Why Talmidis don’t observe Purim

It may seem an odd thing to have a difference over, but did you know that Talmidis don’t observe Purim? The difference is due to the traditions of Babylonian Jewry (whose biblical canon and theology modern Rabbinical Judaism was influenced by), and those of Galilean/Judean Jewry, which influenced the traditions of ancient Followers of the Way.

Purim is considered a “local” Jewish festival, and not a national one (like Chanukkah), nor a biblical festival ordained in Torah (like Passover or Sukkot). The Book of Esther has never been found in the biblical scrolls at Qumran, nor in any ancient bible version anywhere in the Holy Land. It is therefore not included in the canon of the Talmidi Miqra (Hebrew bible). The T’nakh, the canon used by mainstream Jews and Karaites, is also called by us, the “Babylonian canon”, and the canon we use, the “Galilean canon”.

In a way, it is a shame, since the figure of Esther is strong female role model for Jewish women. However, it is vital to understand that the story is not true (see ‘The Jewish Festivals’, Hayyim Schauss, page 238, line 2-3).

As far as we can tell, until the destruction of the Temple, the celebration of Purim was restricted to Babylonian Jewry; it was never popular with Jews in Galilee and Judea (and therefore was not a festival that Yeshua` and his followers would have celebrated). After the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, Babylonian Jewish practice became the dominant strain, and as a result Purim and other Babylonian Jewish practises (such as the one-year Torah reading cycle) became the norm.

Another thing we should realise is that the events in the story of Esther never happened. There never was a heroine called Esther, or a hero called Mordecai, or an antagonist called Haman, and the real King Ahasuerus was never married to someone called Queen Vashti.

In Babylon, at this precise time of year, the Babylonians celebrated their New Year, the birthday of their king, and also the birthday of their principal god, Marduk. Marduk’s birthday was celebrated with feasting, outlandish costumes, and drinking to the point of unconsciousness.

It should also be pointed out, that not once is ‘God’ mentioned anywhere in the book. Hayyim Schauss says, ‘We get the impression that the writer was somewhat afraid to mention the name of God with this book’, as if afraid to connect the God of Israel with a tale that has its origins in heathen mythology. He goes on to say that, ‘it is easy to see that we have to deal here, …… not with a true story….., but with fantasy and poetry.’

Babylonian Jews got caught up in this, much to the dismay of Jewish elders there. The theory goes that the elders could not dissuade the people from participating in this drunken pagan debauchery, so some way had to be found of removing all the pagan elements of the festival, cleaning it up and giving it a Jewish basis. To this end, the story of Esther was invented. Apparently the goddess Ashtar was part of the Babylonian story; the goddess Ashtar became Esther, and the god Marduk became Mordecai (the names Esther and Mordecai are not even of Hebrew origin).

Purim is therefore a Babylonian Rabbanite festival with pagan origins, so Followers of the Way do not observe it in any way or form. While we do not berate any Rabbanite for observing a festival which is part of their historical Babylonian heritage, we do not observe it ourselves, in witness to our Galilean/Judean religious heritage; our non-observance of Purim is there to emphasise where our tradition comes from.

Sources: Encyclopedia Judaica, and Hayyim Schauss’ “The Jewish Festivals”.