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                                  Halachot of Purim

                                                  Rabbi Dovid Horwitz

Ta’anit Esther
1. As its status finds its roots in custom, rather than in a formal enactment of the Sages, the Fast of Esther is not considered one of the four strictly-obligatory fasts.

2. Accordingly, one who is suffering from a moderate headache is permitted to break his or her fast, whereas on one of  the four obligatory fasts one is only permitted to eat due to illness or a severe headache.

3. In the event that one did not complete the fast due to illness or pain, the individual is nevertheless required to fast on another day during the month of Adar to make up for the fast which was missed.

4. One who feels weak as a result of the fast but is not in any pain should consult with a Rabbinic authority in order to determine whether or not one should break the fast.

5. In remembrance of the half-shekel pieces that the Jews donated annually for the Communal Temple Sacrifices, it is customary for one to contribute three half-shekel pieces to Tzedakah on the afternoon of The Fast of Esther before the Ma’ariv service of Purim begins.

6. The accepted custom is to give three half-shekel pieces for each family member, including women, children and infants.

7. Although some authorities require one to give the value of the silver half-shekel which is described in the Torah, most accept the ruling that any half- coin is sufficient for this purpose. For example, in America one would give three half-dollar pieces to fulfill his obligation, whereas in Israel, three half-shekel coins can be used.

8. One is not permitted to eat or drink until after one has fulfilled the mitzvah of listening to the Megilla.

9. One who is weak from the fast and feels that he or she will not be able to endure until the end of the Megilla reading should have a small amount to eat and drink.

The Megilla Reading
1. It is preferable to hear the Megilla reading in a public forum as opposed to in one’s home, as the Purim miracle is more greatly publicized in this way. Therefore, men and women alike should make a concerted effort to come to the Beit Knesset to hear the Megilla.

2. A woman who was not able to come to the Beit Knesset, should try to attend a Megilla reading for a group of women. This is certainly preferable to hearing the Megilla read privately in one’s own home.

3. From the time they are approximately six or seven years old, children should be brought to the Beit Knesset in order to educate them in the mitzvah of listening to the Megilla. Children below this age should not be encouraged to come to hear the Megilla unless they are well disciplined and will not disturb the rest of the congregation from hearing the reading.

4. It is incumbent on each person to hear the Megilla in its entirety in the day as well as in the night.

Purim Prayers
1. We insert the special tefilla of Al Ha’nissim in the Shemonei Esrei of Ma’ariv, Shacharit, and Mincha on Purim.

2. If a person inadvertently forgot to insert Al Ha’nissim and had already completed the Bracha at the conclusion of Modim, he or she  should not go back and recite it.

Mishloach Manot
1. On Purim, it is a mitzvah for each person to give two gifts of food to a friend or acquaintance.

There are two basic explanations given for this mitzvah.

2. We give food gifts to ensure that every person will have enough to eat for the Purim meal and be capable of celebrating it properly. Additionally, we give these gifts to foster love and  friendship amongst the Jewish People in order to discredit Haman’s accusation that we are a disjointed and non-unified nation.

3. In order to engender feelings of friendship between the sender and the receiver, it is important that the sender  include his or her name on his gift so that the receiver will know to whom to direct thanks. For this reason, one cannot fulfill this mitzvah with an anonymous gift.

4. The mitzvah of Mishloach Manot requires one to send at least two different food items to one individual. Sending one food item to two different individuals is not sufficient, as this would not fulfill the words of the Megilla which states “the giving of gifts each to his fellow.”

5. The mitzvah if Mishloach Manot is incumbent upon both men and women alike. Therefore, a woman should send her own food gifts to a friend and not rely on her husband to send on her behalf.

6. Children, beginning from age six or seven, should also be taught to send Mishloach Manot to at least one of their friends.

7. Some opinions maintain that it is better to send the food gifts through a messenger, as the word Mishloach implies.

8. Although there is no clearly defined amount of food that needs to be sent in order to  fulfill this mitzvah, one’s gift must be significant enough to evoke feelings of appreciation and friendship from the receiver. Therefore, the necessary quality of the gift is directly dependant upon who it is being given to.

Matanot L’Evyonim
1. Because the Megilla refers to this mitzvah in the plural, “gifts for the poor”, on Purim one is required to give gifts of charity to at least two poor people.

2. As is the case with  Mishloach Manot, the Halacha does not define the amount of money one must give in order to fulfill the mitzvah of Matanot L’Evyonim. However, as the purpose of this mitzvah is to ensure that the poor have the wherewithal to make a festive Purim Seudah, it is logical to assume that one must give enough money to purchase a substantial food item. Many Poskim require one to give at least enough money to purchase a half-loaf of bread.

3. Because Matanot L'Evyonim is a mitzvah which is totally independent of one’s obligation to give tzedaka throughout the year, one is not permitted to use his Ma’aser money for this purpose as he is already obligated to give that money to the poor.

Seudat Purim
1. Although it was intended that the mitzvah of eating a festive meal on Purim be fulfilled during the day, it has become customary to engage in festivity at night as well by eating a less elaborate but festive meal.

2. Just as there is a mitzvah to eat meat and drink wine on Yom Tov as such foods help a person to feel more joyous, one should also have wine and meat as integral parts of his Purim meal.

3. The Purim meal should commence soon after Minchah. It should, however, be started early enough in the afternoon that the majority can be completed before sunset, and should not be delayed until late in the day.

4. There is a major debate amongst the Halachic authorities as to how much wine a person should consume on Purim. Some authorities believe that one should become totally drunk  to the point that he can no longer think straight, while others believe that the mitzvah merely requires one to drink more than usual and to nod-off briefly from drowsiness. 

5. The Mishna Berura cautions that every person must know his limits and not exceed to the point that he will behave in a manner inappropriate to the great sanctity of the day.







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