THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 21: Jews fast from sunrise to sunset today, for the minor Fast of Esther—in expectation of the coming festival of Purim. The history of the fast is complex as is its interpretation down through the millennia. Learn more from the Jewish Virtual Library or Chabad.org or Wikipedia.)
But here’s the story of Esther, which begins in the 4th century BCE in the Persian Empire: First, you may want to read the book of the Bible called Esther. Her courage in risking her life to save her people is so stirring that her story has been retold by everyone from the composer George Frederic Handel, who called his oratorio Esther—to the Veggie Tales crew that called their video Esther, the Girl Who Became Queen.
Esther was chosen by King Ahasuerus to become his new wife without realizing that she was Jewish. Meanwhile, the anti-Semitic Haman was declared prime minister of the empire, and he convinced King Ahasuerus to issue a decree that would order the extermination of all Jews. Esther asked Jews to fast in preparation of a dinner with King Ahasuerus where she planned to reveal her true identity. The Jews fasted and prayed, and when Esther revealed her identity King Ahasuerus issued a new decree that would give Jews the right to defend themselves against enemies.
As the Fast of Esther is minor, its laws are more lenient than other Jewish fasts.