Sunday School Lesson for Jewish Purim Holy Day
Sometimes, Christian denominations minimize the Old Testament Jewish foundation of their faith. What Christians call the “Old Testament” covers at least two-thirds of the content of the Bible. Remember, this is the faith that the good Lord decided to drop Jesus into. When I taught Bible lessons to Protestant Sunday School classes, I found it much more real to my precious charges to experience the festivals of Judaism, rather than merely read about them.
Below is a lesson which explains one of the short books in the Old Testament. I am using The New English Bible (1970) as my source. The Jewish holy day of Purim celebrates the events in the book of Esther. This very brief book sits between Nehemiah and Job. It is a very joyous holiday celebrating the rescue of the Jewish population from genocide.
In 2012, Purim starts at sundown on March 7th.
The Book of Esther or age appropriate child version of the story
Hamantaschen cookies (explained below)
Punch or other beverage
Optional: Map of Iran
The noisemakers can be “official graggers” (pronounced GROG-er) which are spun to make a rattling ratchet-y noise, or your students can ring cowbells or click sticks together. Also, the class could fill empty paper rolls with pebbles and securely cover both ends to make a rainstick or maraca-like noisemaker.
Paper crowns can be made by the students or obtained at the fast food restaurant Burger King.
The cookies can be purchased at a Jewish deli or bakery, or made ahead with the recipe below. The tradition is that they are triangle-shaped on the assumption that Haman wore a three-cornered hat similar to English colonists in pre-Revolutionary America.
Super Easy Hamantaschen Cookie Recipe
Credit for this easy recipe belongs to Ellen Herman Azrael. Thanks, Ellen!
Refrigerated roll of Sugar Cookie Dough (commercially made or homemade)
Jar of jam
Roll the cookie dough so that it is a cylindrical log with a diameter of about 3 inches (7-8 cm). Slice it into circles about ¼ inch (1 cm) thick. Put one teaspoon of jam in the center. Fold three sides as flaps to make a triangle shape while permitting some of the jam to remain visible.
Bake as directed by the package or the recipe.
Persia = Iran
Short Summary of the Book of Esther
As we know, God loves us very much. When He sent Jesus to the world, He picked a special group of people and family for His Son. God picked the Jewish People to raise Jesus.
Around the 6th century BCE, before Jesus was born, many Jews were living in a country named Persia. Today we call that country Iran. In those days, there were a few bullies. When bad people bullied the Jews, sometimes the Jews kept their religion a secret from everyone else to avoid getting picked on.
Around this time, there was a King of Persia. He was allowed to have more than one wife. However, there was a “Number One Queen.” One day the king asked his Number One Queen, named Queen Vashti, to come all dressed up to show off to the king’s friends. Queen Vashti did not want to do that, so the King fired her from the Number One spot.
Then the King held a Talent and Beauty contest to find a new Number One Queen. A smart Jewish young lady named Esther was in the contest. She was an orphan who lived with her cousin, a Jewish man named Mordecai. Mordecai told Esther to keep her Jewishness a secret just in case there were any bullies in the king’s palace.
Esther won the contest and became the Number One Queen! Around the same time, there was an important helper to the King whose name was Haman. He was a bad guy. He had been extra bossy to Mordecai and Mordecai kept his cool, but did not give in. So, Haman wanted to get back at him.
Haman planned to get all the Jews killed because he was so annoyed with Mordecai. When Queen Esther found out, she took a big risk and went to the King. In those days, no one was allowed to just go visit the King if he felt like it. No, a person could only talk to the King if the King sent for him. If a person tried to go to the King without being sent for, the king could KILL him! So, Esther really was taking a chance by going without being called.
Esther asked the King if he would save all her Jewish people from being annihilated by Mordecai. The King loved Esther so much that he said “yes,” and he also said that Esther could live. Then they punished Haman. After that, they had a big, happy party.
(This can take from 1 to 3 class sessions depending how much time you have and how many of the lesson activities you wish to use.)
(1) Read or paraphrase the story summary, above, without using groggers.
(2) Have students make or decorate crowns or hats and wear them.
(3) Have volunteers act/pantomime while teacher re-reads the summary.
Extras: royal servants, Jewish residents of Persia, friends of the King
(4) Make or decorate noisemakers. Distribute noisemakers and instruct that anytime students hear the name “Haman” in the next reading of the story of Esther, they should shake the noisemakers and shout for ten seconds only.
(5) Eat the treat of Hamantaschen and a drink.
Children's Bible Heroes
A Longer Version of Esther
[In synagogues and temples in America, it is a duty to read the story of Esther at Purim. By the way, the Yiddish word for this story is Megillah. In recent, years, not only do children come to the Purim service in costume, but some adults do as well. Everyone makes a ruckus when the name Haman is uttered.]
Read the entire Book of Esther which has more plot twists than the summary above, or read the following verses:
Esther 1: 1-5, 10-12, 19-22;
Esther 2: 1-11, 15-18;
Get the noisemakers ready!
Esther 3: 1-11
Esther 4: 1-4, 5-17
Esther 5: 1-4
Esther 7: 1-10
Esther 8: 3-8
This story of Esther has many positives for children: a female heroine, a wedding, kings and queens, party food, raucous noise, and an ending with the good guys winning. It can be used during any unit on the Bible, the Old Testament, and in Vacation Bible School. I personally think that little boy Jesus and his playmates enjoyed Purim very much.
March 4, 2015 at sundown marks Purim's Start
Jewish holidays begin at sunset.
All text copyrighted and photos, as indicated, copyright 2012 Maren E. Morgan, all rights reserved.