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Hamantashen: The History Behind Judaism’s Iconic Dessert

Like most Jewish holidays, a classic food is often associated
with the holiday, one that has its own history and purpose behind its role in the holiday. No
matter the year or setting, one delicacy is always present at every Purim meal or party, and that,
of course, is the Hamantash.

Hamantashen: The History Behind Judaism’s Iconic Dessert

By AY Stein
Purim is upon us bringing with it a wide array of traditions that have become synonymous with celebrating the holiday each year. Like most Jewish holidays, a classic food is often associated with the holiday, one that has its own history and purpose behind its role in the holiday. No matter the year or setting, one delicacy is always present at every Purim meal or party, and that, of course, is the Hamantash. This triangular dough pastry is often chockful of various fillings, including but not limited to jelly, apple, or apricot, and can come in a wide variety of sizes. The role of this pastry and its association with Purim began several centuries ago and can be traced back as early as the commemoration of Purim itself.

At its simplest description, the Hamantash derives its name from Haman, the villainous antagonist in the Book of Esther who sought to destroy the Jewish population of Shushan. The Hamantash celebrates Haman’s treacherous defeat, in the literal translation of the name, Haman, and Hebrew word, tash, which means ‘weaken’, and represents G-d weakening the plans of Haman., It also represents our prayers that Hashem weaken and trample the plans of those who seek to inflict pain upon us 1 . The most popular and widely accepted belief regarding the Hamantash’s shape is that it represents the triangular shape of Haman’s own hat, best
representing Haman’s most iconic visual trait.

The filling for the doughy treat comes in a wide variety of flavors, frequently with jelly or apricot. Aside from its added taste, these fillings also serve a symbolic purpose. During the events throughout the Purim story, Mordechai sought to deliver letters to the Jewish people of Shushan in an effort to warn them about their impending fate. Afraid these messages may be intercepted by their enemies, Mordechai hid the messages within delicacies and pastries, in order that they would only be discovered upon delivery to the Jewish people of Shushan. To commemorate the clandestine strategy of Mordechai, and his constant efforts to protect the Jewish people, we continue to fill the insides of the Hamantash. This helps us remember the struggle of our ancestors in Shushan, representing the hidden work of Mordechai and the Jewish people. 2

While there are many variations of the flavorful fillings of today’s modern Hamantashen, the classic version of the Hamantash was in fact, filled with poppy seeds. While Esther was living within the palace of King Achashverosh, she kept her Jewish identity a secret, and since the food of King Achashverosh’s palace was non-Kosher, she maintained her beliefs to keep Kosher and survived on various beans and seeds instead. To commemorate Esther’s perseverance and determination, this custom began, consisting of eating dough pockets, known in Hebrew as tashen, filled with the poppy seeds, or mohn, as it is known in Yiddish, to symbolize the poppy seeds that Esther survived on during her time held captive in Achashverosh’s palace. In Yiddish, Hamantashen were known as mohntashen, and in large part
to the similar pronunciation of mohn and Haman, the name of this delicious delicacy eventually evolved into the Hamantash as we know it today. 3

Through the ages, Hamantashen has continued to cement its association with Purim, being a long-standing custom held by many in order to commemorate the miracles associated during the story of Purim. The Hamantash represents more than just the story of Purim, it represents our victory over our enemies and our prayers that G-d will trample those who seek to harm us. Hamantashen not only represent the past, or even the Purim story itself, it is a reminder that even in the darkest moments, we should never lose our faith, or Emunah, because Hashem is guiding us through each moment. The Hamantash represents Jewish resilience, faith, and determination. The joyful holiday of Purim stands to remind us that when we stand tall in our beliefs and in our faith, not even the strongest forces can harm us, and all we need is the Emunah and perseverance to ensure it.

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1. Otzar Kol Minhagei Yeshurun,
2. Sefer Menuchah V’Kedushah
3. Sefer Matanim (Purim 2)

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