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   Laws and Customs of Purim 5781

 
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. This year's guidance includes adjustments made due to COVID-19.
 
Zachor
The practice to hear Parashat Zachor (which are the last three Pesukim in Parashat Ki Teitzei in Sefer Devarim) traditionally takes place on the Shabbat preceding Purim. If you are able to attend tefillah and hear the Torah reading at that time you should do so. If you are not able to attend due to Covid-19 considerations you have the following options:
 
a) If you have access to a Sefer Torah you should read Zachor from the Torah, but without brachot. 
b) If you don’t have access to a Sefer Torah, you should read Zachor from a Chumash. In this case, during the coming summer, when Parashat Ki -Teitzei is read (Shabbat August 21st), you should have in mind that you are fulfilling the mitzvah of Zachor with that Torah reading.
c) One can have in mind the obligation to remember Amalek when listening to the Torah reading from Exodus on Purim morning. Those participating via zoom on Thursday morning can also have in mind the mitzvah to remember Amalek.
 
Taanit Esther
Purim is preceded by Taanit Esther, the Fast of Esther, on the 13th of Adar, February 25th this year. The fast begins at daybreak –
5:21 am this year, and ends at nightfall – 6:13 pm 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.
 
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 support communal offerings beginning in Nisan. Erev Purim prior to Mincha is the customary time to collect this, and others give it on Purim morning. For those attending in-person tefillot, at shul you will find a bundle of three half-dollars. Please sanitize your hands, lift the bundle to acquire it, and then give it to the shul by placing it in the basket. Traditionally, one puts some tzedakah in that pot as well. Those unable to attend shul in person can participate in this custom from home. Set aside three half-dollars to charity while saying “Zecher l’machazit ha-shekel – to remember the mitzvah of giving half a shekel.” You may also appoint someone to be your shaliach to perform this custom.
 
4 Mitzvot of the Day
 
1) Mikra Megillah – Reading the Megillah
This year, individuals will be able to attend to hear the megillah at shul at one of the multiple readings we have scheduled. You will receive sign-up information in your email.
 
Those who are unable to hear Megillat Esther read in-person due to COVID-19 safety concerns can listen to Megillat Esther as it is broadcast live over Zoom or over the phone. It is preferable to hear it in person but there are poskim who hold that listening over zoom or the phone fulfills the obligation and this year we will again rely on these poskim.
 
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.
 
 
2) Matanot Le'evyonim – 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 money 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. The Rambam, cited by later authorities, stresses that one should spend more money on this mitzvah than on the subsequent two, Mishloach Manot and Seudah (Rambam Megillah 2:17). In order to participate, you may bring cash to shul or you may donate using the form below. All donations given here will be distributed on Purim day to the needy in the Chicago area and Israel.
 

You can make a donation here

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We invite you to join our community celebration of Purim by collecting and distributing funds for Matanot Le'evyonim - the mitzvah to give gifts to the poor on Purim Day.

Funds collected will be disbursed on Purim Day, on your behalf. Please donate by 12:00pm on Friday, February 26 to ensure that your matanot are included.

Funds will be given to the poor in the Chicago area and in Israel.
3) Mishloach Manot – Sending (food) Parcels
Mishloach manot is a mitzvah that is readily adaptable to social-distancing. The package of food can be left on a doorstep or lobby and there is no need to have any contact with the recipient.
 
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 begin with enough time to eat the bulk of the meal before Shabbat begins – 5:17 pm this year. The meal, like any festive Jewish meal, should include words of Torah – in the spirit of Purim.
 
The Talmud describes a way for a Purim meal on Friday to extend into a Shabbat dinner by means of a Kiddush that is recited in the middle of the meal. An extended meal of this sort should begin before 4:28 PM on Friday. The meal should be interrupted for candle lighting at 5:17 pm, and then bread should be covered for Shabbat Kiddush following a verbal acceptance of Shabbat.
 
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).

 
 
Tue, March 2 2021 18 Adar 5781