The Megillah Says What? ‘We killed 75,000 Persians on Purim’

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

The Megillah Says What? ‘We killed 75,000 Persians on Purim’

Rabbi Danny Rich looks into the Book of Esther and reflects on its more controversial element

Scroll of megillat Esther  (Wikipedia/
Israel Museum)
Scroll of megillat Esther (Wikipedia/ Israel Museum)

 Although lacking any historicity, the Book of Esther tells of a Persian King, Ahasuerus, his Jewish Queen Esther and an attempt by his chief minister, Haman, to wipe out the Jews on a date selected by the drawing of lots.

Esther’s uncle, Mordechai, discovers the plot and advises his niece to inform the king. The Jews are saved, Haman and his 10 sons are hanged, and the Jews go on to kill 75,000 Persians in defence of their own lives.

The early adherents of Liberal Judaism either ignored or made an articulated decision to reject Purim.

As Britain’s first Liberal Rabbi, Dr Israel Mattuck, wrote: “The story upon which it is based is historically doubtful. And there are some objectionable features in its celebration. For these reasons, but particularly because it lacks religious significance, many Liberal synagogues do not observe it.”

Over the years, Purim re-established itself in Liberal Jewish circles and, in modern times, our communities are awash with fancy dress and hamantaschen.

There are two important reasons to celebrate a festival whose bloodthirsty ending we still reject – one ancient, and one modern. Following the Talmud injunction that one must recite
a blessing on returning to a place having been saved from danger, Jewish communities around the word began to mark their own local ‘Purim’.

With the shocking rise of antisemitism in the UK and beyond, Purim might make an annual moment of reflection for us.

Perhaps, too, the early Liberal Jews missed a feature of the Purim story in which, in typical fairy-tale style, there is a clear division between the ‘goodies’ and the ‘baddies’. If modernity has taught humanity anything it is this: politics, economics, even history and all the manifestations of human existence are rarely “black and white”.

  •  Danny Rich is Senior Rabbi of Liberal Judaism
Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: