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14 – The Month of Adar

01. When Adar Arrives We Increase Our Joy

The Sages said, “When Av arrives we curtail [our] joy, and when Adar arrives we increase [our] joy” (Ta’anit 29a). In saying this, the Sages teach us that nothing happens by chance and that every season has its own character and nature. If both Temples were destroyed on the ninth of Av, it is a sign that the beginning of Av is naturally predisposed to calamity. And if the miracle of Purim occurred in the middle of Adar, it is a sign that this month has the capacity to transform bad into good. We feel ordinary joy over the good that exists in the world, but our joy is not complete, because there is still evil and pain in the world. However, when even the bad turns into good, our joy increases and becomes complete. This is what happened on Purim: God turned the bad into good and saved His people, Israel. This teaches us that everything that happens in the world – even the bad – will eventually become good. The greater our faith and our commitment to Torah, the closer we bring the ultimate redemption, when all evil will turn into good, and when joy will abound in the world. Since the month of Adar has the unique character of transforming bad into good, “when Adar arrives we increase [our] joy.”

The Sages further recommend (ibid. 29b) that a Jew who has a legal dispute or business deal to settle with a non-Jew should avoid him during the month of Av, because that month portends misfortune. Instead, he should try to make himself available for litigation or a business deal during Adar, when the Jewish people experiences good fortune.

02. The Four Parshiyot

The Sages instituted the public reading of four Torah passages (parshiyot) in addition to the weekly Torah portion: Parashat Shekalim, Parashat Zakhor, Parashat Para, and Parashat Ha-ĥodesh. We read each of the latter three parshiyot on a Shabbat during the month of Adar, while Parashat Shekalim is usually read on the Shabbat before Adar begins.[1]

On these Shabbatot, we take out two Torah scrolls from the ark. First, we read the weekly parsha from the first scroll, dividing it into seven aliyot as on any other Shabbat. Then, we read the special parsha as maftir (the concluding aliya that precedes the haftara) from the second scroll. Since the haftara, which is a section from the Prophets, must relate to the content of the maftir, the haftarot of these weeks all deal with themes connected to the special parsha that was read from the second scroll, not to the weekly portion that was read from the first.

The first of the four parshiyot is Parashat Shekalim (Shemot 28:9-15). This parsha was instituted to remind every Jew to contribute the yearly half-shekel, which was used to purchase communal offerings. Since it was necessary to begin purchasing the offerings with the new funds in Nisan, the Sages instituted the reading of Parashat Shekalim a month earlier, to remind everyone to make his donation. Even though the Temple is in ruins today, and we do not have the privilege of bringing sacrifices, we read Parashat Shekalim in commemoration of the Temple (see mb 685:1, Mikra’ei Kodesh §3).

The second parsha is Parashat Zakhor (Devarim 25:17-19). This reading fulfills the Torah commandment to remember what the Amalekites did to us. The Sages ordained that we read this parsha before Purim in order to juxtapose the mitzva of remembering Amalek to Purim, when we celebrate the fulfillment of that mitzva through the elimination of Haman, who was a descendant of Amalek.

The third parsha is Parashat Para (Bamidbar 19:1-22), which instructs one how to purify himself from ritual impurity, so that he may enter the Temple and bring offerings. The Sages instituted that it be read as the month of Nisan approaches, so that one can prepare and purify himself for the upcoming Pesaĥ offering. Even though we do not bring this offering nowadays, we read Parashat Para in commemoration of the Temple.

The fourth parsha is Parashat Ha-ĥodesh (Shemot 12:1-20), which mentions the sanctification of the new moon and the mitzvot of Pesaĥ. The reading of his parsha was instituted for just before the beginning of Nisan, because Nisan is the first month of the year in the Torah’s accounting and because it alerts us to start preparing for Pesaĥ and all its mitzvot.

When Rosh Ĥodesh Adar or Rosh Ĥodesh Nisan coincides with Shabbat, we remove three Torah scrolls from the ark. We read the weekly portion from the first scroll, the section that deals with Rosh Ĥodesh (Bamidbar 28:9-15) from the second scroll, and the special parshaParashat Shekalim on Rosh Ĥodesh Adar and Parashat Ha-ĥodesh on Rosh Ĥodesh Nisan – from the third scroll.

According to most poskim, the mitzva of reading Parashat Zakhor is mandated by Torah law. Therefore, people are more meticulous about reading Parashat Zakhor than they are regarding all other readings, as we will explain below (14:6). Some maintain that reading Parashat Para also fulfills a Torah commandment, which is why people are customarily more meticulous with regard to that parsha as well.[2]

[1]. The schedule for reading the Four Parshiyot includes at least one Shabbat in Adar when none of the four are read. The Sages provided a mnemonic device to help us remember which one to skip: zatu, bu, dad, ubyu. That is, if the first of Adar falls on Shabbat (represented by the Hebrew letter zayin, which also corresponds to the number seven), we do not read any of the Four Parshiyot on the Shabbat that coincides with the fifteenth (tet-vav, which corresponds to fifteen) of the month: Hence, z-tv, or “zatu,” means 7-15, indicating that when the month starts on the 7th day of the week, we do not read a special parsha on the 15th. If the first of Adar falls on a Monday (bet, corresponding to the second day of the week), no special parsha is read on the sixth (vav) of the month, hence “bu.” When this happens, we read Parashat Shekalim at the end of the month of Shevat. If the first of Adar falls on a Wednesday (dalet, corresponding to the fourth day of the week), no special parsha is read on the fourth (dalet) of the month. Thus, “dad.” And if the first of Adar falls on a Friday (vav, corresponding to the sixth day of the week), no special parsha is read on the second (bet) or sixteenth (yud-vav) of the month. Hence, “ubyu.”

[2]. The institution of the four parshiyot chronologically precedes the institution of the weekly parsha reading. Although the reading of the Torah every Shabbat, Monday, and Thursday was instituted in the time of Moshe, the division of the Torah into 54 portions, to allow it to be read in its entirety over the course of a year, took place much later. In the time of the Amora’im, the Jewish community in Babylonia followed this practice, but the Jews of Eretz Yisrael would complete the Torah every three years instead of every year. However, the institution of the Four Parshiyot and the special readings for the holidays are mentioned already in the Mishna and the Talmud (Megilla 29a-30b).

Reading Parashat Zakhor is a Torah commandment, as we will explain below, in section 6. Some maintain that Parashat Para is also a Torah commandment, as sa 146:2, 685:7 states. Most authorities consider it a rabbinic enactment: see mb 146:13, 685:15; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 685:28. Le-khatĥila, Parashat Para is treated as stringently as Parashat Zakhor.

03. Leap Years and the Added Month of Adar

It is well known that the Jewish months are fixed by the lunar cycle, whereas years follow the solar cycle, because Pesaĥ must always be in the springtime, as the Torah says, “Observe the month of Aviv (spring) and offer a Pesaĥ sacrifice to the Lord your God, for it was in the month of Aviv, at night, that the Lord your God freed you from Egypt” (Devarim 16:1). In order to keep the lunar months in sync with the solar year, leap years, in which an extra month is intercalated, must be declared occasionally. This means that some years have thirteen months. The only month that may be intercalated is the second Adar, meaning that Nisan is postponed to ensure that it coincides with spring. In the past, a beit din would decide on leap years based on agricultural concerns and astronomical calculations. Today, however, since we do not have a court with the power to declare months and years, the Sages established a fixed cycle of nineteen years, of which twelve are ordinary years and seven are leap years.[3]

In a leap year, we celebrate Purim during Adar II, in order to juxtapose the joy of the Purim redemption with the redemption from Egypt. We also read the Four Parshiyot during this month, because Parashat Shekalim, Parashat Para, and Parashat Ha-ĥodesh were instituted as a preparation for the month of Nisan, and Parashat Zakhor must be read immediately before Purim, which we celebrate in Adar II (see Megilla 6b).

Nonetheless, the Adar I still has a certain degree of festiveness. Therefore, we do not fast, eulogize, or recite Taĥanun on the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar I. It is also proper to enhance the meal that one eats on the fourteenth of Adar I, which is called Purim Katan (“Small Purim”) (sa, Rema 697:1). Moreover, the Sages statement about increasing joy when Adar arrives implies that Adar I ushers in joy (observance of a bar mitzva or yahrzeit is discussed in the footnote).[4]

[3]. Twelve lunar months add up to 354 days (plus 8 hours, 48 minutes, and about 40 seconds). A solar year, on the other hand, contains 365 days (plus 5 hours, 55 minutes, and about 25 seconds). The following years in the nineteen-year cycle are leap years: 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, 19. The year 5777 (2016-17) begins a new nineteen-year cycle.

[4]. The Mishna states, “There is no difference between Adar I and Adar II except the [mitzvot of] reading the megilla and giving gifts to the poor” (Megilla 6b). The Gemara adds the Four Parshiyot to this list. This implies that the two months are equal with regard to rejoicing. One can also infer this from ma and the Vilna Gaon on oĥ 568:7. mb 697:4 states that one need not enhance his meal on the fifteenth of Adar I in walled cities, but Minĥat Yitzĥak 10:58 states that one should enhance his meal on that day in Jerusalem.

Bar Mitzva: Since Adar II is the primary month of the two, one who was born in Adar on an ordinary year becomes a bar mitzva in Adar II, if that year happens to be a leap year. If, however, he was born in Adar I of a leap year and his bar mitzva falls out on a leap year as well, he marks the occasion in Adar I.

Yahrzeit: According to Sephardic custom, one who has a yahrzeit in the month of Adar observes it, in a leap year, during Adar II, as that is the primary Adar with regard to Purim and the Four Parshiyot. According to Ashkenazic custom, however, it is observed during Adar I, to avoid postponing the mitzva. According to this approach, Adar II is the primary month only with regard to Purim and the Four Parshiyot, not for other matters. Moreover, since Adar II is more joyous, as it is the month in which we celebrate Purim, it is more appropriate to remember the dead in Adar I. Some Ashkenazim are stringent and observe the yahrzeit twice (sa, Rema 568:7, mb ad loc. 41). An Ashkenazic Jew who adopted a custom to fast in honor of a yahrzeit in both months of Adar should continue his practice. Similarly, ma and mb ad loc. 42 state that one who took an explicit oath to fast on a yahrzeit that falls out in the month of Adar must fast on both months of Adar during a leap year. But if a person died in a leap year, the family should observe the yahrzeit on subsequent leap years in the same month of Adar in which he died.

04. The Three Mitzvot Concerning the Obliteration of Amalek

Three mitzvot in the Torah relate to Amalek. The first is a positive commandment to remember what Amalek did to us, as the Torah says: “Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, as you left Egypt” (Devarim 25:17). The second is a negative commandment not to forget what Amalek did to us, as the Torah says: “Do not forget” (ibid. 19). The third is a positive commandment to eradicate Amalek’s offspring from the world, as the Torah says: “Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (ibid.).

Amalek symbolizes the root of evil in the world. Indeed, Amalek introduced the concept of Jew- hatred to the world. The Jewish people face a difficult struggle in this world. The idealistic, faith-based message that God assigned to Israel incites all the evildoers of the world to rise up and fight against the Jews. No other nation has been persecuted as the Jews have, from the destruction of the Temple, through the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Khmelnytsky Massacres of 1648-9, and culminating in the terrible Holocaust that ravaged our nation. Amalek started it all.

Right after we left Egypt, even before we had a chance to coalesce and organize ourselves, Amalek attacked us, without any provocation or reason. Who did they attack? Slaves on their way to freedom after a prolonged period of servitude. Amalek is the nation whose very existence expresses hatred of Israel and, by extension, hatred of the Torah and the divine idea of repairing the world through kindness and truth. This is why the verse says, “‘Hand upon the throne (kes) of the Lord (Kah)!’ The Lord will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages” (Shemot 17:16). Rashi comments, noting that the verse uses shortened versions for two words – kes instead of kisei and Kah instead of the full Tetragrammaton – “The Holy One, blessed be He, swore that His name and His throne will not be complete until the name of Amalek is utterly blotted out.”

A Jew is naturally kind and compassionate, and many mitzvot in the Torah further cultivate these traits within him. He would naturally be inclined to forgive Amalek. But the Torah commands us to remember what Amalek did and obliterate it. This way, we will remember that there is evil in the world, and that we must fight this evil to the bitter end, without compromise. Only then will we be able to perfect the world.

05. The Mitzva to Wipe Out Amalek

The mitzva to destroy Amalek is primarily incumbent upon the people of Israel as a whole. Indeed, the Sages taught that the people of Israel were commanded to fulfill three mitzvot upon entering Eretz Yisrael: first, to appoint a king; then to wipe out the descendants of Amalek; and then to build the Holy Temple (San. 20b).

Indeed, after the people of Israel became coalesced as a nation in its land, appointed a king in Shaul, and his kingdom stabilized, the prophet Shmuel approached him, saying:

I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over His people Israel. Therefore, listen to the Lord’s command! “Thus said the Lord of Hosts: I am exacting the penalty for what Amalek did to Israel, for the assault he made upon them on the road, on their way up from Egypt.” Now go, attack Amalek, and proscribe all that belongs to him. Spare no one, but kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and asses!” (1 Shmuel 15:1-3)

However, King Shaul did not fulfill the mitzva properly. He had pity on King Agag of Amalek and on the best of the sheep and cattle. As a result, God took the kingdom away from Shaul and gave it to David. Nevertheless, the damage that was already done was devastating. Because of Shaul’s weakness and compassion, many Amalekites survived and continued harassing Israel. A few years later, a band of Amalekites attacked Tziklag, where the families of David and his men lived, burning down the city and taking all the women and children captive. With God’s help, David and his men managed to rescue the captives and vanquish the marauders. But since David was not yet king and did not have the army of Israel at his disposal, he was unable to eradicate them. According to 1 Samuel 30:17, “four hundred young men…mounted camels and got away.” Apparently, other groups of Amalekites survived elsewhere as well. Even after David became king and continued to fight against the Amalekites, he was unable to destroy them all, because they were scattered throughout the land. The Sages also relate that because Shaul delayed killing Agag, Agag’s line was preserved, eventually resulting in the birth of Haman the Agagite, who attempted to wipe out the Jewish people (Megilla 13a).

Even though the mitzva to eradicate Amalek is primarily incumbent upon the Jewish people as a whole, every individual Jew is commanded to fulfill it, as well. Therefore, if a Jew meets an Amalekite, and has the ability to kill him, but refrains from doing so, he has neglected this mitzva (Sefer Ha-ĥinukh §604). The descendants of Amalek are currently unknown, but if one would ascertain that a particular person is an Amalekite, and that person follows their ways, it would be a mitzva to kill him.[5]

[5]. Responsa Kol Mevaser 2:42 derives from Rambam, Ramban (Shemot 17:16), and Sefer Ha-ĥinukh §604 that the mitzva of eradicating Amalek is primarily incumbent upon the king and the Jewish people as a whole, but that an individual who is able to kill an Amalekite must do so.

I asserted that some Amalekites remained after Shaul neglected to kill Agag. This is clear from bb 21a-b, which relates that David’s general Yoav erred in killing only the men of Amalek but not the women, because his school teacher had taught him an incorrect interpretation of the relevant verses. This incident took place during the war mentioned in 1 Melakhim 11:15-16, which was fought mainly against Edom, i.e., the descendants of Esav. Since the Amalekites represented only a small part of the descendants of Esav, this implies that there were groups of Amalekites within the Edomites, and it was concerning those Amalekites that Yoav erred. This explanation is cited in Responsa Kol Mevaser 2:42.

06. Parashat Zakhor

The Sages instituted the reading of Parashat Zakhor once a year in order to fulfill the Torah commandment to remember and not forget the evil deeds of Amalek. One is viewed as having forgotten about Amalek only if a year goes by without remembering it. Therefore, we discharge our obligation by mentioning the matter once a year. We read Parashat Zakhor on the Shabbat before Purim in order to juxtapose remembering Amalek to the destruction of his descendant Haman.

According to Torah law, one must express this remembrance verbally. There is no need, however, for every individual to read Parashat Zakhor from a Torah scroll; rather, everyone fulfills the mitzva by hearing another person read the verses from the Torah.

According to some of the greatest Rishonim, the Torah commands us to read Parashat Zakhor from the Torah scroll itself. Therefore, it is proper to read it from an exceptionally beautiful Torah scroll, and the reader must try to read the passage as meticulously as possible.

Preferably, everyone should hear Parashat Zakhor read according to his family’s accepted traditions of cantillation and pronunciation. Technically, however, members of all Jewish communities can discharge their obligation by hearing it read according to any version accepted among the Jewish people, whether it is Sephardic, Ashkenazic, or Yemenite.[6]

One who finds himself in a place where there is no minyan should read Parashat Zakhor from a Torah scroll without a minyan. If no Torah scroll is available, he should read it from a ĥumash or a siddur.[7]

Mitzvot require kavana (focused intent); therefore, one must have in mind to fulfill the mitzva of remembering Amalek’s deeds when reading or hearing Parashat Zakhor. It is a good practice for the gabbai or reader to announce this before commencing the reading.[8]

[6]. It is clear that mistakes have crept into the Hebrew pronunciation systems of some Jewish communities, as all of Israel had a common pronunciation before we were exiled. Nonetheless, one fulfills his obligation to hear Parashat Zakhor even through an inaccurate pronunciation. As long as a large Jewish community accepts and agrees upon a certain pronunciation system, it is valid. Even regarding the mitzva of ĥalitza, where the improper recitation of certain Hebrew verses by the man or woman renders the ceremony invalid, we do not require them to enunciate the verses according to all the different pronunciation schemes, and the woman is permitted to remarry (Igrot Moshe, oĥ 3:5). Certainly, then, there is no obligation to read Parashat Zakhor according to all the different pronunciations. R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach concurs (Halikhot Shlomo 18:1), deriving this from the laws of oaths (nedarim), where an inaccurate wording is still considered a full-fledged expression. Still, many people are meticulous in this regard and read Parashat Zakhor several different ways. In the community of Har Bracha, we first read Parashat Zakhor according to the standard Modern Hebrew pronunciation. Then, only after the berakha following the reading is recited, those who want to read it using different pronunciations may come forth and do so. By allowing the variant readings only after the berakha is recited, we show that everyone has already fulfilled his obligation through the regular pronunciation.

[7]. One must mention Amalek verbally. After all, the Sages understood that the mitzva not to forget what Amalek did to us commands us to remember internally (Megilla 18a). Thus, when the Torah commands us to remember, it means through verbalization. The poskim dispute what exactly the Torah obligation entails. Rambam and Ramban imply that reading from a Torah scroll is a rabbinic enactment, and that by Torah law one fulfills the mitzva by reading from a ĥumash or through any other means of commemoration. (Marĥeshet 1:22 states, based on Ramban’s commentary on the end of Parashat Ki Tetzei, that reading the megilla on Purim also fulfills the mitzva of remembering Amalek.) On the other hand, according to Tosafot, Rashba (Ber. 13a), Rosh, and Eshkol, one is obligated by Torah law to hear Parashat Zakhor read from a Torah scroll. sa 146:3 rules in accordance with this opinion. Therefore, we bring a Torah scroll to a sick person or a prison inmate in order to read Parashat Zakhor for him, an action that we do not take for any other reading (mb 135:46; see also bhl ad loc.).

If the scroll from which Parashat Zakhor was read is later found to be invalid, there is no need to reread the parsha from a different scroll (Halikhot Shlomo 18:4), because, according to several poskim, one fulfills the mitzva without a Torah scroll, and others maintain that a Torah scroll is required, but that one fulfills his obligation with an invalid Torah scroll. It stands to reason that if the defect in the scroll is found on that same Shabbat, the congregation should reread Parashat Zakhor from a valid scroll, since the Sages instituted the reading on that particular day.

Terumat Ha-deshen §108 infers from Rosh that according to Torah law, the mitzva to read Parashat Zakhor can only be fulfilled by reading the passage from a Torah scroll in the presence of ten men. Several Aĥaronim explain that by remembering what the Amalekites did to us, we become aroused to wage war against them, and since war is a communal obligation, Parashat Zakhor must be read with the congregation (Keren Ora, Maharam Schick). It seems to me that even Terumat Ha-deshen agrees that in the absence of a congregation there is still a mitzva to read it individually. sht 685:5 expresses puzzlement about Terumat Ha-deshen’s viewpoint and states that all other Rishonim maintain that a minyan is required only rabbinically. In practice, if one finds himself in a place where there is no minyan, he should read Parashat Zakhor privately from a Torah scroll. If no scroll is available, he should read it from a ĥumash, as we already learned that one fulfills his Torah obligation even without a Torah scroll according to some poskim (see Responsa Binyan Shlomo §54, Kaf Ha-ĥayim 685:35).

According to ma, one who fails to hear Parashat Zakhor on Shabbat can, be-di’avad, discharge his obligation by hearing the Torah reading on Purim, which recounts the story of Amalek’s attack (Shemot 17:8-16). mb 685:16 questions this, because that section only mentions the narrative of the war against Amalek, not the commandment to remember and eradicate it. Some authorities suggest that he should wait until later in the year when the congregation reads Parashat Ki Tetzei, which contains Parashat Zakhor at the end, and ask the reader to have in mind to absolve him of his obligation to remember Amalek. Both the reader and listener must have in mind to fulfill the mitzva (Mikra’ei Kodesh [Frank], Purim 6). In my humble opinion, however, it is best for him to read Parashat Zakhor privately, from a Torah scroll, as soon as possible, lest he forget it altogether. This way, he will fulfill his obligation according to the vast majority of poskim. Then, if he remembers, he can act scrupulously and try to fulfill the mitzva through the readings of Purim and Ki Tetzei.

The Aĥaronim dispute the reason for this mitzva. According to Keren Ora, it is in order to destroy Amalek. Therefore, once Amalek is wiped out, there is no longer any mitzva. Melekhet Shlomo maintains that the mitzva to remember Amalek will remain in effect even after it is destroyed, because of the principles of faith that it contains.

[8]. The Rishonim disagree about whether or not mitzvot require kavana. sa 60:4 rules that mitzvot indeed require kavana. Be-di’avad, one discharges his obligation even if he did not have explicit kavana, as long as he knows that the purpose of reading Parashat Zakhor is to fulfill the mitzva of remembering Amalek, as this is considered latent kavana. One who does not know why we read Parashat Zakhor, however, does not discharge his obligation by simply hearing the passage read, according to the position that mitzvot require kavana (Ĥayei Adam, mb 60:10). One who fails to hear all the words still fulfills the mitzva, as long as he hears the main point – the injunction to remember what Amalek did to us (Halikhot Shlomo 18:1).

07. Are Women Obligated to Hear Parashat Zakhor?

According to most poskim, women are not obligated in the mitzva of remembering Amalek, because this mitzva is connected to the mitzva of annihilating Amalek. Since women are not commanded to wage war, they do not need to remember what Amalek did to us (Sefer Ha-ĥinukh §603). Others claim that the mitzva to wage war applies to women as well, as they must assist the soldiers. Therefore, they too are obligated to remember Amalek. And even though the Sages established a fixed time for reading Parashat Zakhor – the Shabbat before Purim – it has no set time according to Torah law. In light of this, it is a mitzva that is independent of time, and thus women are obligated to perform it (Minĥat Ĥinukh ad loc.).

In practice, women are exempt from hearing Parashat Zakhor. Le-khatĥila, however, it is best for women to hear Parashat Zakhor, and many women do so in practice. A woman who finds it difficult to attend the services, but nevertheless wants to fulfill the mitzva, should read the passage herself from a ĥumash. After all, many authorities maintain that this fulfills the Torah commandment to remember Amalek. If there is a Torah lecture for women in the synagogue, it is permissible to take out a Torah scroll and read Parashat Zakhor for them. Even though no minyan is present, hearing Parashat Zakhor from a valid Torah scroll enhances the mitzva.[9]

[9]. Reading Parashat Zakhor is not considered a time-bound mitzva because one can fulfill it by remembering Amalek once, and according to the Torah there is no set time for its performance. However, many poskim maintain that women are exempt because they do not go to war (Sefer Ha-ĥinukh §603). Torat Ĥesed §37 states that according to the view that the Torah does not require a yearly reading of Parashat Zakhor and that one can discharge his obligation through any form of remembrance, even once every few years, Parashat Zakhor is only a rabbinic mitzva, and consequently incumbent on men alone. Avnei Nezer, oĥ 509 and Marĥeshet 1:22 also maintain that women are exempt. Some authorities maintain that women are obligated in this mitzva, because even women must take part in a milĥemet mitzva – a mandatory war (Minĥat Ĥinukh). Radbaz (on mt, Laws of Kings 7:4) explains that women must supply the soldiers with food and water. Responsa Binyan Tziyon 2:8 adds that something positive will surely result from women remembering Amalek, just as when Yael killed Sisera, Esther put Haman to death, and Yehudit killed the Greek general.

Therefore, le-khatĥila, women should hear Parashat Zakhor with a minyan. If that is impossible, someone should read it for them from a Torah scroll, without a minyan. If that, too, is unfeasible, they should read it to themselves from a ĥumash. While some Aĥaronim write that we do not take out a Torah scroll for the sake of women (Responsa Kinyan Torah 7:53; Halikhot Beitah 9:8), it is unclear what the problem is with this, since technically one may take out a Torah scroll in order to study from it. Some communities, therefore, have a custom to take out a Torah scroll and read Parashat Zakhor just for women.

08. Can an Amalekite Save Himself or Convert to Judaism?

Even though the Torah commands us to wipe out the descendants of Amalek, if an Amalekite agrees to observe the seven Noahide laws, he no longer has the status of an Amalekite, and one may not kill him. The seven Noahide laws are the prohibitions against idolatry, forbidden sexual relations, murder, theft, blasphemy, and eating the limbs of a live animal; and the obligation to set up a court system that will adjudicate all interpersonal disputes justly.

Moreover, even if the Amalekites do not volunteer to observe the seven Noahide laws, we are commanded to offer them peace before waging war against them. That is, we offer them the opportunity to adopt the seven Noahide laws and to agree to be subservient to, and pay tribute to, the Jewish people. If they accept these conditions of peace, we do not wage war against them. If they refuse, however, we fight them until they are eradicated. Even if they reconsider afterward and beg for peace, we do not accept; once the war has begun, we fight them until they are eradicated (mt, Laws of Kings 6:1-4; Kesef Mishneh ad loc.).

The poskim disagree about whether an Amalekite who wants to convert to Judaism may be accepted. Rambam (mt, Laws of Prohibited Sexual Relations 12:17) maintains that an Amalekite may convert. Accordingly, the Sages state that descendants of Haman, who was himself of Amalekite stock, taught Torah in Bnei Brak (Gittin 57b, San. 96b). Thus, our forebears accepted converts from the descendants of Amalek.

Others assert that we do not accept Amalekite converts. This is the view of R. Eliezer, cited in the Mekhilta (end of Parashat Beshalaĥ), who relates that God swore by His Throne of Glory that an Amalekite who comes to convert should not be accepted. According to this position, Haman’s descendants were only allowed to teach Torah in Bnei Brak – as the Sages attest – as the result of an error: A rabbinical court accepted a convert without knowing that he is a descendant of Amalek. Alternatively, an Amalekite descendant of the wicked Haman raped a Jewish woman, and those Torah teachers from Bnei Brak descended from her son, who was considered Jewish (Resisei Laila 38:5).[10]

[10]. Rambam maintains that we may accept converts from Amalek. According to him, the halakha does not follow R. Eliezer’s opinion in the Mekhilta (end of Parashat Beshalaĥ) because another opinion – that of R. Elazar Ha-Moda’i – is cited there as well, and because the Gemara’s account of Haman’s descendants runs counter to R. Eliezer’s view. So writes Ĥida (Ya’ir Ozen, Gimel:1). Ĥazon Ish (yd 157:5) states that R. Eliezer’s prohibition on accepting an Amalekite convert only applies during wartime. According to Avnei Nezer, oĥ 508, we may grant an Amalekite the status of ger toshav (a “resident alien,” a non-Jew who lives in Israel and adopts the seven Noahide laws), who is subservient to the Jewish people, but he may not become a regular convert.

Others maintain that we do not accept the conversion of Amalekites, interpreting the statement that Haman’s descendants taught Torah in Bnei Brak in various ways. Some explain that the lineage of a non-Jew is determined by the father, and these teachers descended from Haman through a daughter (Mahari Engel, Gilyonei Ha-Shas, Gittin 57b; Maharsham 3:272). Others explain that, le-khatĥila, we do not accept Amalekite converts, but if they are accepted by accident, their conversion is valid (Yeshu’ot Malko, Likutim 15). Others maintain that the conversion is valid only if the mistake is discovered several generations later, but if a convert’s Amalekite origin is revealed immediately, the conversion is invalidated (Shvut Yehuda on the Mekhilta). Others maintain that the teachers descended from an Amalekite who assimilated into another nation and converted afterward. In such a case, it is impossible to know that he is from Amalek, and thus we accept him. Later on, it was revealed through divine inspiration that these teachers were descendants of Haman, but their conversion was still valid (R. Ĥayim Palachi, Einei Kol Ĥai, San. 96b). It is also possible that an Amalekite can divest himself of the status of Amalek by accepting the seven Noahide laws, and then, at a later stage, convert (suggested by Ĥida, Petaĥ Einayim, San. 96b). According to Reponsa Kol Mevaser 2:42, we may accept an Amalekite convert; the Mekhilta only prohibits such a convert from marrying into the Jewish people.

09. Ta’anit Esther

The custom of all Jewry, since the geonic period, is to fast on the thirteenth of Adar in commemoration of the fasts that Esther observed before approaching King Aĥashverosh to annul the decree against the Jewish people (Esther 4:16) and the fast that the Jews observed on the thirteenth of Adar of that year. The wicked Haman decreed that on the thirteenth of Adar, all Jews – young and old, children and women – be destroyed, massacred, and exterminated on a single day, and that their possessions be plundered. Because of the miracle of Purim, the hanging of Haman, and the rise of Mordechai and Esther, King Aĥashverosh issued a second letter allowing the Jews to defend themselves and kill their enemies on that same day. The original decree, however, was not rescinded, because a decree that was written and signed by the king could not be annulled. Therefore, the enemies of Israel also had permission to kill the Jews. In other words, the kingdom established the thirteenth of Adar as the day on which those who hated the Jewish people were permitted to kill them, but the Jews were also permitted to fight for their lives and kill their enemies as well. And even though Mordechai was already second in command to the king, the Jews were still in grave danger and in need of divine mercy to help them overcome and kill their enemies. Therefore, the Jews who could not fight stirred themselves to repentance and fasted that day, as is Israel’s practice in times of hardship. Indeed, there is no greater penitence than penitence that is achieved through fasting, as fasting purifies a person’s material side and returns his spirituality to its natural, central place.

In commemoration of that fast, the Jewish people fast on the thirteenth of Adar every year. We still have enemies who want to destroy us and we still need to fast and repent every year anew.[11]

In general, the laws of Ta’anit Esther (the Fast of Esther) are more lenient than those of the other minor fasts, because the other fasts were instituted by the Sages, whereas Ta’anit Esther was established by Jewish custom. In practice, though, there is almost no difference between them.[12]

The laws regarding the prayers and Torah reading at Shaĥarit and Minĥa on Ta’anit Esther are the same as on all the minor fasts. The only difference is that we omit Taĥanun at Minĥa, since it is the day before Purim (mb 131:33). In addition, those who follow Ashkenazic custom and usually recite Avinu Malkeinu on fast days at both Shaĥarit and Minĥa do not do so at Minĥa on Ta’anit Esther. When the thirteenth of Adar coincides with Shabbat, we fast on the Thursday prior, and since the fast is not on the eve of Purim, we pray Minĥa as on all other fasts.

[11]. The Rishonim ask how a fast could be established on the eve of Purim, as Megilat Ta’anit states explicitly that we do not fast or deliver eulogies on the day before a rabbinic holiday. Tosafot answer that since Megilat Ta’anit was repealed, the laws of the day before the holidays mentioned therein were also repealed. Ha-ma’or explains that we view the laws of Purim as if they were mandated by the Torah, which needs no reinforcement, and thus one may fast before Purim. Rosh and Ran point out that since the Book of Esther 9:31 alludes to this fast – “the matters of the fasts with their cries” – one may fast prior to the holiday. Beit Yosef §686 elaborates on this.

[12]. Since Ta’anit Esther is based on custom, we are more lenient in cases of uncertainty. Thus, a woman is exempt from fasting on Ta’anit Esther for 24 months after giving birth. Even though the poskim dispute this law when it comes to the other minor fasts – most of them taking a more stringent approach, as explained above, 7:8 – there is room to rule leniently regarding Ta’anit Esther.

A bride and groom during the seven-day period of joy after their wedding, as well as the main participants in a brit mila, must observe the other minor fasts but are exempt from fasting on Ta’anit Esther. This is stated in sht 686:16, Kaf Ha-ĥayim 686:16, 28, and Yeĥaveh Da’at 2:78. (According to the Vilna Gaon, they are exempt from all the minor fasts.) Rema 686:2 maintains that the main participants in a brit must fast on Ta’anit Esther, and many follow this ruling. With regard to a bride and groom, however, it is customary to be lenient.

Rema 686:2 states that those who have severe eye pain need not fast on Ta’anit Esther, but they should make up the fast on a different day. Most Aĥaronim explain that even though those who suffer from eye pain are not considered truly sick, they may postpone their fast to a different day because they are in pain. This is not the case regarding the other minor fasts, on which one must fast even if he is in pain. In practice, it is difficult to distinguish between illness and pain. Mikra’ei Kodesh (Harari) ch. 3 n. 25 rules similarly, quoting R. Shaul Yisraeli and R. Mordechai Eliyahu, that those who suffer from eye pain have the same status as a sick person: They do not need to fast on Ta’anit Esther, nor do they need to make up the missed fast on a later date. Another difference, on the minor fasts, it is proper to be stringent and refrain from washing in warm water and playing music, as a sign of mourning over the Temple’s destruction (see above 7:2 and n. 3). On Ta’anit Esther, however, there is no reason to adopt this stringency.

10. Commemoration of the Half-Shekel

People customarily give charity in the month of Adar in commemoration of the half-shekel that each individual would donate to the Temple, in Adar, to fund public offerings. The best time to give this charity is immediately before Minĥa on Ta’anit Esther, so that the charity can combine with the fast to help one achieve atonement (mb 694:4, Kaf Ha-ĥayim 694:25).

Some have a custom to give a coin worth half of the local currency unit, while others give three such coins, corresponding to the three times the word teruma (“donation”) appears in Parashat Shekalim (Rema 694:1). Thus, according to this custom, one should donate three half-shekels if in Israel, and $1.50 if in the US.

Some customarily give the equivalent of the original half-shekel, which is the value of approximately ten grams of pure silver (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 694:20). All of these customs are valid, and the more charity one gives, the more commendable he is.

Some maintain that this custom applies only to men above the age of twenty, because only they were obligated in the original mitzva to give the half-shekel for public offerings (Rema). Others maintain that boys above the age of thirteen must observe this custom as well (Tosafot Yom Tov). A third opinion maintains that one should give a donation in commemoration of the half-shekel for young children as well (Eliya Rabba, mb 694:5). Still others maintain that even women should give the half-shekel donation (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 694:27). The most prevalent custom today is to donate at least one half-shekel for every member of the house, even for an unborn child.

One should not use money that was designated for ma’aser kesafim (the tithe of one tenth of one’s income that is set aside for charity) for this donation, since one may not fulfill an obligatory mitzva or custom from tithes. However, if one has always donated the commemorative half-shekel according to the most expensive custom and is now pressed for funds, making it difficult to observe his custom without relying on ma’aser kesafim money, he may donate from his own funds according to the more lenient opinion – that is, a half-shekel per male above the age of twenty – and make up the rest with ma’aser kesafim money.

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