Topical Teaching: Religious Education – Purim

The Jewish Holiday of Purim Takes Place between 9-10 March 2020 and is a Great Opportunity to Combine Comparative Religion & PSHE

different people representing different cultures

The Purim Story

Let’s start with what the Hebrew word ‘Purim’. It means: ‘lots’, as in the drawing of lots. When you read the outline of the story, the reason for the name becomes clear…

It is found in the Old Testament biblical book of Esther and is set in Ancient Persia. Approximately 400 years before the birth of Christ, and 50 years after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

  • The Jewish people are subjects of the huge Persian empire. The Persian King, Ahasuerus, dethrones and hangs his Queen, Vashti, for publicly disobeying him.
  • Esther, who is a Jewish orphan raised by her Uncle Mordechai, is crowned queen after winning a beauty contest and doesn’t tell Ahasuerus she’s Jewish.
  • Whilst visiting Queen Esther at the palace Mordechai overhears a plot to kill the king and reports it.
  • In the meantime, King Ahasuerus promotes one of his ministers, Haman, a virulent anti-Semite, to the role of Prime Minister.
  • A decree is issued ordering all subjects to bow before Haman and Mordechai, leader of the exiled Jews in Ancient Persia, refuses.
  • Haman is furious and is determined to take his revenge on Mordechai. He tells Ahasuerus there’a group of people in his kingdom who don’t obey his rules, but their own, thereby getting the king’s permission to destroy all the Jews.
  • Haman draws lots for the date on which the Jews will be killed and comes up with the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Adar.
  • Mordechai tells Esther she must speak to the King to save her people. So she invites him and Haman to a banquet during which Mordechai is honoured for having saved the king’s life.
  • She then invites them to a second banquet where she accuses Haman of trying to kill her, by killing the Jews. Ahasuerus sends Haman to the gallows that he had built for the Jews.
  • Throughout Persia, the Jews defend themselves against those sent to kill them following the decree.
  • Mordechai is given a senior role in the king’s court and the holiday of Purim is established, during which time Jews celebrate by feasting, giving family members and the poor gifts.

How is Purim Celebrated Today?


Eating triangular, sweet pastries called Hamantaschen (named after Haman) the giving of food parcels and baskets, and partying in fancy dress.

Story Themes: Diversity & Anti Racism

In the book of Esther (3:8) you’ll find one of the earliest, if not the earliest statement of anti-Semitism…

Haman then said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them.”

Haman tells the king that, because the Jews are different, they must be suspect. To enforce his position he then lies, because the Jews did follow Persian laws because they followed the laws of the land.

Does this sound familiar? What about attitudes to Sharia law in contemporary Britain?

Outsiders are different and therefore a threat…

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