Purim Guide

Purim Holiday Traditions, History & Celebrations

1. What is a Purim spiel?

The word “spiel” is a Yiddish word that means “play” or “skit”. Therefore a Purim spiel is a dramatic presentation—often humorous and satirical—of the events that transpired in the Megillah.

People performing a Purim spiel.
A Purim spiel performance. (Photo credit: Henry Kotowski / CC BY-SA 3.0).

2. Where and when have Purim spiels been performed?

Considered by Cantor Janet Leuchter as “the only genuine folk theater that has survived a thousand years of European culture,” Purim spiels have a long-lasting history. Public reenactments of Haman’s hanging were found almost 2,000 years ago. Proper spiels did not start until Medieval Europe—with secular parodies and entertainment. 

Purim-specific spiels originated with Ashkenazi Jews in the 1500s; these actors would often take great time to rehearse their act and would perform in large venues and wealthy homes—or would even walk door-to-door in their communities to perform their Purim skit. 

In modern times, Purim spiels are often performed in synagogues—although families often perform spiels for their guests in their own homes as well.

3. What takes place during a Purim spiel?

While Purim spiels depict the story of Purim told in the Megillah, they almost always have satirical twists to them. The immediate evidence of this is the elaborate, wild costumes that actors often wear. During the spiels, actors often relate the themes of Purim to the modern day; this is done in a variety of ways: poking fun at members of the congregation, performing a musical by including modern music, employing similar production styles as modern shows such as Hamilton and even acting in a satirical way that represents a current celebrity—such as the president. 

The recreation of the Purim story has even made its way to the big screen. To learn more about Purim movies, click here,

Purim spiels are a timeless way for a community to embrace the story of Purim—while making sure that everyone has a good laugh or two as well! Chances are your local synagogue performs a Purim spiel, so if you want to see a modern representation of the story of Purim, be sure to attend a spiel!

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