The three-cornered, triangular-shaped cookie known as ‘hamantashen’ is the most popular Purim treat. Is it a symbol for something more meaningful?
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
The food most commonly associated with Purim is no doubt the hamantashen – the triangular shaped, weight-inducing pastry with all types of fillings.
Hamantashen is said to mean “Haman pockets” in Yiddish – referring to the villain of the Purim story.
Another interpretation of the word hamantashen is that the name Haman actually does not refer to the villain of Purim but, rather, to the Yiddish word mohn. which means poppy seeds. Indeed, hamantashen were traditionally once filled exclusively with poppy seeds.
We are told that the seeds are there to remind us that both the prophet Daniel and Esther ate seeds and beans when in exile, as no other kosher food was available. It is only in more recent years that chocolate and all kinds of other exotic fillings were added to hamantashen. Furthermore, tash in Yiddish means pocket. So there you have it: Pockets of poppy seeds!
Turning to Hebrew, the word tash means “to weaken,” referring to Haman falling from power and eventually being hung for his plot to kill the Jews. Actually, in Hebrew, Hamantashen are called Oznei Haman, which means Haman’s ears. Some say that this refers to an obscure teaching that Haman’s ears were cut off before he was hung. Alternatively, “ears” was a term used in many European cultures to refer to stuffed dumplings and pastries.
The fact that the hamantashen are three-cornered and triangular in shape is to remind us of Haman’s hat, which was said to have been triangular in shape. It also reminds us of the three forefathers of the Jewish people whose merits, we believe, helped save the Jewish people against Haman’s plot.
Finally, according to another interpretation, a pastry in which the filling is “hidden” reminds us that God’s role in the world isn’t always obvious. More often than not, God “hides” Himself in the many miracles we experience daily.
Indeed, God’s name isn’t mentioned even once in the Book of Esther, which teaches us that God worked behind the scenes in the Purim story. So, too, God works behind the scenes in our lives, and hopefully eating a few [too many] hamantashen will remind us of that as well!