Purim Halachos

Taanis Esther
1) In the days of Mordechai and Esther, the Jews gathered together on the thirteenth of Adar to defend themselves against their enemies. They needed to ask mercy from G-d to assist them. When the Jews went to war, they would fast so that G-d would aid them, as Moshe did when we went to war against Amalek. Because of this, we can assume that at the time of Mordechai and Esther, they fasted on the thirteenth of Adar. This day has been accepted by the Jewish people as a communal fast called Taanis Esther, a reminder that G-d watches us and hears each person’s prayers in his time of trouble when he fasts and sincerely returns to G-d, just as He did for our ancestors in those days.
2) Pregnant and nursing do not fast if they are feeling weak. The Mishnah Berurah (686:4) cites a debate amongst the poskim whether a pregnant or nursing woman must fast in the event that she feels fine. He concludes (Shaar Hatzion 10) that each person should follow the custom of his area.  The opinion of the Aruch Hashulchan (686:4), Kaf Hachaim (686:21) and Divrei Yetziv (O.C. 2:291) and Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (oral ruling cited by Harav Nevenzhal shlit”a B’Yitzchak Yikareh) is to be lenient and all pregnant and nursing women need not fast regardless of how they feel. For normative halacha a rav should be consulted. All agree that a women who gave birth in the last month does not fast even if she feels great (Mishnah Berurah ibid.).
3) In the event that a nursing or pregnant woman is not fasting, the poskim debate whether she must make up the fast on a different day. For normative halacha, a rav must be consulted.
4) The Rama (686:2) rules that a Choleh Shein Bo Sakana (bedridden) or someone with an eye ache who is in great pain may eat on Taanis Esther but should make up the fast on another day.  The Kaf Hachaim (686:22) adds that anyone who has to eat on the doctor’s orders doesn’t have to make it up afterwards. Before one decides to break his fast he should first consult with a rav.
5) One need not train his children to fast, even at the age of twelve for boys or eleven for girls. Once they have reached the age of chinuch they shouldn’t eat lavish meals, but rather only what is necessary. Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l and ybc”l Harav Neventzhal shlit”a write that although many boys have the custom to fast three fasts before they become bar-mitzvah, this custom has no source. (Mishnah Berurah 550:5, Halichos Shlomo vol. 3 page 398-399 and B’Yitzchak Yikare on Mishnah Berurah)
6) The fast of Taanis Esther begins at dawn. Even though the fast begins from dawn, sometimes the prohibition against eating begins from the previous evening. For example, if, before the arrival of dawn, a person decides not to eat any more until the fast begins, he is seen as having accepted the fast upon himself, and it is now forbidden for him to eat. Therefore, if a person goes to bed in anticipation of the fast and then rises before dawn, it is forbidden for him to eat, for he diverted his thoughts from eating. If one wishes to wake up before dawn  and eat or drink, he should stipulate before going to sleep that he intends to wake up early to eat or drink and that the fast should not begin until dawn. The Shulchan Aruch (564) rules that if one did not make this stipulation he may not eat or drink. However, according the Rama he may still drink, even without making a stipulation.
7) The Mishnah Berurah (567:11) maintains that only if one is in pain may one rinse one’s mouth on a public fast day (such as Taanis Esther) and in such a case one should bend one’s head downward so one doesn’t swallow any water.
8) If one has bad breath and it causes him discomfort or embarrassment, he may use mouthwash on Taanis Esther. He may also brush his teeth with toothpaste but not with water. (Beer Moshe 8:94, Minchas Yitzchak 4:109)
9) If one needs to take medicine on Taanis Esther he may take them without water. If he cannot swallow the pills without a little water, he may swallow a very small amount of water (just enough to get the pills down). (Opinion of Rav Debreczin zt”l cited in Nitev Gavriel Bein Hatzomos page 54)
Machatzis Hashekel
1) The practice before Purim is to donate half of the monetary unit of one’s time and place (e.g., half a dollar, half a pound, etc.) in memory of the half-shekel that was donated in Adar to purchase animals for the communal sacrifices. The custom is to give three times this half unit (e.g., $1.50) because parshas Ki Sisa uses the word “terumah” (donation) three times. (Rama 694:1)
2) The common practice is for the shul/tzedaka pushka to supply three half dollars. Each person gives $1.50 to the tzedaka in exchange for the 3 half dollars. He then lifts up the three half dollars in order to acquire them. And finally he donates the three half dollars in order to perform the mitzvah of Machatzis Hashekel. Harav Yaakov Kametzky zt”l (Emes L’Yaakov page 160) is cited as saying that one  should give a little more than $1.50 in exchange for the 3 half dollars. Since we don’t like to make exact change from tzedaka.
3) The money of the Machatiz Hashekel is donated to charity (Shaarei Teshuva 694:2). Some specifically send it to the poor of Israel. (Yosef Ometz 1089) Harav Yitzchak Yosef shlit”a writes that one should give the money to Yeshivos that are teaching young Torah scholars. (Yalkut Yosef Kitzur Shulchan Aruch page 770)
4) The poskim offer three opinions as to when one should perform the Machatzis Hashekel. A) The Rama writes that one performs the Machatzis Hashekel before Mincha on Taanis Esther. B) Harav Yaakov Emden zt”l and the Chasam Sofer maintained that it should be performed following Mincha on Taanis Esther. (See Netai Gavriel Purim Chapter 26 and Yismach Yisrael page 28 for view of Harav Elyashiv zt”l) C) While others perform it on Purim morning (Magen Avraham 694:2). It seems the common custom is to follow the first opinion of the Rama. (Mishnah Berurah 694:4, Kaf Hachaim 694:25, Yismach Yisrael page 28 view of Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a)
5) If one did not perform the Machatzis Hashekel before Purim he should perform it as soon as possible during the month of Adar. According to Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a b’dieved one should perform Machatzis Hashekel even after Adar (oral ruling cited in Yismach Yisrael page 28). Similarly, the Sefer Avnei Yashfei (1:133) writes that b’dieved if one forgot to perform the Machatzis Hashekel he can do so for 12 months after Purim (until the following Nissan).
6) One may not use Maaser money for the Machatzis Hashekel. If one chooses to give more than the required amount ($1.50), the excess may be given from Maaser money. (Yosef Ometz 1088)
7) The Rama writes that one is only obligated to give Machatzis Hashekel once one reaches the age of twenty. The Mishnah Berurah cites the view of the Tosafos Yom Tov that one is actually obligated once he reaches the age of thirteen. The Mishnah Berurah then explains that the common custom is for the father to give Machatzis Hashekel for his children even those below the age of thirteen and even for those in utero. [He adds that once his father gives on the minor’s behalf, he is obligated to continue doing so.]
8) There is a debate amongst the poskim whether women are obligated to perform Machatzis Hashekel. The common practice is that the husband performs Machatzis Hashekel for the women in his family. (Magen Avraham 694:3, Netai Gavriel 27, Halichos Shlomo Purim 18:9 and Shevet Halevi 7:183)
Parshas Zachor
1) There is a mitzvah to remember what Amalek did to Klal Yisrael upon leaving Egypt. This is performed by reading “Parshas Zachor”, the portion of the Torah from Parshas Ki Setzei (Devarim 25:17) where the Torah recounts briefly what Amalek did and admonishes us to remember and not forget this episode. The Torah finishes by commanding us to wipe out any vestige of Amalek. On the Shabbos before Purim, we read parshas Zachor (Deut. 25:17-19). (Shulchan Aruch 685:1)
2) The consensus of the Rishonim and poskim is that the obligation to read Parshas Zachor is biblical in nature. (Tosafos Brachos 13a, Eshkol Purim 10, Chinuch 603, Beis Yosef and Shulchan Aruch 685:7)
3) One is obligated to hear Parshas Zachor with a minyan of men. (See Magen Avraham, Mishnah Berurah 16 and Shaar Hatzion 5 for a discussion whether this obligation is biblical or rabbinic in nature) Therefore, it is extremely important for one to go to Shul to hear Parshas Zachor.
4) One must read Parshas Zachor from a kosher Sefer Torah. According to many this is a biblical obligation, see Magen Avraham, Mishnah Berurah. [The Minchas Chinuch 603, however, maintains that the need to read it from a Sefer Torah is only rabbinic in nature.]
5) Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l explains that if one read it from a chumash he has not fulfilled his obligation. (Yechava Daas 3:53) [It should be noted that according to the Minchas Chinuch ibid. he has fulfilled his obligation on a Biblical level. However, even the Minchas Chinuch will agree that using a Chumash will not fulfill the rabbinic obligation.]
6) One should ensure that he hears every word of the Parshas Zachor. Harav Tzvi Pesach Frank zt”l  (Mikraei Kodesh Purim 6) maintains that if one missed even one word he has not fulfilled his obligation. In this regard Parshas Zachor has the same halachos as hearing the Megillah, which according to most opinions one has to hear every word to fulfill his obligation (see Mishnah Berurah 690:5).This also appears to be the view of Harav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a  (cited in the Sefer Yismach Yisroel Purim page 8). However, according to Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Halichos Shlomo Purim page 323) even if one missed a few words one has fulfilled his obligation, as long as he heard the main message of Parshas Zachor.
7) The Minchas Elazar of Munkatch zt”l writes that one is not required to read Parshas Zachor along quietly with the Chazan, however, it is preferable to do so. Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l disagrees with this view. He writes that it is preferable to listen quietly to the reading of the chazan without reading along with him. He explains that it is much better to focus on listening to the chazzan who is reading from a kosher Sefer Torah, than to place any focus on one’s own reading from a Chumash. (Yechava Daas 3:53)
8) It is well known that Sefardim and Ashkenazim differ in their pronunciation of many letters. The poskim discuss whether an Ashkenazi can hear Parshas Zachor in a Sefardic shul and vice versa. Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yabia Omer 6 O.C. 11:6) writes that he would often tell Sefardic students who learned in Ashkenazi Yeshivos that for Parshas Zachor they should make sure to hear the Sefardic pronunciation. Similarly, Harav Tzvi Pesach Frank zt”l (Mikraei Kodesh page 88) would urge Ashkenazim to hear Parshas Zachor in Ashkenzic shuls and not in Sefardic shuls. Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Halichos Shlomo page 323) explains that although l’chatchila one should hear Parshas Zachor with the pronunciation based upon his family custom, however, b’dieved one fulfills his obligation under all circumstances. It is extremely common that sefardim daven in Ashkenazic shuls and vice versa and since it is difficult to leave one’s shul even for one Shabbos, one should absolutely consult with his or her rav before davening in a different location.
9) There is a dispute among the Poskim whether or not women are obligated to hear the reading of Parashas Zachor. It would seem that women are obligated to hear Parshas Zachor since it is a positive commandment that is not time based.  However, the Sefer Ha’Chinuch maintains that women are exempt from hearing Parashat Zachor since the underlying reason for reading this portion is to remember the actions of Amalek in order to wage war against them and women do not usually take part in active combat nor are they commanded in the Mitzvah of fighting; therefore, they are not obligated to hear the reading of Parashat Zachor. Harav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a writes that this is also the view of the Chazon Ish (Sefer Taama Dikra 23) and Harav Gavriel Zinner shlit”a (Netai Gavriel page 153) writes that this was the view of the Brisker Rav.  This is also the view of Harav Shmuel Wosner zt”l (Kovetz M’Beis Levi 15 page 17). Harav David Feinstein shlit”a (Vedibarta Bam page 501) also feels that women are exempt from hearing Parshas Zachor, however, those that chose to hear the reading have performed a mitzvah.
10) The Minchas Chinush questions the assumption of the Chinuch by pointing to the fact that we are not permitted to speculate what the reasons are for certain mitzvos and apply special exemptions based on our own reasoning. Who is to say that the mitzvah of reading Parshas Zachor is at all related to the mitzvah of fighting Amalek? Perhaps even when Amalek is completely obliterated we will still be commanded to remember them. Many poskim, including Rav Nosson Adler zt”l (Binyan Tzion 8), Minchas Elazar (2:1-5), Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Halichos Shlomo Tefila page 69 footnote 68) and Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yabia Omer 8:54), are of the opinion that women are obligated to hear Parashas Zachor. Therefore, a woman should do her best to come to shul to hear Parshas Zachor (opinion of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l cited in Halichas Bas Yisroel 22:1).
11) All agree that if a woman cannot go to shul, she should read Parshas Zachor herself from a chumash, since according to the Minchas Chinuch one can fulfill the biblical obligation by reading it in a chumash (Yabia Omer ibid.).
12) It is quite common for shuls to have a special reading of Parshas Zachor following shul specifically for women who could not come for davening. No blessing is recited during this reading. (Minchas Yitzchok 9:68) Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l (oral ruling cited in Halichas Bas Yisrael page 296) maintains that one must make sure that a minyan of men is present during this reading. Harav Shmuel Wosner zt”l (Kovetz M’Beis Levi 15 page 17) and others, however, opposed this entire practice of reading the Torah just for women (even if ten men are present). For practical halacha a rav should be consulted.
Mishloach Manos
1) There is a mitzvah to give Mishloach Manos, two foods to one person, on Purim day. (S.A. 695:4)
2) There are two reasons found in the poskim for this Mitzvah. A) To ensure that everyone, especially the poor, will have sufficient food for the Purim meal. (Terumas Hadeshen 111) B) To increase love and friendship between Jews, thereby dismissing Haman’s accusations that there is strife and dissention among Jews. This is an ideal opportunity to repair broken relationships by sending packages to people with whom one has ill feelings. (Manos Halevi cited by Chasam Sofer O.C. 196)
3) The Ksav Sofer (141) explains that there is a difference of halacha between these two reasons, and that is if one can fulfill the mitvah by giving Mishloach Manos anonymously. According to the first reason one would still fulfill the mitzvah since in this case the receiver will have food for the Purim meal. However, according to the second reason one who sends mishloach manos anonymously does not fulfill the mitzvah since no friendship or goodwill is generated between him and the recipient. It is  preferred to fulfill the mitzvah according to both reasons.
4) In order to fulfill the mitzvah of Mishloach Manos one needs to send two foods to one person. However it is not necessary for the items to require two different blessings. For example, one may send two different cakes or two fruits.
5) Indeed, according to many poskim one can fulfill the mitzvah by sending two cuts of meat as long as they taste different (beef hotdog and hamburger, white and dark meat of the chicken). (See Mikraei Kodesh 38, Halichos Shlomo page 336, Tzitz Eliezer 14:65, 15:31, Yalkut Yosef Kitzur S.A. page 773, Avnei Yashfei 4:83 and Yismach Yisrael page 95) It is therefore clear that two different brachos are not required.
6) It is important to note that the aforementioned poskim were only lenient if the two foods have a different taste. However, one cannot fulfill the mitzvah by sending two items of the same food, two hotdogs etc.
7) A drink is considered a food item as well, therefore, one may send one drink item and one food item for the mishloach manos. One can even send two different drinks. However, it appears that the custom is to send at least one food item and not two drinks. (M.B. 695:20 and Yismach Yisroel page 95. See Yalkut Yosef Kitzur S.A. page 773 who writes that it is preferred to send two foods to fulfill the mitzvah and not to fulfill the mitzvah through drinks. However, the common custom is to be lenient and to fufill the mitzvah with at least one drink, such as a bottle of wine and cake.)
8) The poskim debate whether one can fulfill the mitzvah by sending spices which are not eaten on their own, such as sugar, pepper, etc. (Yismach Yisrael page 99). For normative halacha, a rav should be consulted.
9) The Mishloach Manos are given on Purim day. If one sends them in the mail before Purim and it arrives on Purim day it would seem that one fulfills his obligation since the package was received on Purim. This is indeed the view of many poskim (see Beer Heitiv 695:7, Shraga Hameir 4:31, Az Nidberu 6:80). However the Aruch Hashulchan (695:17) maintains one does not fulfill his obligation if it was shipped before Purim, even if it arrives on Purim day.
10) All agree that if the Mishloach Manos will arrive before or after Purim day that one has not fulfilled his obligation.
11) The poskim discuss whether one can fulfill his obligation by sending food to someone who for medical reasons cannot eat the food, such as sugary foods to a diabetic. According to Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l one can fulfill his mitzvah with these foods. It seems, however, that Harav Yehoshua Neubert zt”l and ybc”l Harav Yitzchak Zilberstein shlit”a maintain that one does not fulfill his obligation since this food does not bring the diabetic simcha as he cannot eat it. (See Halichos Shlomo 19:11 and Nishmas Abraham page 324) Similarly, Harav Efraim Greenblatt zt”l (Shu”t Rivevos Efraim 6:387) writes that one cannot fulfill his obligation by sending meat to a vegetarian, since it will not bring him joy.
12) The Mishnah Berurah cites the view of the Aruch Lner who suggests that one must send the Mishloach Manos through a shliach, messenger in order to fulfill the mitzvah. Harav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg zt”l (Tzitz Eliezer 9:33) writes that most commentaries disagree with this assumption and they maintain that one need not send it through a shliach, rather, one may deliver it by himself. In addition, he explains that the Aruch Lner himself concludes that it is unnecessary to send it through a shliach. Harav Yisroel Belsky zt”l (Piskei Harav Belsky page 122) is cited as ruling that although the majority of poskim maintain that one may deliver Mishloach Manos himself, nonetheless, one should send at least one set of Mishloach Manos with a messenger to accommodate all opinions.
Purim Halachos (Assorted)
1) The Rama (695:2) writes that it is preferable to wear Shabbos clothing on Purim. The Mishnah Berurah (3) explains that one should begin wearing the Shabbos clothing on Purim night (when the Megillah is read).
2) We recite Al Hanissim during Shemoneh Esrei on Purim. We begin reciting it during Maariv on Purimnight. The Sefer Ishei Yisrael (page 319) writes that the gabbai may announce in Shul “Remember to say Al Hanissim” right before Shemoneh Esrei for Maariv, but not before Shemoneh Esrei of Shachris.
3) It is commonly known that many people during Shemoneh Esrei will say the words “Al Hanissim” out load in order to remind others to say it (the same is true for “Yaaleh Veyavo”), The Ishei Yisroel cites the Chazon Ish and Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l that one should not do this and that this is not “derech eretz” towards tefillah to say a few words out loud.
4) Many people wear costumes on Purim. (see Rama 696:8) There are many reasons given for this. The most common being in order to enhance the simcha on Purim. Harav Nissam Karelitz shlit”a is cited (see Yismach Yisroel page 188) as saying that one should not wear costumes that scare people.
5) Harav Shmuel Wosner zt”l was asked whether one may daven on Purim while dressed in a costume (e.g. a litvish person wearing a streimel). He maintains that as long as one prays with a high level of seriousness and does not stoop to levity, it is permitted. For practical halacha, a rav must be consulted.
6) There is a mitzvah to eat a meal (“Purim Seuda”) on Purim day. (S.A. 695:1)
7) The poskim debate whether one must eat bread at the meal to fulfill the mitzvah. (see Aruch Hashulchan 695:7 and Yismach Yisrael page 179) It seems that the common custom is to eat bread at the meal.
8) The custom is to eat hamantashen on Purim. (see Sefer Matammim Purim 3) One of the reasons given is that the word “Tash” in Hebrew means “weaken.” Therefore, the hamantash celebrates the weakening of Haman and our wish that G-d always save us by weakening our enemies. (Otzar Kol Minhagei Yeshurun page 126)
Matanos L’Evyonim
1) The mitzvah of Matanos L’Evyonim on Purim is to give at least one gift to two different poor people on Purim day. (S.A. 694:1)
2) There is a great discussion amongst the poskim as to the proper amount to give to each poor person. The Ritva writes that even a perutah (i.e., a minuscule amount of money) may be given to each of the two poor people in order to fulfill this mitzvah. However, others maintain that practically one should give enough money with which the poor person can purchase for himself a decent meal. (see Yismach Yisroel page 121 and Halichos Olam vol. 1 page 233) I have heard from Rabbanim that the amount of money that a poor person would need to purchase a bagel, coffee, and some other small side dish or two slices of pizza and a can of soda, definitely suffices for the minimum amount required to be given to each of the two poor people. For practical halacha, a rav should be consulted.
3) The poskim maintain that giving a check to a poor person fulfills the mitzvah of Matanos L’evyonim. (Rivevos Efraim 5:455:2 and Halichos Shlomo Purimpage 342)
4) Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l explains that one can use a check even if the bank is not open on Purim. (Halichos Shlomo ibid.) This is also the view of Harav Yisroel Belsky zt”l (Piskei Harav Belsky page 124)
5) Harav Belsky zt”l (Piskei Harav Belsky ibid.) explains that the custom is not to give a post-dated check for the mitzvah of Matanos L’Evyonim. He then adds that some poskim opine that one should not give a check if he does not have sufficient funds to cover the check. However, if one will accrue the funds by the time the poor person cashes the check then it is permitted.
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