Thursday, March 1, 2012

Purim in a Nutshell: The Four Mitzvot of Purim

Purim begins next Wednesday night, March 7, 2012. Purim is a rabbinic holiday instead of a holiday commanded by the written Torah. That is why you can still drive, spend money, use electricity, etc. While you can go to work, there is a difference of opinion. If possible, you should avoid it.

Since conversion candidates like checklists, what are the four mitzvot you need to make sure you accomplish this Purim?

Attend two Megillah readings. You must attend two live readings from a kosher scroll. Sorry, no recordings. The first reading must be on Purim night. The second reading is during the day, and it doesn't have to be during the morning. There may be several times scheduled.

The scroll must be kosher in the same way that a Torah scroll is kosher. You most likely don't have a handwritten animal skin scroll sitting around the house. If you are bedridden, you can request for someone to come to your home/hospital/etc to read the Megillah to you. Getting the day reading can be difficult if you are going to work. Remember to make arrangements in advance to leave work, come in late, or attend a reading before the workday begins.

Depending on your reader and your audience, the reading will take approximately an hour. It is customary to make noise whenever Haman's name is read (Chabad has a more limited custom towards Haman's name). You can do this with groggers (traditional noisemakers not to be confused with the band), stomping your feet, booing, or any other noise. If you don't own any noisemakers, come to shul anyway, and someone will bring extra! You can also get party noisemakers any time of year, in addition to the Mardi Gras items that will be out somewhat near Purim (depending on the year, this year is well-timed). If you can't read to follow along, you won't know when to expect Haman's name, but just start making noise when everyone else does. Listen carefully and you'll learn to hear it. Caution, beware the child who will randomly start making noise. If you're too quick on the draw, you will be the Purim equivalent of the lone clapper.

The following three mitzvot are done on Purim day:

Send gifts of ready-to-eat food. These are called misloach manot (shalach manos in Ashkenazi-speak). You are obligated to give two items of immediately edible food to one person. For instance, fruit, a bag of chips, and candy are all ready to eat. Examples of items that aren't immediately edible: popcorn, canned goods, instant coffee or coffee beans, and soup mixes.

Send gifts to the poor. You must give to two separate needy people. You can donate in advance of Purim day if the organization will distribute the money/food items on Purim day. Ideally, you should donate enough money/food items for a meal for each person. Less than that can satisfy it, but you may want to check any specific situations with your rabbi.

Attend or make a seudah. Seudah is a general word for "festive meal." You can, should, and probably do make a seudah for all the holidays that aren't fasting days. On Shabbat, you have heard of seudah slishit, the third meal. All the meals of Shabbat could be considered seudahs. You will probably pay to attend a community seudah, but you can make one at home as well. Prepare a bigger/more elaborate meal than you normally do and make sure you're not celebrating alone! The minimum standard for a seudah is to ritually wash your hands (netilat yadayim), eat bread, and bentch the Grace after Meals (birkat hamazon). Note that some argue meat and wine must be involved for it to be a seudah, but that is a machloket we'll learn more about on Monday!

Chag sameach! Purim sameach! Happy holiday! Happy Purim!


  1. I thought Purim was next week...

    checking calendar....

    1. That IS next week. Do you know what today is? LOL...these are conversations only allowed to happen on Monday!

    2. Some days I am not sure what my name is . . . LOL

  2. Two small notes:

    1. While it must be written on parchment, a megillah does _not_ need to be kosher the way a sefer torah must be kosher; you can have missing letters, words, or many other mistakes and the megillah remains acceptable for use.

    2. Any obligation to drink on Purim days only applies to the following: (1) during the day (2) during the actual seudah (3) on wine. Sorry, whiskey at night cannot be blamed on religion ;)

  3. I was in the States for Purim a couple of years ago, and had to plan carefully to be with a relative near an Orthodox community. My cousin Jody has lived in Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill for years, where she turned on a lot of vaporizers for her friends as "Shabbos goy". A lot of people there know her well, but were surprised to find out she has an Israeli Jewish relative. "Yes, that would be me," I said.

    Purim is one of those holidays where you absolutely need, if not a frum congregation, at least a kosher megilla and someone who can read it aloud, so I was happy to have the amazingly welcoming Pittsburgh community and congregation Poale Tzedek for fellowhsip and fun. I got an invitation to a wonderful seuda, with a delicious cookout, and an hilarious "fleshig" pizza.

    I gave mishloach manot to the women sitting next to me in shul, and my matanot l'evyonim to the rabbi. My non-Jewish sister and her son were in dire financial straits at the time, so I pulled off a "double header" on mishloach manot and matanot l'evyonim by bringing them a package including Oreos (my nephew's favorite), and a few pints of Ben&Jerry's. I explained to my nephew that this was something else my religion *required* me to do, and he admitted it was a pretty good tradition.

    ~~The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret

  4. I dont think that can goods are insufficient. It has to be some type of food that is ready to eat. I dont think there is any difference between taking off a paper wrapper or opening a lid with a can opener or opening a bottle of wine with corkscrew. And note:
    Purim is the only Rabbinic Festival actually mentioned in Biblical Scripture
    Further note: Un-Popped popcorn is a problem, if already popped eat away. and send with the Manot.
    Important note: Mishloah Manot or "Prepared Food Portions" or ideally to facilitate the Seuda and are best to be foods that can be incorporated iin the Seuda. Sort of like, a meal exchange program, whereby the Jews all fress on each other's delicacies
    And lastly , a home megilla reading should take about 25 minutes.

  5. I am getting mixed messages if a person in the conversion process should send misloach manot, what do you think?

    1. Absolutely send them if you want to! The question that usually comes up is that people don't get "credit" for sending one to a person in the process, except perhaps as the tzedakah ones. You don't get "credit" for doing this as a mitzvah, but of course you get credit for being a kind person and good friend.

  6. Glad you published this. Not sure that people realize that Purim is less than a week away! For really great Mishloach Manot and Purim Gifts: Great product, great service. Chag Sameach!