Bar-Ilan University

The Faculty of Jewish Studies

The Office of the Campus Rabbi


Daf Parashat Hashavua

(Study Sheet on the Weekly Torah Portion)

Basic Jewish Studies Unit


Laws and Customs of Purim

A. Shabbat Parashat Zachor (Parshat Vayikra)

The Shabbath before Purim is called Shabbat Zachor. On this Shabbath two Torah scrolls are taken out of the Ark. Seven men are called up to the first Torah scroll, from which the weekly portion is read; then the Maftir is called and Parashat Zachor is read from the second:

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey when you were leaving Egypt: how, undeterred by fear of God, he came upon you on the march when you were tired and weary, and struck down all those who were stragglers behind. And it will be when God has given you respite from all your enemies all around, in the land which the Lord, your God, has given to you as an inheritance to possess it, you shall erase the name of Amalek from under Heaven, do not forget (Deuteronomy 25: 17-19).

Why do we read Parashat Zachor on the Sabbath prior to Purim? 

a. To link the elimination of Amalek to the elimination of Haman, who was a descendant of Amalek (Rashi, Megillah 29a). 

b. To remember (zachor) the deeds of Amalek before the observance of the commandments of Purim, as it is written: "And these days are commemorated (Nizkarim) and observed" (Esther 9:28), in order that their remembrance precede their observance (Yerushalmi, Megillah, chap. 3, halacha 4) 

Kavannah (Intent): Since the reading of Parashat Zachor at its proper time is a positive commandment from the Torah, the one who reads it from the Torah must have intent to fulfill the commandment on behalf of the entire congregation. The congregation must have the intent to fulfill the commandment of remembrance upon hearing the reader as if they were reading it themselves. 

A minor (i.e., one below the age of Bar-mitzvah, who is not yet obligated by the commandments ) may not be called up to the Maftir of Parashat Zachor, nor can he be the reader of Zachor responsible for fulfilling the commandment on behalf of those who listen. The reason is that since he himself is not obligated by the commandments - he cannot fulfill the mitzvah on behalf of others.

The obligation of women: Halachic authorities differ in their opinions whether women are obligated to hear Parashat Zachor or not. There are those who maintain that they are exempt since the commandment of Zachor is directed only to those who were commanded to destroy the descendants of Amalek in war, the Biblical period. Since women were not commanded to wage war, they are exempt from the commandment of verbal remembrance as well. However, there are Halachic authorities who maintain that women are also bound by law to hear the reading of Zachor, because in an essential war (Milchemet Mitzvah) even "a bridegroom from his chamber and a bride from her canopy" were conscripted to the war effort. 

One cannot say that women are exempt because of the rule that "a positive commandment having a defined time" is not obligatory for women, since the Torah provided no specific time for the commandment of the elimination of Amalek or for the oral remembrance to do so. Therefore this is not a time-defined positive commandment. Today it is customary for women to come to the synagogue on Sabbath to hear the reading of Parashat Zachor, (however, nowaday this commandment has no practical meaning, since legally it is not possible to identify the descendants of Amalek any more). 

Blessing: One does not pronounce a blessing on this commandment of remembering Amalek, since one does not make a blessing on destruction (even of the most evil of the peoples of the world), just as the Midrash tells us regarding the Exodus from Egypt, that the Almighty said to the angels: "The creations of My hands drown in the sea - and you sing ?!" (Megillah 10a).

B. The Fast (Ta'anit ) of Esther

The Fast of Esther takes place on the 13th day of Adar, the day before Purim. 

This fastday is named for Esther because she began her activity with a fast, saying to Mordechai: "Go and assemble all the Jews who are in Shushan and fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night and day, and I and my maidens will likewise fast."(Esther 4:16). 

Those fastdays occurred during Passover, according to the midrash: "And Mordechai passed (Hebrew: vay'avor, which can literally be translated: transgressed") - that he transgressed the first day of Passover by fasting" (Megillah 15a). 

Commemorating those fasts, it was the custom of the sages of Eretz Yisrael to fast for three days. However, since the time of crisis passed, they forbade fasting on Passover and established those fastdays for all generations after Purim. "It was the custom of our Rabbis in the west (Eretz Yisrael) to observe the fastdays of Mordechai and Esther on separate (not continuous) days, after Purim, on Monday, Thursday and Monday..." (Masechet Sofrim, chap. 21, halachah 1). 

The determination that the time of the Fast of Esther should be on the 13th of Adar is first found among the Gaonim in Babylonia and later in the writings of Rashi, Maimonides and the Tosafists. These authorities emphasize that the three days of the Fast of Mordechai and Esther were in Nissan, and the present fastday is no more than a commemoration of the event. Thus for example, Maimonides indicates in his Laws of Fasts, chap. 5 , halacha 4: "And the thirteenth of Adar [is] a commemoration of the fastdays observed in the days of Haman". 

The Fast of Esther in place of the Festival of Nikanor

The thirteenth of Adar is also one of the festivals mentioned in Megillat Ta'anit: "On the thirteenth day in it (the month of Adar) is the day of Nikanor." When Megillat Ta'anit was annulled, after the destruction of the Temple, all those festivals were eliminated and the 13th of Adar , the Day of Nikanor, not only ceased to be a festival but became a fastday - the Fast of Esther, on which we commemorate the fasts that Esther kept. [Today we do not keep three days of fasting for one does not decree something upon the community which would be difficult to keep. However there are those who fast as described above for three days - Monday, Thursday and Monday - after Purim in remembrance of the Fast of Esther which lasted for three days]. 

We fast on the 13th of Adar, but if Purim falls on a Sunday (as it does this year) we move the fast up to Thursday, the 11th of Adar, in order to do honor to the Shabbath, for if we fast on Friday it would be difficult to make the proper preparations for the Shabbath or to taste the foods being prepared for Shabbath. 

The Time of the Fast: The fast begins at dawn and not at the beginning of the previous night. It extends until the appearance of the stars. The Magen Avraham mentions a custom observed by some who fast on the Fast of Esther not only from dawn on that day but from the night before - commemorating that which is written of the Fast of Esther - "night and day" (Esther 4:16). 

This fast is not included in the list of four fasts decreed by the prophets and is merely a custom. Therefore it is observed more leniently than the others. Pregnant women or nursing mothers and weak people do not fast. The laws of the Fast of Esther are identical to the laws of other communal fasts. 

The Half Shekel: It is customary on the 13th of Adar, before the Minchah (afternoon) prayer, to donate three silver coins to charity in remembrance of the commandment to give a Half (Machatzit) Shekel which was customary in ancient times. It is well known that in the month of Purim an annual collection of contributions was held in the Jewish communities all over the world, to finance the activity in the Temple (Bet Hamikdash). Each person had to contribute one half shekel to this fund and the money was turned over to the temple treasury. Since the destruction of the Temple, this custom has survived as a remembrance of that collection; today, the money donated is directed toward communal needs: charitable organizations, synagogues, and the wages of those who serve the spiritual needs of the community. The giving of three coins is based on the passages in Exodus 30:12 in which the Children of Israel are told to donate the half shekel in order to make repentance for their sins. In these passages the word donation (terumah) occurs three times. 

Oriental Jews customarily donate to charity one coin having the value of 10 grams of pure silver which was weight of the half shekel as it appears in the Torah. 

There are those who are careful to donate a half shekel for each member of the family including small children. (In actual fact, it is the custom to have these silver coins - silver dollars, or in Israel, special coins minted for the purpose - present in the synagogue. Each donor lifts the coins and re-deposits them together with his donation. In this way, he has "given" the mahatzit ha-shekel.)

C. Purim

Purim falls on the 14th of Adar. In the halakha, this Purim is called Purim Deprazim (i.e., Purim of places not surrounded by a wall), based on the verse "Therefore the Jews of the villages who dwell in unwalled towns observe the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day of feasting and holiday" (Esther 9:19). 

Cities that were enclosed by a wall during the time of Joshua Bin Nun (even though they are not walled today) celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar, called Shushan Purim, because the miracle occurred in the city of Shushan one day later than in all the other cities (Esther 9:18): "And the Jews who were in Shushan gathered on the thirteenth day of the month...and on the fifteenth day they rested".

The Four Special Commandments of Purim

1) The Reading of the Megillah (Scroll) of Esther

The reading of the Megillah is the primary commandment of the day. It is read on the night of Purim (between nightfall and dawn) and in the morning (from sunrise till sunset). The Megillah is read from a parchment scroll handwritten by a scribe. The Megillah must be unrolled and then folded in a manner similar to a letter, as it says: "to confirm this letter (iggeret) of Purim" (Esther 9:29). One must take care not to miss hearing even one letter of the reading of the Megillah. When pronouncing the blessings of the reading of the Megillah the reader and the listeners must stand but during the reading itself the congregation may be seated. The reader himself stands out of respect for the congregation. 

Blessing on the Megillah: 

The reader recites three blessings before the reading:

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe Who has sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to read the Megillah. 

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe Who created miracles for our forefathers in those days in this time. 

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe Who has sustained us and preserved us and enabled us to reach this moment. 

A Megillah in an artistic silver case, Hungary, 17th century.


These three blessings are recited both at night and by day. When reciting the third blessing in the morning, one should have in mind all the other commandments of the day, such as gifts to the poor, gifts of food (mishloah manot), and the Purim Feast. However, it is the custom of the Sephardic communities not to recite the third blessing in the morning. 

At the conclusion of the Megillah reading, the reader pronounces another blessing (only when the Megillah is read publicly but not when he reads it to himself).


Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe Who argues our cause, and carries out our justice, and takes our revenge , and repays all our enemies, and gives us repayment from our opponents, Blessed are You, Lord, Who gives His people Israel repayment from all their opponents, the God who is a Saviour. 

A Purim noisemaker made of silver inscribed "Cursed be Haman who wished to destroy me" , Vienna, 1826. 

The Megillah includes four passages of redemption (Geulah): 

1. "There was in Shushan the capital a Jewish man named Mordechai"(2:5) 

2. "And Mordechai went out from the presence of the king in royal apparel" (8:15) 

3. "The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor..." (8:16) 

4. "For Mordechai the Jew was viceroy to King Achashverosh..."(10:3) 

It is customary that when the reader reaches these four passages he pauses and the entire congregation reads these four passages aloud and the reader then repeats them. It is also customary to read the names of Haman's ten sons aloud, saying the words "five hundred men" before them until the word "ten" afterwards in one breath.

When the reader reaches the words "On that night the king could not sleep" (ch.6) he raises his voice because precisely there, the story takes a turn for the better and the salvation is in sight.

The reading of the Megillah at its proper time and from a proper scroll is a positive commandment, a decree of the Prophets, and all must observe it - men and women - despite its being a time-determined commandment from which women are generally exempt. This is because women were also involved in the miracle of Purim (Megillah 48). 

Since the Sages said that even the study of Torah is superceded by the reading of the Megillah, certainly all the other commandments of the Torah are put off in favor of reading the Megillah. An exception to this rule is the case of a deceased person who has no relatives to deal with his burial (Met Mitzvah). In such cases the commandment to bury the deceased precedes the reading of the Megillah. 

The Megillah should rightly be read in the presence of a Minyan (10 adults) for "the glory of the King is in the multitude of the people" (Proverbs 14:28). Where there is no minyan an individual can read it for himself and pronounce the appropriate blessings (he does not say the blessing after it). One who has already fulfilled his obligation may read the Megillah for others, but in such a case it is preferable for one of the congregation to recite the blessings. 

The Reader and the Listener : The reader must have intent to fulfill the commandment on behalf of those who hear him and they must intend to fulfill their obligation and must listen to his reading carefully. 

A woman who cannot attend the synagogue may have someone else read the Megillah for her at home. However, if no one can read for her, she should read it herself from a proper scroll and recite the blessings, saying "To hear" the reading of the Megillah instead of "to read the megillah." Women who listen to the reading of the Megillah by a man who has already read for himself and is now reading for them should also say "To hear the reading of the Megillah" since some views maintain that a woman is obligated to hear the Megillah being read, but not to read it. A woman cannot read for a man and enable him to fulfill his obligation but she can do so for other women. 

2) Sending Gifts of Food - Mishloach Manot

Each person must send two portions of different foods to at least one friend, as it is written "... and sending portions (plural, minimum plural is two) each to his friend (singular)" (Esther 9:22). One who cannot afford to send such gifts to his friend should exchange with him, each sending his meal to the other (Maimonides, Hilchot Megillah, chap. 2, halacha 15). These gifts should be sent during the day and not at night - this is understood from what the Megillah says: "Days of feasting and gladness and sending portions..." etc. A woman should send portions to another woman and not depend on her husband to do the mitzvah for her. Giving money, clothing or jewelry does not fulfill this commandment - only giving edible items. 

3) Gifts to the Poor - Matanot La-Evyonim

One must give at least two gifts to two poor people (i.e., one to each) as it is written: "and gifts (plural, minimum plural is two) to poor people (also plural)" (Esther 9:22). Even a poor person who is dependent on charity for his livelihood must give gifts to the poor. Our Sages said: "One should not be too exacting about Purim donations", meaning that on Purim we do not investigate whether the recipient is truly poor; anyone who extends his hand is given a donation. It is better to donate more to the poor than to have an elaborate Purim feast or to send expensive gifts of food to friends. 

4) The Purim Feast and Purim Rejoicing

The days of Purim (14 and 15 Adar) are called "days of feasting and gladness", therefore we are commanded to have a great celebratory meal on Purim. This Purim meal should be held by day; if held on the previous night one does not fulfill the obligation. It is customary to hold it in the afternoon after the Minchah (afternoon) prayer is recited. In the blessing on the food after the meal (Birkat Hamazon) we recite the prayer Al Hanissim (For the Miracles) even if the feast extends past nightfall because we follow the time when the meal began - during the day. When the 14th of Adar occurs on a Friday the feast is held earlier, before noon, enabling us to eat the Shabbat meal that night with a hearty appetite. 

Since wine was such a crucial part of the Purim miracle, wine is drunk liberally at the Purim feast. Excessive drinking is actually an obligation on Purim, to the point where one cannot distinguish between "Cursed be Haman" and "Blessed be Mordechai"! (Talmud). Some authorities say that is preferable not to get drunk but rather to drink somewhat more than usual - the amount would therefore differ for each individual- and then grow drowsy and fall asleep. He who sleeps would be unable to distinguish between the two phrases, thereby fulfilling that obligation. Whatever the quantity of wine which is drunk the important thing is to have the intention of fulfilling a commandment "for the sake of Heaven (L'shem Shamayim)" and not to drink for the sake of drinking.

D. Prayers and Torah Reading on Purim

a. The Al Hanissim (For the Miracles) Prayer 

In the Shmoneh Esreh (18 Benedictions) prayer - in the evening, morning, and afternoon - we say "Al Hanissim" in the blessing of "Hodayah" (thanks). It is added before the words "Ve'al Kulam" (and for all these). If one forgets to say it in its proper sequence, and then remembers it, as long as he has not already pronounced the name of God at the end of the blessing of thanksgiving he should go back and say it. After that point in the prayer he should not return to it but rather say it before the concluding paragraph "Elokai netzor leshoni" (My God, guard my tongue) in the form of a request: "The Merciful One will do miracles and wonders for us as He did for our forefathers in those days at this time, in the days of Mordechai and Esther...". 

In the Grace after Meals (Birkat Hamazon) "Al Hanissim" should be recited as part of "Birkat Ha'aretz"(The blessing of the land) before the words "Ve'al hakol". Having forgotten to say it there, if he has already pronounced the name of God he should not return to it. However before the words "Harachaman Hu yezakeinu (The Merciful One grant us merit)" he should say: "The Merciful One will do miracles and wonders ...". 

b. Yaaleh V'yavo: This prayer is not recited on Purim since the holiday is not mentioned in the Torah.

c. Hallel (Praise): Hallel is also not recited on Purim, even though it is one of the most characteristic expressions of joy in holiday prayers. Several reasons are given for this: 

1. Since the time when the People of Israel entered the Land of Israel we do not recite Hallel for miracles which occurred abroad. 

2. The Redemption from Egypt was a complete redemption since we became free men. The salvation of Purim was not complete because, though their lives were saved , the Jews of Persia remained as slaves to Achashverosh and the Children of Israel remained in exile. 

3. The reading of the Megillah is itself the expression of praise (Hallel) on the day of Purim. 

d. Tahanun: In the morning prayer (Shacharit) we do not say "Tachanun" or "Lamnatzeach" .

e. Torah Reading: In the morning prayer three men are called up to the Torah and the verses of Exodus 17:8-16 (Vayavo Amalek) are read. After returning the Torah Scroll to the Ark the Megillah is read. The Tfillin (Phylacteries) are not removed until the end of all the prayers. 

E. Other Topics

1) Doubts as to the Status of a Walled City

The ancient cities of Israel - Safed, Tiberias, Lod, Jaffa and Beersheba - may have been walled cities in the time of Joshua, therefore it is the custom in those cities to read the Megillah on the 14th and 15th days of Adar. However the blessings on the Megillah reading, the special reading of the Torah, and the "Al Hanissim" prayer are recited in those cities only on the 14th of Adar. The mitzvot of gifts of food, gifts for the poor and the Purim feast can be performed on both days. 

2) A Threefold Purim

In a year when the 15th of Adar falls on Shabbat the order of the observance of the Purim commandments is changed in the walled cities (which for all practical purposes means "Jerusalem"). They observe a "Threefold Purim" in which the commandments are divided over three days in the following manner: 

1. On Friday (14th of Adar) the Megillah is read and gifts are given to the poor. The reading of the Megillah is advanced since our Sages prohibited reading the Megillah on Shabbat, in order to refrain from carrying the scroll four cubits in a public thoroughfare (a violation of the Sabbath) to take the scroll to someone who knows how to read it properly. The reading is not delayed until Sunday since it says ve'lo ya'vor (and it shall not pass), which our Sages understood to mean: "You are forbidden to let the time of reading pass but you are permitted to advance it before its time" (i.e., to the 14th). The Gifts to the Poor are advanced too, so that the recipient can benefit from it as early as possible. 

2. On Shabbat (15th of Adar) which is Shushan Purim itself, we take two Torah scrolls from the Ark. From the first the weekly portion is read and from the second the portion of "Vayavo Amalek" (Ex.17:8-16). On Shabbat we also recite the "Al Hanissim" prayer in the Shmoneh Esreh and Birkat Hamazon

3. On Sunday (16th of Adar) we eat the Purim feast and send gifts of food. The Purim feast is not held on Shabbat because we do not combine two different types of celebration, Shabbat and Purim. The gifts of food cannot be delivered on Shabbat because of the prohibition against carrying in a public thoroughfare. Since the term Ve'lo Ya'avor does not refer to these commandments, they may be put off until Sunday so that the difference between Purim in open cities and Purim in walled cities remains recognizable as it is every year, (the "open" cities perform the entire Purim on Friday, 14 Adar, only). 

c) Purim in a Leap Year

A leap year in the Jewish calendar is one in which a thirteen month is added to the usual twelve, in order to align the Jewish lunar year which has 354 days with the generally accepted year of 365 days. This is done in order to guarantee that Passover will always occur in the Spring, as the Torah says: "Guard the month of Spring". The Leap Year occurs seven times in every cycle of nineteen years, (in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th years). This year, 5757 [1996-97] is a leap year. 

In these years the month of Adar which comes just before Nissan, the month of Passover, is doubled. The two months are then called Adar Aleph (or, Rishon = first) and Adar Bet (or, Sheni = second). All the commandments and customs normally observed in the month of Adar are observed in a Leap Year in Adar Sheni. These include Purim, memorial days, Bar Mitzvah, etc. 

Purim Katan (Minor Purim): the 14th of Adar Aleph in a leap year is called Purim Katan - to differentiate it from the "real" Purim which is in Adar Bet. Some measure of celebration is observed on this day, as well. Eulogies and fasting are prohibited, Tachanun and Lamnatzeach are not recited in the daily prayers, but the mitzvot of Purim are not celebrated then. 

Why do we put Purim off till Adar Sheni rather than celebrating it earlier in Adar Rishon? Two reasons are given in tradition: 1. According to tradition the year of Haman's decree was a Leap Year and salvation appeared in Adar Sheni. 2. In order to bring two incidents of Redemption closer to one another - the Redemption of Esther (Purim) and the Redemption from Egypt (Passover). 

4) Traveling from City to City During Purim

1. Anyone who goes before the 14th of Adar from a place where Purim is celebrated on the 14th to one where it is celebrated on the 15th, or vice versa, intending to remain at his destination during the days of Purim, should celebrate Purim and observe all its commandments as is the custom of the place at which he arrived. 

2. A resident of an open city, where Purim is observed on the 14th, who reaches Jerusalem on the night of the 15th (before dawn) should celebrate Purim on the 15th. However, he should not recite the blessing on reading the Megillah. A Jerusalemite who was in an open city on the 14th and celebrated Purim there and later returned to Jerusalem on the night of the 15th must observe all the commandments of Purim on the 15th. This is also true of a student who studies outside Jerusalem but returns for Purim to his parents' home. 

3. A traveler crossing the desert or aboard a ship at sea or in an airplane should celebrate Purim on the 14th. 

4. One whose travel began after the start of the night of the 14th of Adar, and whose intention was to return to his home before dawn on the 14th but who was forced to delay his return against his will, and someone who had originally intended to remain at his destination and changed his mind and returned home, or was forced to remain against his will - about all such cases there are disputes among the Poskim (Halachic authorities). The details are many and complicated and there are even certain cases in which the Purim commandments cannot be observed on either day and are lost entirely. One should consult with a Rabbi as to each individual case. 

5) Purim Customs 

Many diverse customs are observed in the various Jewish communities on Purim

a. The Drinking of wine 

It is customary to drink a lot of wine on Purim and even to become slightly drunk. The reason given for this is that wine was the source of the turn of events in the Purim story. The feast of Vashti and her drunkenness led to the crowning of Esther as queen and the drinking party to which Esther invited Achashverosh caused the downfall of Haman and the appointment of Mordechai.

b. Costumes and Masquerading 

The custom of masquerading on Purim originates in the Middle Ages. It is hinted at by the words of the Megillah: "but the reverse was true" (9:1). 

The Poskim deal at length with the question of whether men may wear women's clothes and vice versa. The Rama in the Shulchan Aruch writes: "And that they customarily wear masks on Purim and a man wears a woman's dress and a woman the clothes of a man - there is no reason to prohibit it since they only intend to be joyful" (Orach Chaim 696:7). 

Rabbi Yoel Sirkis (i.e., The Bach, who was a Rabbi in Cracow some 50 years after the Rama) doubts the propriety of this custom, but wrote: "Let the Jew be, for it is better that they sin unintentionally and not sin intentionally... but every God fearing person should warn his household and anyone else who will listen to his voice that they should not transgress the prohibited negative commandment on Purim (The Bach on Tur Yoreh De'ah 182). 

Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Lontshitz ( one of the great rabbis of Prague at the time of the Rama) spoke out against the custom of cross-dressing in his book Olelot Ephraim (Article 309), seeing that on Purim "they change their nature by putting masks on their faces till they become someone else and no one knows them since they all have costumes and they become women since a man wears women's clothes and all the women put a mask on their faces so that those who see them do not recognize or know them or understand who's who ... should this be the nature of a day of festivity and favor before God? And what source have they for these improper customs?" 

In our own time Rabbi Aharon Zakkai, the head of the Ohr Yom Tov Yeshiva , in his book Habayit Hayehudi (In the section "Holidays", p. 159, Halacha 27) spoke out against this custom, writing: "It is forbidden for boys to wear women's clothes and also for girls to wear men's clothes even to celebrate Purim since the celebration of Purim does not permit the transgression of things prohibited by the Torah. Adults are commanded to watch over the youngsters and should not dress even a little boy in girls' clothes or vice versa" (see Mishnah Brurah, 696, 5).

c. Special Delicacies

For the festive meal of Purim as well as for the other meals of the holiday, special dishes which somehow hint at the miracle of Purim, are customary. 

1. "Haman Taschen" (Oznei Haman = Haman's Ears): In the Ashkenazi communities these triangular baked pockets filled with poppy seed or other sweet fillings are ever-present. The custom originates in Eastern Europe, Ashkenaz (Germany) and Italy. They have become the most well known and widespread Purim delicacy in all communities the world over. 

2. "Kreplach": chopped meat covered with dough, also triangular in shape. The name has received a popular etymology: "Kreplach are eaten only on days on which there is both hitting and eating: Yom Kippur eve - the custom of Kaparot, Hoshanna Rabba - the beating the willow branches, Purim - the (symbolical) beating of Haman". 

3. Purim Challa: A special, large challah is baked for the Purim feast, decorated with raisins. 

4. Seeds and Legumes: There is a custom to eat seeds and legumes in memory of Queen Esther, who, according to tradition, did not eat any non-Kosher food in the palace of Achashverosh, eating only seeds and legumes (see Daniel 1:1). Moreover: legumes are a customary food for mourners and we must not make our happiness complete as long as the Temple in Jerusalem has not been built. 

5. Many Fish Dishesýýýý are eaten on Purim because Pisces (Fish) is the sign of the month of Adar. 

6. There are some who eat Turkey (Tarnegol Hodu) on Purim commemorating King Achashverosh who ruled from India (Hodu) to Ethiopia (Kush). 

The Purim Rabbi

: It is customary in many yeshivot to appoint one of the sharpwitted students as "Purim Rabbi". He takes his place at the head of the table and expounds a Talmudic lecture in a humorous fashion, imitating the Heads of the Yeshiva as he does so. This satire must be done in moderation, taking care not to embarrass anyone and to do no dishonor to the Torah. 

The Prohibition of Work

: Both men and women should refrain from working on Purim so that the celebration will be complete. (This refers to work done specifically for the purpose of earning money. It is permitted to perform any kind of work in order to fulfill a commandment or for Purim-related needs and activities). Our Sages of Blessed Memory said: "Whoever does work on Purim will never see blessing (profit) from it". It is, however, permitted for those living in open cities to work on the 15th of Adar and for inhabitants of walled cities to work on the 14th. 

f. Mourning 

1) Prohibition of eulogizing and fasting: The 14th and 15th of Adar are days of feasting and gladness, therefore eulogizing and fasting are forbidden to everyone, everywhere. In both open and walled cities it is forbidden to fast and to recite a eulogy for the deceased. In leap year this prohibition applies to the 14th and 15th days of the first Adar as well as the second Adar. 

2) A mourner during the Shivah (first week) period should not show signs of mourning in public on the two days of Purim, the 14th and 15th of Adar whether in an open or a walled city. He should not sit on the floor or remove his shoes - but rather do only those aspects of mourning done in privacy, as on Shabbat. Despite the prohibition of mourning on Purim the day itself counts as one of the seven (shivah). 

3) The Reading of the Megillah: If the mourner is able to assemble a Minyan (10 adult males) in his home for prayers and the reading of the Megillah, he should do so. However if this is not possible or if he does not have a proper Megillah, or if he has one and does not know how to read it properly, he is permitted to go to the Synagouge to hear the reading of the Megillah, at night and in the day. 

4) Gifts to the Poor and Sending portions of food: A mourner, even during the Shivah period, must observe the commandments of gifts to the poor and sending portions of food to a friend, but he should not exaggerate but rather send only what is necessary for the fulfillment of the commandment. In any case he should not send things which cause joy. One does not send portions of food to a mourner on Purim during the entire year of mourning. If there are only two Jews in a town and one is in mourning they may send portions to each other in order to observe the commandment .

g. Purim Sheni - A Second Purim

The term Purim Sheni is applied to local days of celebration and feasting which were observed to commemorate miracles which occurred to a particular Jewish community or family which was saved from some decree or imprisonment similar to what occurred in the time of Mordechai and Esther. On several such local "Purim" days celebrations are held and a special "Megillah", composed for the occasion, is read. It tells of the events which brought about the establishment of the local holiday. 

Sometimes a special version of the "Al Hanissim" (For the Miracles) prayer is recited in the prayers of Purim Sheni. In some communities the days before "Purim Sheni" is a fastday on which special prayers of supplication and repentance are recited as they are on the Fast of Esther. 

A list of "Purim Sheni" dates in Diaspora communities can be found in: a. Jewish Encyclopedia , Vol. X, pp .280-283; b. Encyclopedia Judaica (1971), Vol XII, pp, 1395-1400.

h. The Difference Between Chanukah and Purim

On Purim we place emphasis on the many material aspects of the celebration: the Purim feast is itself a commandment, we send portions of food, and there is even an obligation to drink to excess. All these relate to man's physical, bodily enjoyment. In contrast, on the days of Chanukah our Sages of Blessed Memory emphasized the spiritual side of man and therefore the main commandment is "to thank, to praise and to glorify"; on each of the eight days we recite the "Hallel" (Prayer of Praise) and there is no obligatory festive meal or the sending of portions of food to friends. 

Wherein does the difference lie? It appears that the source of the difference is in the nature of the threat on the two different occasions in history. Haman aspired to destroy, kill, and eliminate the entire Jewish people - physical destruction. Antiochus, on the other hand, desired the cultural assimilation of the People of Israel. To commemorate the different goals of the adversaries of Israel in each case, the different natures of the holidays were established. On Purim when the goal was physical destruction we are commanded to celebrate, in ways related to our physical, corporeal natures - eating and drinking even to excess. On Chanukah, however, the aim of Antiochus was to bring the People of Israel to deny the Almighty and his Torah, therefore we praise and glorify God in prayer, and emphasize our faith in Him.


Naftali Stern 

Department of Talmud 

The weekly Torah portion is distributed with the assistance of the President's Fund for Torah and Science.