Purim Traditions You've Never Heard Of
By: Elisheva Blumberg
The four mitzvot of Purim — reading the Megillah, eating a seuda, sending mishloach manot, and giving charity to the poor — have been preserved by Jews across the globe for millennia...
And yet, despite us all keeping the same holiday, there are some striking differences in the way Purim has been — and still is — celebrated across time periods, cultures, and even individual synagogues.
Besides for the traditions that may be familiar to you, like hamantaschen, there are so many more interesting individual customs across Jewish communities all over the world.
Have you ever heard of any of these unique Purim traditions?
A far cry from the modern-day themed mishloach manot, Jews around the world have developed their own customs in fulfilling this mitzvah.
- Yerushalmi brides sent their grooms enormous and elaborate mishloach manot platters with cakes, cookies, and candy. 1
- The reverse was true in Persia, where grooms sent their brides mishloach manot with sweets like halva and pastries.2
- In the 1930s, women of the Rhodian Jewish community in Seattle used to send their friends silver trays of pastries, candy, even Hershey’s Kisses! 3
- Moroccan Jews sent each other gifts, including jewelry and perfumes.4
Beyond the Hamantasch
- Eaten at the Purim tables of Russian, Polish, and other European Jews, koilitch are long challah loaves made sweet with raisins or candy. The twisted ropes are meant to evoke Haman’s ultimate demise.5
- Moroccan Jews baked challahs called Ojos de Haman (translation: Haman’s eyes) which included almonds and two unpeeled hard-boiled eggs.6
- Rhodian Jews prepared folares; each pastry comprised a hard-boiled egg (to represent Haman’s head) wrapped in a cage of challah dough. 7
- Another Sephardic twist on eating the likeness of Haman are Haman’s fingers, cinnamon-and- sugar-sweetened phyllo pastries rolled up into finger-like shapes.8
- From Bulgaria, yet another spin on Haman-inspired foods: Caveos di Aman, or Haman’s Hair, is a dish made of stringy pasta to represent the Purim villain’s hair. The recipes includes olives and hard-boiled eggs, both traditional foods of mourning. 9
More Purim Food Fare
- Eastern European Jews baked floral-shaped challahs to recall the song “Shoshanat Yaakov,” (“The Rose of Jacob), which is sung after the Megillah reading.10
- To commemorate Queen Esther’s exclusively vegetarian (and therefore, kosher) diet in the palace of Achashverosh, many Purim cuisines include dishes with a variety of nuts, seeds, and legumes.
- A North African Purim appetizer features couscous with raisins.11
- Tunisians serve fava beans with hard boiled eggs.12
- European Jews enjoy noodles sprinkled with poppy seeds.13
When we hear the name of “Haman” read aloud, our local shuls may be filled with the sounds of graggers and cap guns, but there are many methods Jews around the world have used to make noise — or not — during Megillah reading.
- The original graggers were stones! French children wrote “Haman” on a pair of rocks, and smashed them together when the villain’s name was read.14
- German Jews would beat the walls of the synagogue upon hearing the name “Haman”.15
- In a Sephardic synagogue in London, congregants would write the name of Haman on a paper and erase it when his name was read.16
Although we have come to expect a raucous outburst each time Haman’s name is recited in the Megillah, this noise-making custom is not followed everywhere.
In fact, many authorities throughout Jewish history have staunchly opposed the practice, asserting that it disrupts the Megillah reading, is not appropriate conduct for a synagogue, and, in certain times of Jewish history, that it would sound to outsiders like the Jews were planning a rebellion.
- In 1783 the Spanish-Portuguese synagogue of London announced that anyone who disturbed the Megillah reading would be forced to leave shul.17
- In 1886, a synagogue in Poland prohibited the use of graggers on Purim.18
- Many other Sephardic communities around the world prohibit, or strictly limit, the noise-making activities in shul, including the Yemenite and Kurdish communities.19
Though we don’t often see it nowadays, one ancient custom involves creating a Haman effigy and subsequently destroying it.
- Jews of Babylon and Elam would display a Haman effigy on their roofs, and on Purim, would throw it into a bonfire while jumping through the fire themselves.20
- In the 1800’, Yemenite boys hung up a Haman puppet and threw stones and arrows at it.21
- Girls in Kurdistan burned Zeresh and Vashti dolls.22
- Jews of Bukhara, Uzbekistan built a Haman out of snow. They would light a fire and sing, watching the snowy anti-hero melt into nothingness.23
Did we miss any unique or uncommon Purim tradition from your community? We’d love to hear it!