Jewish festival celebrating the survival of the Jews marked for death in Persia in the 5th cent BC. According to the Book of Esther, Haman, chief minister of King Ahasuerus, planned a general massacre of the Jews and set the date by casting lots. Ahasuerus' wife Esther interceded for the Jews, and they were allowed to attack their enemies. The ritual observance begins with a day of fasting on the 13th of Adar (in February or March), the day before the actual holiday. The Book of Esther is read in the synagogue, and Jews are enjoined to exchange gifts and make donations to the poor. Purim is a day of merrymaking and feasting.