The Jewish religion is rich with its important traditions, in addition to the many feasts and fasts that are part of its history. Although a “minor” fast day, the Fast of Esther is one of the most important fasts in Judaism. It is called a “minor” fast simply because it only lasts from sunrise to sunset. It celebrates the insightful wits of Queen Esther and how God used her to deliver her people, the Hebrews, from the hand of a cunning, manipulative man named Haman.
How did she do this? Here is a brief synopsis of the story. According to the Jewish Tanakh, Esther was queen, but she was not allowed to approach King Ahasuerus without being summoned first. So, she decided to invite the king and Haman to a couple of dinners. Since she was the queen, no doubt she had all of the best ingredients for the elaborate and superb meals she prepared for them. In the course of the conversation, Queen Esther told the king that she and her people were in danger and that someone was plotting to destroy them. The king listened to her plea and Haman was identified as the person behind the plot. Haman was killed, and the Jewish people spared.
During the time of fasting, many Synagogues have prayer services during the day. These services remind the Jewish people how close they came to being extinguished. According to the Chabad.org website (http://www.chabad.org/holidays/purim/article_cdo/aid/644314/jewish/The-Fast-of-Esther-What-Why-and-How.htm), The Selichot is recited, as well as the Amidah prayer during the afternoon service. It is also a tradition that the families offer machatzit hashekel. This means that each family gives half-dollars for each member of that family to the synagogue. This act memorializes how each Hebrew gave a half shekel for the temple.
After the Fast of Esther is broken, families have dinner at sunset. Families are permitted to have any meal they wish. Some families may opt to eat on the light side while others have a full course meal. Either is fine and depends on the needs of the family. One tradition remains through the years, the passing of the Mishloach Manot baskets to those who are in need. It is customary to have at least two servings of each piece of food that is included in the basket. Some items may include dried fruit, nuts, chocolates, fresh fruits, hamantaschen, and bread. Synagogues may collect the baskets on behalf of those in need, or families can distribute them to individuals as well. A delicious dessert to try is Pomegranate Truffles by Reyna Simnegar of the website, My Jewish Learning. Click here (https://www.myjewishlearning.com/the-nosher/pomegranate-truffles/) for the delightful recipe!
Purim begins the following day and synagogues usually have a Rabbi read from the Scroll of Esther, and some have festivals as well. During the reading, congregants will cheer for Esther, or boo when they hear Haman’s name. Other synagogues have carnivals, and the people arrive in costume. Some are dressed as Esther, or Mordechai, while children come dressed as other characters, like princesses, or ninja turtles. The reason why people dress up is that Esther hid her true identity from King Ahasuerus, so they are keeping their identity hidden as well.
There is great meaning behind the Fast of Esther. When the fast is finished, though, there is much celebration for Esther, her great faith, and the rescue of the Jewish people.