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Behind the Story of Hamantaschen

By Zanna Linskaia

What do we know about Purim? Costumes, the megillah, gift baskets, and of course, those delicious triangular cookies - hamantaschen. These treats filled with poppy seeds, dry apricot or prunes, have been a symbol of Purim celebrations for centuries. But where, what and why the ancient story of this delicious pastry begun?

One of the oldest referrals of a Purim treat as oznei Haman was in a Purim comedy written by Yehudah Sommo of Italy in the middle of 16th century. Translated as “Haman’s ears” from Hebrew, it’s led to the myth that the pastries celebrate the cutting off the wicked man’s ears before he was hanged. Another simple and very wide explanation is that hamantaschen symbolize Haman’s triangular hat and victory over Haman by Jewish people.

The word hamantaschen consists of two Hebrew roots - Haman - devil and tash - weaken. So, hamantash celebrates the weakening of Haman and our enemies. At the same time, Yiddish version of hamantasch refers to haman as poppy seeds, and tash means pocket. When we read the Purim story, we remember that Esther kept her identity secret being in the King’s palace. The Talmud explains that while food was there not kosher, Esther survived eating seeds and beans from her pocket.That is why classical hamantaschen originally called mohntashen for Purim means “poppy seed filled pockets” regarding the Code of Jewish Law. Probably, it

was a linguistic trick from mohntashen to hamantashen, as people saw a connection between the treats on Purim and the villain of the Purim story.

Traditionally, Purim pastry are filled with favorite fillings such as prune, poppy seed, apricot, raspberry, cherry and others. Nowadays, you can make hamantaschen filled with lemon, blueberry and pineapple, as well as chocolate or cheese. Some Jewish bakeries and communities organize special competitions and classes for Purim treats. The reason for eating hamantaschen is that they symbolize the nature of the Purim miracle.

In the Israeli current war with Hamas there are so many parallels with the story of Purim: you notice that it was a string of seeming coincidences that saved the Jewish people from elimination. Purim reminds us that all those coincidences are full of lies, and nothing is random. We are in the middle of our story and our fight. But in the end it will be Purim miracle that saved us so many times.

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