Hamentaschen and Haman’s Three-Cornered Hat

Is there a deeper meaning behind Haman’s 3-cornered hat? Why do we eat hamentaschen in memory of that of all things?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There is actually no classic source I am aware of which makes mention of Haman wearing a three-cornered hat. This is one of the suggestions given for the custom to eat the triangularly-shaped hamentaschen (or hamantashen) on Purim – that perhaps Haman wore such a hat and we eat them to commemorate his destruction. The earliest source I know of which mentions this theory is Otzar Dinnim u’Minhagim (Collection of Laws and Customs, by Rabbi J. D. Eisenstein, p. 336), originally published in New York in 1917. So it’s a perfectly good theory, but it’s really only a speculation. (It no doubt stems from the days when people imagined powerful goyim as wearing Napoleon-like three-cornered hats.)

The Yiddish word tasch means pouch or pocket. Thus, others suggest that the term is a reference to the Haman’s pockets – meaning the vast treasure he offered Ahasuerus for permission to wipe out the Jews (Esther 3:9). (Otzar Dinnim u’Minhagim suggests further that the many poppy seeds inside the “pocket” allude to the myriad coins he offered the king.)

In Modern Hebrew hamentaschen are known as “oznei haman” – “Haman ears” – and there exist several early references to such a name for them. As far as I know, this is equally speculative because there are no classic references to Haman having Vulcan ears (even though kiddie books often draw him as such), yet the same general idea emerges – of “destroying” Haman through our feasting. (It has been noted that in medieval times the ears of a condemned man would be cut off before his hanging. Thus, severed ears are reminiscent of Haman’s fate (I know, this makes them just a bit less appetizing). (Source: Sefer HaMoadim vol. 6 pp. 153-4.)

Another fairly plausible theory for the etymology of hamentaschen actually has grounds for it in Jewish custom. Hamentaschen were always classically filled with honeyed poppy seeds, mohn in Yiddish. And since tasch is a pocket, the treats might have originally been known as mohntaschen, which due to their association with Purim became known as hamentaschen (Sefer Matamim, Purim 2).

Why were these “poppy pockets” customarily eaten on Purim? It was in fulfillment of a custom to eat seeds on Purim. As the Book of Daniel (Ch. 1) records, when Daniel, Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria were forced into service in Nebuchadnezzar’s court, Daniel requested that they be given just seeds and water to eat so they wouldn’t have to defile themselves with non-kosher food. Their request was reluctantly granted, and they thrived on their limited (but fairly healthy) diet. The Talmud likewise records that Esther subsisted on seeds in order to keep kosher in the palace (Megillah 13a). In commemoration of this, the custom developed to eat seeds on Purim (Rema O.C. 695:2) – which later assumed this tasty form.

(Based on this, hamentaschen should really be filled with seeds – as they traditionally always were. The much more popular and exotic recipes of today – jams, chocolate, peanut butter, halva, caramel, etc. – were later innovations.)

Since Jewish customs are often so filled with meaning (as well as jelly), other fascinating allusions have been seen in hamentaschen. The treat is wrapped inside just as God’s providential Hand was hidden within events. Rather than performing open miracles, God quietly guided the course of events to bring about our salvation.

An equally fascinating suggestion is that Mordechai tried to rouse the Jews of Ahasuerus’s massive empire to repentance by sending out letters warning them of the dire events. But rather than sending the letters openly and drawing too much attention to his efforts, he sent them covertly, hidden inside of pastries! (Both explanations appear in the work Menucha u’Kedusha (2:20).)

An additional insight is offered based on the fact that Purim is a minor holiday. Unlike the major holidays, we are not restricted from performing labor on Purim. We thus eat a pastry with a treat hidden inside of it, signifying that though on the outside Purim is a regular day, it contains “treasures” – of sanctity and festivities – within. This is similar to the custom of eating kreplach (dumplings, dough filled with meat) on two other minor holidays – the eve of Yom Kippur and Hoshana Rabba (and some eat them on Purim as well). (Based on Ta’amei HaMinhagim 895.)

Finally, the three corners of the hamentaschen might allude to the three-way struggle between Ahasuerus, Haman and Esther or the three Patriarchs in whose merit we were saved (Otzar Dinnim u’Minhagim, based on Midrash, Sefer Matamim Purim 2).

For a more complete treatment of this interesting topic see here.

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