During the Israel-Hamas war, Jews will soon celebrate Purim — one of their most joyous holidays

FILE - Jewish ultra-Orthodox men and children, some wearing costumes, celebrate the festival of Purim at a synagogue in Bnei Brak, Israel, March 17, 2022. Purim celebrates the biblical story of how a plot to exterminate Jews in Persia was thwarted, and thus is embraced as an affirmation of Jewish survival throughout history. For many Jews, it will have extra significance in 2024 during a war in Gaza triggered by the Oct. 7, 2023, attacks on Israel in which Hamas killed 1,200 people and took about 250 others hostage. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

FILE – Jewish ultra-Orthodox men and children, some wearing costumes, celebrate the festival of Purim at a synagogue in Bnei Brak, Israel, March 17, 2022. Purim celebrates the biblical story of how a plot to exterminate Jews in Persia was thwarted, and thus is embraced as an affirmation of Jewish survival throughout history. For many Jews, it will have extra significance in 2024 during a war in Gaza triggered by the Oct. 7, 2023, attacks on Israel in which Hamas killed 1,200 people and took about 250 others hostage. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

Purim is widely depicted as the most thoroughly joyful of Jewish holidays — highlighted by celebrations that include costumes, skits, noisemakers and varying degrees of rowdiness.

It celebrates the biblical story of how a plot to exterminate Jews in Persia was thwarted, and thus is embraced as an affirmation of Jewish survival throughout history. For many Jews, it will have extra significance this year during a war in Gaza triggered by the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel in which Hamas killed 1,200 people and took about 250 others hostage.

WHEN IS PURIM?

Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar. This year, that means Purim begins on Saturday night and continues through Sunday. In most of Jerusalem, the holiday is celebrated one day later, from Sunday evening until Monday.

WHAT’S THE STORY THAT INSPIRED PURIM?

Here’s an account from the Union for Reform Judaism:

“The main communal celebration involves a public reading — usually in the synagogue — of the Book of Esther, which tells the holiday’s story: Under the rule of King Ahashverosh, Haman, the king’s adviser, plots to exterminate all the Jews of Persia. His plan is foiled by Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai, who ultimately save the Jews of Persia from destruction. The reading typically is a rowdy affair, punctuated by booing and noisemaking when Haman’s name is read aloud. …

Over the centuries, Haman has come to symbolize every anti-Semite in every land where Jews were oppressed. The significance of Purim lies not so much in how it began, but in what it has become: a thankful and joyous affirmation of Jewish survival.”

WHAT’S UP WITH COSTUMES THIS YEAR?

Citing the war against Hamas, Israel’s Education Ministry has warned students not to come to school in costumes “that may cause fear, panic or injury.”

This includes costumes depicting Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza.

Ahead of the holiday, Israel police have also seized thousands of lifelike toy guns and grenades as part of “Operation Dangerous Toys.”

The ministry said the directive was issued “in the shadow of the war and in accordance with the security reality and the characteristics of the current period.”

Many cities in Israel have canceled traditional Purim parades, citing the war in Gaza.

SOMETIMES A DARK SIDE TO THE HOLIDAY

As with other holidays of other faiths, Purim has sometimes been used as a date to wreak high-profile acts of violence.

On Purim in 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an American Israeli settler, killed 29 Palestinian Muslims kneeling in prayer at the Cave of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Two years later, in the nine days leading up to Purim, about 60 people died in a series of bombings blamed on Palestinian militants. In the deadliest of those attacks, on the eve of Purim, a suicide bomber detonated a bomb outside a Tel Aviv shopping mall. Thirteen Israelis were killed, including five children in Purim costumes.

WHAT HAVE RABBIS BEEN SAYING AHEAD OF PURIM?

There have been sharply different tones sounded by rabbis this year in remarks related to Purim.

For example, Israel’s chief Sephardic rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, evoked a goal of crushing Hamas as he recently issued a ruling on how Israeli soldiers stationed in Gaza should celebrate Purim.

“May it be God’s will that he will uproot them (Hamas) and destroy them and make them perish soon in our days,” the ruling said.

A different tone — evoking the loss of more than 30,000 Palestinian lives in Israel-Hamas war — was sounded by two New York City rabbis in a March 7 opinion piece in The Forward, an online news publication serving an American Jewish audience.

“This year, let us put down the noise makers, lower our voices, or find other ways to conclude this story with sobriety,” wrote Rabbis Amichai Lau-Lavie and Rachel Timoner. “Let it serve as a moment of reflection on our impulse for revenge, on the grave responsibility that comes with holding power and on the moral consequences of failing to honor human life in the name of self-defense.”

Among the ways Purim could be observed this year, the rabbis wrote, would be through charitable donations to organizations trying to meet the humanitarian needs of both Israelis and Gazans.

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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