Hamentashen

From: Jill in Long Island, NY

Dear Rabbi,

Why do we eat “hamantaschen” on Purim?

Dear Jill,

I’ve heard that the word is Yiddish and comes from the two words “mon” (poppy seed) and “tash” (pocket). Thus it would mean “a pocket of [dough filled with] poppy seed.” Perhaps the letter ‘heh’ at the beginning is to make the food sound like the name of the evil, Amalekite, Haman, who we hope to “devour”.

The connection between hamantaschen and Purim may be as follows:

Compared to the spectacular miracles we recount on the night of Passover, the events of Purim individually appear unspectacular. Esther wins “the beauty contest”. Well, somebody had to win. Mordechai overhears a plot to kill the king. Well that could have been “chance”. Only when you read the “whole megilla” do you discover that each separate event when put in context of the whole was a hidden miracle. The very name for the Scroll of Ester, “Megillat Esther”, can mean “Revealing the Hidden”. Hamantaschen thus hints to this hidden aspect of Purim, since the poppy seeds are hidden inside the dough.

Why poppy seeds? The Talmud states (Megilla 13a) that Esther ate seeds while in the palace of Achashverosh. This enabled her to avoid non-kosher food, yet maintain a healthy appearance. Perhaps the Yiddish word “mon” alludes to this, since the Hebrew word for manna, the miraculous food which sustained the Jewish People for 40 years in the desert is “mon”.

Sources:

  • Ta’amei HaMinhagim 895.
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