A Brief History of Hamantaschen

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Purim is celebrated this week, which means it’s time for delicious hamantaschen.

Most religious school students could tell you the symbolism of the three-sided cookies, but where do they come from? It turns out, the cookies’ association with Purim could be the result of a coincidence.

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Hamantaschen are now said to represent the ears, pockets, or tri-cornered hat of Haman, the villain of the Purim story who tried to kill all of the Jews in ancient Persia. “Taschen” means “pocket” or “pouch” in German, and in some countries (like Israel), the sweets are referred to as “Haman’s ears” instead. In a symbolic sense, then, the snack allows Jews to feast on the defeat of their enemy.

But before hamantaschen, in medieval Europe, eaters enjoyed a poppy-filled baked good called mohntaschen. “Mohn” is German for poppy or poppy seed. Some now think that the cookies were adopted as part of Purim just because “mohn” and “Haman” sound similar, and the symbolism came later.

Since then, fruit fillings have become a popular variation. According to one story, the popular prune filling (lekvar) was added in Czechoslovakia in 1731, to celebrate the release of a Jewish fruit-preserve merchant who was falsely accused of poisoning his wares.

Regardless of the origin, meaning, or filling of your hamantaschen, they make a great addition to mishloach manot (food baskets for the needy).

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