Purim Origins

There are many theories as to how this holiday developed.

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All of these aforementioned conditions are satisfied if one assumes that the festival of Purim dates back to an earlier pagan new year festival. Indeed, at new year it is customary in many parts of the world to appoint a new ruler in order to symbolize the renewal of communal life. Likewise, the installation of a commoner as temporary ruler between the end of one year and the commencement of another was quite commonplace. The Babylonian new year was also known to feature a type of scapegoat ritual whereby a condemned criminal was led through the streets in a processional. Finally, there indeed was a custom of distributing gifts at the new year, as there is today on Purim.

Some scholars have suggested that the Scroll of Esther was written long after the Persian period and was a kind of historical novel intended to comment on the situation of the Jews under Hellenistic rule.

In any event, whatever the true history of the festival of Purim, it had long become established by the second century of the Common Era when a whole tractate of the Talmud, called the Megillah, was devoted to the details of the observance.

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Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs

Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs is the spiritual leader of Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, New Jersey. He has served as the publications committee chairperson of the Rabbinical Assembly.