Easter. When I was growing up as a Roman Catholic, this was an exciting time: though it was still cold and snowy, springtime was coming soon. For others, Ash Wednesday is the day after Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as Mardi gras. The partying is over, time to get to the serious business of repenting and fasting.
Like most Christian holidays, Ash Wednesday isn’t a biblical holiday in quite the same way as, for example, Passover. To the best of my recollection, nothing particularly interesting happened to Jesus 43 days before his resurrection. The number forty was considered special, and perhaps holy, in Judaism and recurs in many stories from Noah’s flood, to Moses’ asking of repentance after the golden calf incident, and even to the amount of time Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert.
But while the holiday itself isn’t biblical, the key tradition of the holiday is: Catholics will be given ashes on their foreheads during Ash Wednesday services. This sign of mourning and repentance may be one of the oldest (and oddest) artifact of early Jewish culture that survives in modern Christianity.
Continue reading Ash Wednesday (and Ashes) in the Bible