The Timeless Message of Purim:
Jubilation Tinged with Wariness
By Annette Keen
The timeless message of Purim is as ancient as ancient Persia's Haman, and as modern as modern Iran's Ahmadinejad. As a tale of the Jews' imminent destruction and heroic deliverance, it is harrowing as it is comforting. The old story does not seem so passé these days.
Haman, minister to King Achashueros, prompts the king to order the annihilation of his Jewish subjects, using words that have resounded through history:
"There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in 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
Let an edict be drawn for their destruction." (Esther 3:8)
In the Purim story, the evil decree is thwarted. Queen Esther fearfully discloses to her husband and king that she is herself Jewish. Consequently, if he does not repeal the genocide, she will die with her people. Since Esther is the king's favorite, he becomes enraged, and orders Haman and his sons to reap the death they devised for the Jews.
The outcome of the Purim story is deliverance. Yet it also reflects how vulnerable Jews can be in a hostile environment. The disturbing undercurrent running through the narrative shows how easily safety can tip to danger, how quickly the homeland can become the killing field.
Perhaps it is this tension between opposite emotional poles despair to elation that ignites the nearly delirious happiness with which Jews across the ages have greeted and celebrated Purim. It is the most joyous, playful and tender celebration in the Jewish calendar. Literally and figuratively drunk with jubilation, Jews celebrate Purim with riotous happiness and high spirits.
Jewish families around the world come to synagogue to hear the reading of Megilah Esther, waiting rapturously to drown out the name of Haman with the deafening din of their whirling, noisemaking groggers. Hebrew schools prepare students to replay the Purim story in costume of the well-known characters, Queen Esther, her uncle Mordechai, King Achashueros, and the evil Haman.
Where there is Jewish merrymaking, there is a feasting, and reigning supreme on the festive Purim seudah table is the Hamantasch, a three cornered pastry traditionally stuffed with poppy seed filling. What the Hamantasch denotes is open to conjecture. In Yiddish-German, it translates as Haman's Pocket, but other traditions call it Haman's Hat, which legend says was three-cornered. Still others soften the contour of the pastry into Haman's Ear.
German Jewish lore sources the use of poppy seed stuffing for the Hamantasch to the word for poppy seed, mohn, which sounds awfully much like ha
man. Hmmm. Mohn may be the filling of choice, but any fruit filling can be used, and creative bakers keep coming up with new ideas for fillings.
Traditional Hamantaschen are made with yeast pastry dough. They are large, luscious and well worth the time and fuss. Easier and faster to bake are those made from cookie dough. Recipes for each type accompany this article. They are excerpted from "Divine Kosher Cuisine," an award-winning cookbook produced by Agudat Achim in Schenectady, New York. Order at www.divinekosher.com.
Before Purim, more than 4,000 cookie dough Hamantaschen will be baked at the synagogue by an army of volunteers. Some congregants will package them in Shalach Manot bags, another team will hand deliver orders to families, their friends, and to Jewish nursing home residents.
Annette Keen is a freelance writer in Niskayuna, New York
Divine Kosher Cuisine Hamantaschen:
Traditional and Contemporary: Ess Gezinteheit!
Sour Cream-Yeast Dough Hamantaschen - DAIRY OR PAREVE - YIELD: 25 LARGE PASTRIES
2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm milk (nondairy milk for pareve)
1/2 cup sugar, divided
2 cups flour, divided
1/2 cup butter (or margarine)
1/2 cup sour cream for dairy (nondairy sour cream for pareve)
2 large eggs, beaten well
1/4 teaspoon salt
Poppy seed, prune, apricot, cherry, raspberry or Double-Chocolate Filling
1. Heat oven to 350°F, 10 minutes before baking. Line cookie sheets with parchment.
2. Mix yeast, milk (or nondairy milk), 1/4 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 cup flour. Let rest 20 minutes.
3. Cut butter or margarine into flour in large bowl.
4. Add yeast mixture and remaining ingredients. Mix to smooth dough, adding flour until dough is no longer sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.
5. Roll out 1/4-inch thick on floured surface, fold into thirds and roll out again. Fold and roll twice more. This makes a very rich, flaky, but not sweet pastry.
6. Roll out, cut with 3 1/2-inch cookie cutter and fill.
7. Fold up sides in a triangle, leaving almost no filling exposed. The cookies will open as they proof and bake. Brush liberally with Egg-Honey Wash. Cover and let rise 30 minutes. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Cool.
8. Store in airtight container for up to 2 days. May be frozen.
Cookie Dough Hamantaschen - DAIRY OR PAREVE - YIELD: 44 COOKIES
1 cup butter (or margarine)
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups flour
Flour for rolling
Prune, poppy seed, apricot, raspberry, cherry, or Double Chocolate Filling
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease cookie sheets.
2. Cream butter (margarine) and sugar at medium speed. Beat in 2 eggs, vanilla and juice.
3. Mix baking powder and salt with flour, gradually add to creamed mixture for sticky dough.
4. Divide dough into 4 balls and cover with plastic wrap. Chill 4 hours.
5. Roll each ball on lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut 3-inch circles.
6. Beat remaining egg with 1 teaspoon water. Brush rim of circle with egg wash. Place 1 teaspoon of filling in center. Pinch edges to form triangle, leaving center slightly open.
7. Place on sheets and bake 15 to 18 minutes until lightly browned. Freezes well.
Beat 2 large eggs with ½ cup honey and brush tops of unbaked yeast Hamantaschen.
Double Chocolate Filling
4 ounces pound or chiffon cake
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa, sifted
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup
1 tablespoon orange juice
1/3 cup chocolate mini-chips
1. Process cake into fine crumbs and mix in sugar and cocoa. Add butter or margarine.
2. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla. Add chocolate syrup and juice. Fold in chocolate chips.
3. Fill Hamantaschen [or other cookies, strudel or Danish.]
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For more recipes, see our Recipes Archives
from the February 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine