Culture
Purim

Purim is celebrated on the Jewish Calendar Date: 14th of Adar (15th of Adar for cities in the land of Israel that were walled during the First Temple period).

In the years 539-332 BCE the First Persian or Achaemenid Persian Empire ruled from the border of India to Egypt and Turkey. When the Babylonians expelled many of the Jews from the land of Israel in 586 BCE, they dispersed throughout the area ruled by the Babylonian Empire.

According to the Biblical Book of Esther, a senior Persian minister named Haman conspired against the Jews in the 5th-4thcentury BCE. He gained the approval of the Persian Achashverosh Commonly identified as Artaxerxes II, who ruled from 405 to 358 BCE.

It should be noted that there are many scholars who question whether the Book of Esther is meant to be read as an accurate historical account.

To wipe out the Jews and loot their wealth for the kingdom’s treasury. Haman cast a lot or pur to decide which month the deed would be carried out. The lot fell on the month of Adar.

A Jewish Persian Judge named Mordechai and a Jewish Persian queen named Esther intrigued against Haman’s plans and eventually succeeded in causing the King to execute Haman and his family. This seminal event resulted in the Jews gaining the right to organize and defend themselves against those who wished to destroy them. The Jews did so and killed many of their enemies. Thus for the Jews, the month of Adar was a month where the threat of destruction was replaced with salvation.

National Book Week

Each year, during the first 10 days of June, a unique and highly appraised countrywide Israeli cultural event takes place known as “Hebrew Book Week”, or simply “Book Week”. Hebrew Book Week differs from book fairs in other countries, as Hebrew Book Week is a country-wide event, not limited to specific cities around Israel. Historically, it is significant because in its early days, it contributed to the advancement of what many consider a small miracle – the resurrection of the dead language of Hebrew to once again become a living, breathing language.

shvuaseferHebrew Book Week originated in 1926, as “Hebrew Book Day”, . Hebrew Book Day began as an annual book fair in Tel Aviv. To attract the widest possible audience, it was held on one of the city’s most frequented streets–Rothschild Boulevard., The original purpose of the book fair was to increase awareness of and exposure to Hebrew language books. . Due to the recent arrival of new immigrants to Israel there was all the more motivation to hold the book fair. Aware of the financial challenges of recent immigrants, the sponsors of Book Week provided the newcomers who did not necessarily know Hebrew yet with a twenty five percent discount off of many of the available books at the fair. This discount attracted a large crowd to Hebrew Book Day, and fulfilled the fair’s objective to expose and increase awareness of Hebrew language books.

Naomi Shemer

Naomi Shemer (1930-2004) was known as the “national songwriter” for the period following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. An incredibly prolific poet, (she wrote, adapted and translated hundreds of songs) her appeal went beyond the small circle of song lovers and touched the broader Israeli public – children and adults, religious and secular alike. Her deep, emotional style continues to reverberate to this day.

naomishemerBorn in 1930 on the kibbutz Kvutzat Kinneret, Shemer demonstrated musical talent at an early age. Later she attended the Tel Aviv Musical Academy. When she returned to the Kibbutz, she began writing songs for her old community, and this sparked her passion for poetry.

Shemer soon joined the newly established IDF, where she was placed in the Nachal brigade, which had a cultural section. While there, Shemer wrote prolifically, with topics discussing everything from personal to the familial to the national. Shemer continued to produce highly popular songs after she left the army, culminating in the wildly popular “Jerusalem of Gold”. Although her popularity declined in the late 1980s because of her one-sided political affiliation, her death in 2004 marked the end of an era.

Fasting

Communication with God, otherwise known as prayer, in Judaism is primarily through speech, but there are other acts of prayer in Judaism that involve actions and not words. One of the forms of this non-verbal prayer in Judaism is fasting – the self-denial of food and drink, either for the daytime (from dawn until complete sunset) or for a full Jewish holy day (about 25 hours).

Fasting is one of the starkest expressions of Jewish adherence to tradition. The practice of fasting on certain days is sufficiently widespread in Israel that mainstream newspapers often contain advice on how to fast easily the day before a fast takes place.

So Why Do Jews Fast?

A major reason for fasting is mourning for a national disaster – specifically the mourning of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BC and the Romans in 70 AD. There are fully four fast days set aside in the Jewish calendar for historical mourning, each commemorating a part of this event – the beginning of the siege (10th of Teveth), the breaching of the city walls (17th of Tamuz), the destruction of the Temple (9th of Av) and the murder of the Jewish district governor under the Babylonian Empire, which ended all hope for Jewish revival under the Babylonians (3rd of Tishrei).

The Lunar Calendar of Israel and the Jewish People

Jews today make use of two calendars – the modern Western calendar and the traditional Jewish calendar. While the Western calendar is followed for all secular and civil purposes, the Jewish calendar is used for religious purposes, such as the marking of Jewish holidays.

Much like the old Chinese calendar, the Jewish calendar runs on a lunar cycle, and has twelve months of 29/30 days. Since the lunar year is about 11 days shorter than the solar year, the Jewish calendar is kept in line with the solar year by adding a second Jewish month “Adar” every four years. So where there is usually only Adar, in this case there is Adar ‘a’ and Adar ‘b’, essentially adding a 13th month to the calendar.

Days

Days in the Hebrew calendar are based on the lunar cycle – they start and end in the evening, and are determined by the time of sunset. For example, the Jewish Sabbath, or weekly day of religious worship, will start Friday night, at the time of sunset, and will end the Saturday night, an hour after sunset, a time at which the stars are clearly visible. This “25-hour day” rule applies for all Jewish holidays .

According to the Jewish bible, the world was created in seven days. Since the Sabbath was created on the seventh day, all other days of the week are named for their relation to the Sabbath. Thus Sunday is “1st day”, Monday is “2nd day” and so on. This terminology stems from the religious view is that the of the days of the week are merely preludes to the Sabbath.

Why are Jews required to undergo circumcision?