Page last updated at 16:46 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

In pictures: Jews celebrate Purim

Ultra-Orthodox Jews belonging to the Vishnitz Hassidic sect dance on their Rabbi's table as they celebrate the Jewish festival of Purim in Bnei Brak, a religious town near Tel Aviv in central Israel

Israeli Jews have been celebrating the boisterous festival of Purim, including the tightly-knit ultra-Orthodox communities.

Israeli Jewish Orthodox men and a child in costume, read a Scroll of Esther which tells the story of the Jewish festival of Purim in the town of Beni Brak, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, Israel

The festival - which includes reading from the scripture, feasting, gift-giving and dressing-up - celebrates events recorded in the Book of Esther when the Jews escaped annihilation in ancient Mesopotamia.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (R) visits children in Hadassa hospital for the Purim holiday on March 10, 2009 in Jerusalem, Israel

Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited children at Hadassah hospital in West Jerusalem where a fancy-dress party was being held.

Ultra Orthodox Jews from the Beth Habad group read the esther scrolls at a synagogue in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya during the Jewish holiday of Purim

Funny behaviour during religious ceremonies is not just permitted during Purim, it is positively encouraged.

Ultra Orthodox Jewish girls, dressed in costumes for the Jewish holiday of Purim, are seen at the religious neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem

The festival is taken seriously in ultra-Orthodox communities like those in the neighbourhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem.

Israeli boys and girls wear costumes as they celebrate the holiday of Purim at a school in Tel Aviv, Israel

It is also an occasion for fun and high spirits among Israel's secular communities.

A Purim parade in the town of Holon near Tel Aviv

Being Israel, politics is never very far away - a parade in the town of Holon displays caricatures of political leaders currently engaged in coalition talks.

After several glasses of wine, ultra-Orthodox Jews dance during Purim festivities at their synagogue in Bnei Brak

An important aspect of Purim festivities involves becoming inebriated, to commemorate the important role that wine plays in the Purim story.

A seemingly inebriated Jewish settler dressed as a soldier dances with others during an annual parade marking the Jewish holiday of Purim as they walk through a Palestinian area in the divided West Bank town of Hebron

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Jewish settlers in the flashpoint town of Hebron mark Purim with a fancy-dress parade. A travel ban is being imposed on Palestinians until midnight on Wednesday.

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