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                      Laws and Customs of Purim 5779

 
 
Purim is a Rabbinic holiday celebrating the Jewish people's chance to defend themselves against their adversaries, and rejoicing in the greatness of Jewish leaders Mordekhai and Esther. The astounding reversal of fortune of the Jews makes it a great day of reversals and unbridled joy. Following is a guide to the basic laws of the day from Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 686-697 and commentaries. PURIM SAMEAH! HAPPY PURIM!
 
Taanit Esther
Purim is preceded by Taanit Esther, the Fast of Esther, on the 13th of Adar II, March 20th this year. This fast, according to many, commemorates the preparation the Jews undertook before standing up for their lives on the 14th of Adar. It is a minor fast, so while there is strong custom for pregnant women and nursing mothers to fast, if they begin to feel sick or know they cannot fast, they should eat, as should anyone who begins to feel unwell on this day. The fast begins at daybreak – 5:43 am this year, and ends at nightfall – 7:33 pm this year.
 
Mahatzit Hashekel – Half-Shekel
It is customary in the month of Adar to give a half-shekel as a remembrance of the head-tax in Temple times which was collected in order to have a new pot from which to offer communal sacrifices for the new Temple year which began the following month in Nisan. Erev Purim prior to Minhah is the customary time to collect this, and others give it on Purim morning. At shul you will find a bundle of three half-dollars. The half-shekel is half of the basic currency of the local area, and we use three in recognition of the three times the word 'terumah' – donation – is used in the portion describing donations in Parashat Terumah. Since we don't expect everyone to have three half-dollars bundled together, you can come to shul, lift the bundle to acquire it, and then give it to the shul. Traditionally, one puts some tzedakah in that pot as well.
 
4 Mitzvot of the Day
 
1) Mikra Megillah – Reading the Megillah
All Jewish adults are obligated to read Megillat Esther (which can be fulfilled by hearing it read by another) at night (after nightfall) and in the daytime (after sunrise). Three berakhot (blessings) are made over this reading – al mikra megillah (on reading the Megillah), sheasah nisim (Who performed miracles...), and Sheheheyanu (Who kept us alive...). During the day, the Sheheheyanu applies to the other mitzvot of the day as well. One blessing is recited after the Megillah is read as well, thanking God for fighting our fights.
 
The megillah tells an amazing story and does so with drama and richness. Some verses are read in sad melodies, and some are read aloud by the congregation, and many have the custom to bang and boo at the mentions of Haman's name.
 
With all of this, it remains halakhically essential to hear all the words of the Megillah. We ask that people stay quiet during the reading and help those with them to do the same. If one misses a word, the best recourse is to read it from the text in front of you and catch back up to the reader. Part of the experience of the megillah is to hear it with our community, and we enjoy having a full house to hear the reading together – 'be-rov am hadrat melekh' – the more people increases the splendor of the King.
 
Nonetheless, some people are unable to come to shul to hear the reading. We will have readings for the homebound to help them fulfill the mitzvah and share in the joy. To take part in spreading Purim joy in this way, contact Rav Ari.
 
2) Matanot Laevyonim – Gifts to the Poor
This mitzvah was part of the very first celebrations of Purim as described in the Megillah (9:22), and has been interpreted over the ages to refer to giving a minimum of functional currency to at least two people, who can then use it for their Purim food or other needs. This mitzvah is particularly fulfilled on Purim Day. Rambam, cited by later authorities, stresses that one should spend more money on this mitzvah than on the subsequent two, Mishloah Manot and Seudah (Rambam Megillah 2:17).
 
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3) Mishloach Manot – Sending (food) Parcels
This mitzvah, which was also part of the very first celebrations of Purim as described in the Megillah (9:22), has been interpreted over time to obligate sending two types of food (they need not be two different blessings) to a friend. Some suggest that the ideal form of sending is through an agent – another friend or a child. The foods should be ready-to-eat. They need not be fancy. This mitzvah is particularly fulfilled on Purim Day.
 
4) Mishteh – Festive Meal
This mitzvah as well was part of the very first celebrations of Purim as described in the Megillah (9:22), and entails a celebratory meal. The meal is had in the daytime specifically, and should be begun with enough time to eat the bulk of the meal before sunset – 7:04pm this year. The meal, like any festive Jewish meal, should include words of Torah – in the spirit of Purim.
 
Some people particularly drink wine to become intoxicated on this day. While the nature of this practice and its scope is the subject of significant debate, what is clear is that one who drinks should do so responsibly.
 
Special Notes regarding Mourners
Mourners are obligated in all the mitzvot of the day. Although mourners are obligated to send Mishloah Manot (which should be simple, and not joy-inducing), it is customary not to send Mishloah Manot to those in their year of mourning for a parent or month of mourning for other close relatives. A mourner who is sent Mishloah Manot may receive them, however. Shiva on Purim and Shushan Purim is observed without outward signs of mourning, although a mourner may receive visitors to the shiva house on those days. The mourners’ festive meal is more simple and without an especially large group.
 
Liturgy
Hallel is not recited on Purim. Al Hanisim is said in birkat hamazon (Blessing after Meals) and in the Amidah prayer. If forgotten, those prayers need not be repeated. Tahanun is omitted at Shaharit and Minhah, as are related prayers. The Torah is read on Purim morning, telling the story of the war with Amalek (Ex. 17:8-16).

In recognition of the Jews of Shushan who defended themselves on the 13th and 14th of Adar and rested on the 15th, the 15th is commemorated as Shushan Purim. We mark it by omitting Tahanun and the related prayers.
 
 
 
Tue, May 21 2019 16 Iyyar 5779