Israeli take part in Zombie Walk to celebrate Jewish Purim festival in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Feb. 23, 2013. Purim, one of Judaism’s most colorful and popular holidays, was celebrated this year between sunset Saturday, 23 February, and sunset Sunday, 24 February, in most area of Israel. (Xinhua/Yin Dongxun)
Purim («lots») is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire, with the aid of the Iranian king Xerxes , from destruction in the wake of a plot by Haman, a story recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther (Megillat Esther).
According to the Book of Esther, in the Hebrew Bible, Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus (presumed to be Xerxes I of Persia), planned to kill all the Jews in the empire, but his plans were foiled by Mordecai and his adopted daughter Queen Esther. The day of deliverance became a day of feasting and rejoicing.
Purim is celebrated by giving reciprocal gifts of food and drink (mishloach manot), giving charity to the poor (mattanot la-evyonim), a celebratory meal (se’udat Purim), and public recitation of the Scroll of Esther (kriat ha-megillah), additions to the prayers and the grace after meals (al hannisim). Other customs include drinking wine, wearing of masks and costumes, and public celebration.
Purim is celebrated annually according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (Adar II in leap years), the day following the victory of the Jews over their enemies. In cities that were protected by a surrounding wall at the time of Joshua, Purim is instead celebrated on the 15th of the month on what is known as Shushan Purim, since fighting in the walled city of Shushan continued through the 14th. Today, only Jerusalem celebrates Purim on the 15th.
The Book of Esther begins with a six-month (180 day) drinking feast given by King Ahasuerus, for the army of Persia and Media, for the civil servants and princes in the 127 provinces of his kingdom, at the conclusion of which a seven-day drinking feast for the inhabitants of Shushan (Susa), rich and poor, with a separate drinking feast for the women organised by the Queen Vashti in the pavilion of the Royal courtyard.
At this feast Ahasuerus gets thoroughly drunk and, at the prompting of his courtiers, orders his wife Vashti to display her beauty before the nobles and populace, wearing her royal crown. She refuses, and Ahasuerus decides to remove her from her post. He then orders all young women to be presented to him, so he can choose a new queen to replace Vashti. One of these is Esther, who was orphaned at a young age and was being fostered by her uncle Mordecai. She finds favor in the king’s eyes, and is made his new wife. Esther does not reveal that she is Jewish.
Shortly afterwards, Mordecai discovers a plot by two courtiers Bigthan and Teresh to kill Ahasuerus. They are apprehended and hanged, and Mordecai’s service to the king is recorded in the daily record of the court.
Ahasuerus appoints Haman as his prime minister. Mordecai, who sits at the palace gates, falls into Haman’s disfavor as he refuses to bow down to him. Having found out that Mordecai is Jewish, Haman plans to kill not just Mordecai but the entire Jewish minority in the empire. Obtaining Ahasuerus’ permission and funds to execute this plan, he casts lots («purim») to choose the date on which to do this – the thirteenth of the month of Adar.
When Mordecai finds out about the plans he orders widespread penitence and fasting. Esther discovers what has transpired; she requests that all Jews of Shushan fast and pray for three days together with her, and on the third day she seeks an audience with Ahasuerus, during which she invites him to a feast in the company of Haman.
During the feast, she asks them to attend a further feast the next evening. Meanwhile, Haman is again offended by Mordecai’s refusal to bow to him; he builds a gallows for Mordecai, with the intention to hang him there the very next day.
That night, Ahasuerus suffers from insomnia, and when the court’s daily records are read to him to help him fall asleep, he learns of the services rendered by Mordecai in the earlier plot against his life. Ahasuerus asks whether anything was done for Mordecai and is told that he received no recognition for saving the king’s life.
Just then, Haman appears, and King Ahasuerus asks him what should be done for the man that the King wishes to honor. Thinking that the King is referring to Haman himself, Haman says that the honoree should be dressed in the king’s royal robes and led around on the king’s royal horse. To Haman’s horror, the king instructs Haman to do so to Mordecai.
Later that evening, Ahasuerus and Haman attend Esther’s second banquet, at which she reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to exterminate her people, which includes her. Ahasuerus instead orders Haman hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. The previous decree against the Jews could not be annulled, so the King allows Mordecai and Esther to write another decree as they wish. They decree that Jews may preemptively kill those thought to pose a lethal risk.
As a result, on 13 Adar, five hundred attackers and Haman’s ten sons are killed in Shushan. Throughout the empire 75,000 of the Jews’ enemies are killed (Esther 9:16). On the 14th, another 300 are killed in Shushan. No spoils are taken.
Mordecai assumes the position of second in rank to Ahasuerus, and institutes an annual commemoration of the delivery of the Jewish people from annihilation.
Adolf Hitler banned and forbade the observance of Purim. In a speech made on November 10, 1938, (the day after Kristallnacht), Julius Streicher surmised that just as «the Jew butchered 75,000 Persians» in one night, the same fate would have befallen the German people had the Jews succeeded in inciting a war against Germany; the «Jews would have instituted a new Purim festival in Germany.»
Nazi attacks against Jews often coincided with Jewish festivals. On Purim 1942, ten Jews were hanged in Zduńska Wola to avenge the hanging of Haman’s ten sons. In a similar incident in 1943, the Nazis shot ten Jews from the Piotrków ghetto. On Purim eve that same year, over 100 Jewish doctors and their families were shot by the Nazis in Częstochowa. The following day, Jewish doctors were taken from Radom and shot nearby in Szydłowiec.
In an apparent connection made by Hitler between his Nazi regime and the role of Haman, he stated in a speech made on January 30, 1944, that if the Nazis were defeated, the Jews could celebrate «a second Purim». Indeed, Julius Streicher was heard to sarcastically remark «Purimfest 1946″ as he ascended the scaffold after Nuremberg.
There is a tradition in the Hasidic Chabad movement that supposedly Joseph Stalin died as a result of some metaphysical intervention of the seventh Chabad leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, during the recitation of a discourse at a public Purim Farbrengen. Stalin was suddenly paralysed on 1 March 1953, which corresponds to Purim 1953, and died 4 days later. Due to Stalin’s death, nation-wide pogroms against Jews throughout the Soviet Union were averted, as Stalin’s infamous doctors’ plot was halted.
As early as 1907, Stalin wrote a letter differentiating between a «Jewish faction» and a «true Russian faction» in bolshevism. Stalin’s secretary Boris Bazhanov stated that Stalin made anti-Semitic outbursts even before Vladimir Lenin’s death. Anti-Semitic trends in the Kremlin’s policies were fueled by the exile of Leon Trotsky. After dismissing Maxim Litvinov as Foreign Minister in 1939, Stalin immediately directed Vyacheslav Molotov to «purge the ministry of Jews».
According to historian Yakov Yakovlevich Etinger, many Soviet state purges of the 1930s were anti-Semitic and after more intense anti-Semitic policy toward the end of World War II, Stalin in 1946 reportedly said privately that «every Jew is a potential spy.» Furthermore, after purportedly ordering the development of bombers capable of reaching America, supposedly convinced that Harry Truman was Jewish, Stalin reportedly remarked in private that «we will show this Jewish shopkeeper how to attack us!»
Nevertheless, during the period 1945 to 1947, overt anti-Semitism had been suppressed in the USSR, because Stalin was considered the savior of the Jews, the man who defeated Hitler and had liberated the Eastern European concentration camps from the Nazis. Moreover, during those years Stalin needed the Jews for propaganda purposes, and some of the old Bolsheviks were Jewish, including Leon Trotsky, Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, Lazar Kaganovich, Maxim Litvinov, Yakov Sverdlov, Polina Zhemchuzhina (the wife of Molotov), etc.
Jewish communists Abram Slutsky, Sergei Shpigelglas, and Genrikh Yagoda, had led the intelligence and security organs of the Bolsheviks and subsequently the Soviet state, and there were still many Jewish cadres in the cultural organs, the Party, the intelligence services, and the security apparatus. Thirdly, Stalin had initially supported the creation of the Jewish state of Israel.
With the beginning of the Cold War, the State of Israel allying with the West, and Stalin’s suspicions of any form of Jewish nationalism (and indeed nationalism in general), the Soviet regime eliminated the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in 1948 and launched a campaign against rootless cosmopolitans.
Also, in the course of his career, Stalin became increasingly suspicious towards physicians. In his later years, he refused to be treated by doctors, and would only consult with veterinarians about his health. After trials of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee 13 members were secretly executed on Stalin’s orders in the Night of the Murdered Poets.
The Doctors’ plot in 1952–53 was the most dramatic anti-Jewish episode in the Soviet Union during Joseph Stalin’s regime, accusing a group of prominent Moscow doctors, predominantly Jews, as conspiratorial assassins of Soviet leaders.
This was accompanied by trials and anti-Semitic publications in the media. Scores of Soviet Jews were promptly dismissed from their jobs, arrested, sent to the Gulag, or executed. The doctors’ plot was to be the catalyst of Stalin’s campaigns against Soviet Jews, but was ultimately stopped short by Stalin’s sudden death in March 1953.
After the death of Stalin, the new Soviet leadership stated a lack of evidence and the case was dropped. In 1956, the Soviet leadership declared that the case was fabricated.