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15 – Purim and Reading the Megillah

01. The Miracle of Purim

The joy of Purim expresses the eternal sanctity of the Jewish people. Even though this sanctity is sometimes hidden by our sins, it never disappears. Jews, even when they sin, are still called God’s children, and nevertheless God directs the world and arranges events for their benefit, in order to save and redeem them.

At the time of the Purim story, the Jewish people was in dire straits. The First Temple had been destroyed, and Israel had been exiled from its land. While Cyrus’s edict permitting the Jews to return to their land had already been declared, only a small minority actually did so. The Persian Empire ruled the world, and the large Jewish population living throughout the empire made an effort to assimilate and behave as the gentiles did, to the point where many were willing to bow down to an idol. In the capital city of Shushan, many Jews partook in Aĥashverosh’s feast and looked on as the Persians brought out the Temple vessels, which our enemies had pillaged at the time of the Temple’s destruction, and used them for mundane purposes. Yet they still enjoyed this wicked man’s feast. It seemed as though the great vision for which the nation of Israel was chosen was steadily vanishing; there would no longer be hope for a return to Zion. The Jewish people would no longer bring the word of God to the world.

Then, a great accusation arose in heaven against Israel. Despite the fact that God chose Israel from among all the other nations, gave them His Torah, and manifested His presence in their midst, they were acting like the gentiles, bowing to an idol, and failing to go up to their land to build the Holy Temple. Therefore, the wicked Haman, a descendant of Amalek, arose and instigated the Persian Empire to enact a terrible decree against the Jews, the likes of which had never been seen before: “To destroy, massacre, and exterminate all the Jews, young and old, children and women, on a single day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month – that is, the month of Adar – and to plunder their possessions” (Esther 3:13).

Incidentally, some Jews claimed against Mordechai that he was the cause of the evil decree: By refusing to bow to the wicked Haman, he stirred his wrath against all the Jews (ibid. 3:2-6).

Ultimately it became clear that God controls events and had even already prepared the solution to the problem in advance, by arranging for Aĥashverosh to marry Esther. Thus, Mordechai and Esther were able to thwart Haman’s plan. Everything was reversed: Instead of Israel’s enemies carrying out their evil scheme, the Jews were able to kill their enemies, even hanging Haman and his sons on the very tree that he had prepared for Mordechai. The people of Israel experienced a great salvation; their prestige grew among the nations; and they mustered the strength to ascend to Eretz Yisrael, settle it, and build the Second Temple.[1]

[1]. It emerges from Megilla 11b-12a that the Purim story happened after Cyrus’s edict but before the Jews were permitted to build the Temple. Furthermore, the evil decree was issued because they bowed down to an idol and derived pleasure from the wicked king’s feast. Many claim that Darius was the son of Aĥashverosh and Esther, and that thanks to Esther’s influence, Darius allowed the Second Temple to be completed after the enemies of the Jews disrupted its construction.

02. Accepting the Torah Anew

If we delve deeper, we will see that Haman’s decree actually stirred the singular quality, the segula, of the Jewish people. The decree made it clear that the Jewish people were willing to make great sacrifices in order to hold onto their faith. After all, they could have assimilated among the gentiles and saved themselves from annihilation. Nevertheless, they did not try to escape their Jewish destiny. On the contrary, the decree inspired them to repent and strengthen their faith and commitment to the Torah and the mitzvot.

The events of Purim were so momentous that the Sages stated that Israel accepted the Torah anew at the time of Aĥashverosh. In a certain sense, their renewed commitment at that time was greater than their original acceptance of the Torah on Mount Sinai. When the Torah was first given, Israel was forced to accept it, as it says, “They took their places at the foot of the mountain” (Shemot 19:17). The Sages comment (Shabbat 88a):

This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like a cask, and said to them, “If you accept the Torah – good; if not – here shall be your burial.” R. Aĥa b. Yaakov said, “This furnishes a strong protest against the Torah” (since they accepted the Torah under duress, they are not obligated to uphold it). Rava said, “Even so, they re-accepted it at the time of Aĥashverosh, as it says, ‘The Jews upheld and accepted upon themselves” (Esther 9:27) – that is, they confirmed what they had accepted long before.”

Many commentators explain that God “overturned the mountain upon them like a cask” in a symbolic, spiritual sense. After all the great miracles of the Exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the sea, and the awesome revelations at Mount Sinai, it was impossible for the Jews not to accept the Torah. However, the question still remained: Would the Jews stay connected to God and His Torah even afterward, when they become detached from those miracles and wonders? Indeed, there were ups and downs, until the events of Purim took place. That is when it became clear that the people of Israel’s connection to their faith and to the Torah were absolute. The terrible decree made it clear that the price of belief might be unbearable, but the Jews still chose to adhere to their faith, repent, and pray to God, without any coercion. Not only did they return to observe the 613 mitzvot, they even instituted additional mitzvot after they were saved: the mitzvot of Purim.

Thus, we were privileged to build the Second Temple, and a door was opened for the advancement of the study of the Oral Torah, which was the main spiritual enterprise of the Second Temple era.

3 – Establishing Purim as an Everlasting Holiday

Even though the joy over the salvation was great, it was initially unclear how the event should be marked. Esther wrote to the Sages, “Write an account of me for future generations,” that is, write down the Purim story and include it as one of the holy books of the Tanakh. Esther further requested, “Establish me for future generations,” that is, establish the days of Purim for future generations as days of joy and reading the Megilla. At first, the Sages were unsure about this, both because it might arouse feelings of vengefulness among the nations of the world to see Israel rejoicing over their downfall, and also because they were uncertain whether it was appropriate to add to the Torah another description of Israel’s war against Amalek. In the end, they found scriptural allusions indicating that there are grounds to write about the battle of Amalek once again. Thus, the Men of the Great Assembly composed Megilat Esther (the Scroll of Esther) through divine inspiration and established Purim as a holiday for future generations (Megilla 2a, 7a; bb 15a).

The Men of the Great Assembly (Anshei Knesset Ha-gedola) constituted the supreme beit din that functioned at the beginning of the Second Temple period. It was comprised of 120 elders, among them prophets and sages such as Ĥagai, Zekharia, Malakhi, Daniel, Ĥanania, Mishael, Azaria, Ezra the Scribe, Neĥemia b. Ĥakhalia, Mordechai (the same Mordechai that appears in Megilat Esther), and Zerubavel b. She’altiel. Ezra the Scribe was the most prominent of all, so much so that the Men of the Great Assembly are sometimes called “The Beit Din of Ezra the Scribe.” They were the great beit din that established the first major enactments that are considered rabbinic mitzvot, and they were the impetus for the continued activity of the Sages of the Oral Torah.

The Purim miracle is considered the last miracle that was allowed to be recorded in the Tanakh, as the Sages state, “Esther is the end of all the miracles” (Yoma 29a). Thus, in effect, the writing of Megilat Esther concludes the Tanakh.

Purim is the link that connects the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. This is reflected in the status of its mitzvot, which are considered divrei kabbala, an intermediate category between Torah commandments and rabbinic ones. On the one hand, they are not on the level of mitzvot that are written in the Pentateuch. On the other hand, they are not considered rabbinic mitzvot, since Megilat Esther is included in Scripture. The Rishonim disagree about how one should behave if an uncertainty arises regarding the laws of Purim: Does the halakha demand that one be stringent, as in cases of Torah commandments, or lenient, as in cases of rabbinic enactments?[2]

One must perform seven mitzvot on Purim. Four of them are unique to Purim: 1) reading the Megilla; 2) mishlo’aĥ manot (sending gifts of food to a friend); 3) matanot la-evyonim (giving gifts to the poor); and 4) participating in a festive meal. The remaining three are rabbinic commandments that parallel rabbinic obligations on other holidays: 1) reading the Torah (for men); 2) commemorating the day by reciting Al Ha-nisim in our prayers and in Birkat Ha-mazon; and 3) refraining from fasting and delivering eulogies.

[2]. Most Rishonim and Aĥaronim agree that the four special mitzvot of Purim have the status of divrei kabbala, which refers to laws that are derived from the words of the Prophets or the Writings, a category in between Torah law and rabbinic law. They only dispute the halakha in cases of uncertainty. At first glance, the fact that the Megilla is read on both the 14th and 15th where there is uncertainty about whether that location was walled at the time of Yehoshua bin Nun indicates that one must be stringent in cases of uncertainty, as we are with regard to Torah commandments. This appears to be the position of Rambam and sa 688:4, 696:7. According to Ramban, Rashba, and Ritva, however, we follow this practice only as a pious custom, not as an obligation, demonstrating that the status of these mitzvot is like that of rabbinic commandments. Several Aĥaronim are inclined toward stringentcy (Turei Even, mb 692:16, Kaf Ha-ĥayim 692:39). Another discussion is rooted in the same question: Does reading the Megilla override Torah commandments? Most authorities, including Rema 687:2, maintain that reading the Megilla does not override such mitzvot, but Taz rules that it does.

04. Walled and Unwalled Cities

There is a unique halakha pertaining to Purim: it has two dates. In most places, Purim is celebrated on the fourteenth of Adar, while in cities that were surrounded by a wall at the time of Yehoshua bin Nun, and in Aĥashverosh’s capital city of Shushan, it is celebrated on the fifteenth.

In order to understand the reason for this distinction, we must first recall the order of events. Haman’s decree stated that on the thirteenth of Adar all the enemies of Israel could destroy, massacre, and exterminate all the Jews throughout the world. This decree was not abolished even after Mordechai and Esther’s amazing rise to power, because by law any decree written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet could not be revoked. Therefore, the only thing they could do was to issue an additional edict, also sealed with the king’s signet, allowing the Jews to defend themselves and kill their enemies.

Until the thirteenth of Adar, it was unclear how matters would develop. Granted, the Jews had permission to defend themselves without interference from the Persian army, but who knew if they would succeed in defeating their enemies? Then, on the thirteenth of Adar, fear of the Jews fell upon the people of the land, and the Jews were able to defeat their enemies. On the next day, the fourteenth of Adar, the Jews rested from battle, making it a day of feasting and joy. In the capital city of Shushan, however, there were so many enemies of Israel that the Jews were unable to kill them all in one day. Therefore, Queen Esther came before King Aĥashverosh and asked him to grant the Jews permission to take revenge against their enemies for one more day. Once he agreed to Esther’s request, the Jews of Shushan continued eradicating their enemies on the fourteenth of Adar and rested on the fifteenth, making it a day of feasting and joy.

Since the first Purim was celebrated on two separate days, the Sages perpetuated this feature with their enactment. Therefore, in most places, Purim is celebrated on the fourteenth of Adar, whereas in Shushan, where the miracle was greater because all the events of the Megilla occurred there, and because the Jews took revenge against their enemies there for two days, Purim is celebrated on the fifteenth. The Sages also enacted that in all prominent cities like Shushan, Purim should be celebrated on the fifteenth, and the indicator of a city’s prominence is having a wall, like Shushan did.

At that time, however, Eretz Yisrael was in ruins, and if they had based their observance of the enactment on the state of cities at that time period, there would not be one city in all of Eretz Yisrael whose residents would celebrate Purim on the fifteenth of Adar, because none of them was walled at the time. Therefore, in honor of Eretz Yisrael, the Sages decided that in all cities that were surrounded by a wall at the time of Yehoshua bin Nun, Purim would be celebrated on the fifteenth of Adar, even if they were currently in ruins, while in all other cities, Purim would be celebrated on the fourteenth. The only exception is Shushan, as even though the city was established after Yehoshua’s time, Purim is celebrated there on the fifteenth, since the miracle occurred there.

Today, Jerusalem is the only city in which Purim is celebrated on the fifteenth of Adar, because it is the only place about which we have a clear tradition that it was surrounded by a wall at the time of Yehoshua bin Nun. Regarding some cities it is uncertain whether or not they were walled at that time. There is even uncertainty about Shushan’s exact location. We will elaborate on these laws in chapter 17.[3]

[3]. See Beit Yosef 688:1; the main idea is based on Ran, and many poskim concur, including mb. The author of Beit Yosef himself explains that the main purpose of the distinction between the fourteenth of Adar and the fifteenth of Adar is to honor Eretz Yisrael and mention it on Purim. See Maharal’s Or Ĥadash 9:11-16 for a discussion on the prominence of walled cities.

Rav Kook explains, in Mitzvat Re’iyah, oĥ 688:1, that the Sages instituted two days of Purim in order to differentiate between Torah commandments, whose times are fixed for everyone, and rabbinic laws, which can have two times, depending on one’s location. Perhaps this is also why they established different levels of embellishment (mehadrin) with regard to lighting the Ĥanuka candles. And since we find that the Torah distinguishes between walled and unwalled cities (Vayikra 25:29; Kelim 1:7), the Sages made this same distinction on Purim. Furthermore, since all Torah laws relating to walled cities apply only in Eretz Yisrael, they established Purim according to when these laws began to take effect, namely, when the Israelites entered the land at the time of Yehoshua bin Nun. See Mitzvat Re’iyah, loc. cit., where R. Kook elaborates on the matter.

05. Reading the Megilla and Publicizing the Miracle

Everyone is obligated in the mitzva of reading the Megilla: men, women, and converts. One who hears someone else read the Megilla discharges his obligation, as long as the reader is obligated in the mitzva. However, if one hears it from a minor, who is not required to observe mitzvot, he has not fulfilled his obligation (sa 689:1-2).

The main purpose of reading the Megilla is to publicize the miracle and demonstrate that God rules and oversees the world, directing everything for the best. Even the worst troubles eventually turn around for the good. This understanding strengthens people’s faith in God and stimulates them to do more to reveal His name and rectify the world.

Reading the Megilla in public, to broadcast the miracle, is so important that even the Kohanim working in the Temple would delay the daily Tamid offering in the morning in order to hear the Megilla with the congregation; only afterward would they offer the Tamid. Similarly, Torah scholars who are occupied by the study of Torah, even if they can read the Megilla with a minyan in their study hall, should nevertheless interrupt their studies in order to go to a synagogue and hear the Megilla together with the masses (Megilla 3a).

Therefore, the members of a synagogue that usually hosts several minyanim every day should try to gather together on Purim and hear the Megilla with a large number of people. However, one who generally prays in a small synagogue need not change his fixed practice in order to hear the Megilla in a large synagogue, provided that there will be a minyan at the reading he attends (sa 687:2, Ĥayei Adam, mb ad loc. 7, sht ad loc. 8, 10).

Only as a last resort – if one is unable to hear the Megilla read in a minyan – may one fulfill the mitzva in private, with a berakha (sa and Rema 690:18).[4]

[4]. When several people, but not enough to form a minyan, need to fulfill the mitzva it is preferable for each one to read on his own since, le-khatĥila, reading the Megilla is like prayer: when there is a minyan, the ĥazan prays on the congregation’s behalf, but one individual cannot fulfill the obligation on behalf of another individual. Be-di’avad, however, an individual may read the Megilla on another person’s behalf (sa 689:5, mb ad loc. 15). If only one person knows how to read the Megilla with the proper cantillation, it is preferable for him to read on behalf of others, even if there is no minyan.

The Talmud records a dispute in Megilla 5a: Rav maintains that when Megilat Esther is read in its proper time, even an individual may read it, while R. Asi maintains that a minyan is required even if it is read in its proper time. The Rishonim differ over how to interpret this dispute. According to Rabbeinu Tam, the dispute concerns a le-khatĥila situation, and the halakha follows Rav’s opinion. Therefore, even le-khatĥila, an individual may read the Megilla, in its proper time (though it is clearly preferable to read it with a large group of people). According to Behag, the dispute concerns a be-di’avad situation, and the halakha follows R. Asi’s opinion. Therefore, an individual should not read the Megilla. Those who take Behag’s opinion into consideration maintain that an individual reading the Megilla should not recite a berakha (Mordechai, quoting Rabbeinu Gershom, is in this vein, as is Mahari Weil). Many Rishonim maintain that, le-khatĥila, one should read the Megilla with a minyan, but that this is not absolutely necessary in order to fulfill the mitzva. The reason for this is that either the halakha follows R. Asi’s opinion, though even he would agree that, be-di’avad, an individual may read the Megilla; or the halakha follows Rav’s opinion, and even he would agree that, le-khatĥila, one should read the Megilla with a minyan. Rosh and Raavad follow this position, and it is codified in sa 690:18. The vast majority of Aĥaronim agree that one who reads the Megilla individually should recite the berakha. Orĥot Ĥayim quotes Raavad as saying that if the Megilla was read in front of ten men in a certain place, an individual in that place may read it alone le-khatĥila, as the miracle has already been publicized. Rema 690:18 concurs. mb ad loc. 64 states that some rule stringently and require an individual to search for ten men, le-khatĥila, even in this situation. See below, n. 8, regarding whether a woman may read the Megilla on behalf of other women and whether she may recite the berakha for other women in doing so. Also see n. 17, on the issue of whether a minyan is required for the berakha of “Ha-rav et riveinu.” (According to Ben Ish Ĥai, one recites the berakha even without a minyan, but the prevalent custom is not to recite it. If ten women are present, one should recite the berakha.)

According to Rif, Rashba, and Ramban, one should not read the Megilla without a minyan when it is not the proper time for reading it (11-13 Adar). Rashi and Ha-ma’or, however, maintain that one may read the Megilla and recite the berakha, be-di’avad, without a minyan. In practice, sht 690:61 states that if one reads the Megilla without a minyan when it is not the proper time, one should not recite the berakha.

06. When to Read the Megilla

One must read the Megilla at night and again during the day, to commemorate the fact that the Jews cried out to God in their time of need during the day and at night (Megilla 4a; Rashi ad loc.).

The nighttime Megilla reading may take place at any point during the night – from tzeit to alot ha-shaĥar – while the daytime reading may take place an time during the day – from sunrise (and be-di’avad, from alot ha-shaĥar) until shki’a. However, the zealous perform mitzvot promptly, reading the Megilla at night immediately after Ma’ariv and during the day immediately after Shaĥarit (sa 687:1, 693:1, 693:4).

One may not eat or sleep before reading the Megilla at night. Studying Torah, however, is permissible. One who finds it difficult to extend Ta’anit Esther until after the Megilla reading may drink beforehand, on condition that he avoids intoxicating drinks. Similarly, one who is very hungry may eat a snack before Megilla reading. That is, he may eat as much fruit as he wants and up to an egg’s volume (kebeitza) of grain-based (mezonot) foods (sa 232:3, mb ad loc. 35; Rema 692:4, ma ad loc. 7, mb ad loc. 14-15).

The same laws apply to the daytime reading. However, since this reading takes place immediately after Shaĥarit, one must also be careful about all the prohibitions that apply prior to Shaĥarit, which are more stringent. Nonetheless, one who already prayed Shaĥarit and has yet to hear the Megilla should not eat before fulfilling the mitzva. Under pressing circumstances, however, one may eat a snack before hearing the Megilla. Likewise, a woman may not eat before hearing the Megilla. If she is very hungry, she may eat a snack, but not a full meal (mb 692:15-16; in a time of very great need, she may ask someone to remind her to hear the Megilla, and then she may eat a full meal before the reading).

Some of the greatest Rishonim maintain that the mitzva of reading the Megilla and publicizing the miracle is primarily fulfilled during the day, like all the other mitzvot of Purim. Therefore, one must be more meticulous about the daytime reading and make an even greater effort to read it in the presence of a large group of people, or at least a minyan.[5]

[5]. See Megilla 4a and Berur Halakha ad loc. Tosafot and Rosh ad loc. state that the mitzva of reading the Megilla and publicizing the miracle is primarily fulfilled during the day. According to Ran, the villagers who read earlier – on the “day of assembly,” i.e., the Monday or Thursday before Purim – do not have to read the Megilla at night at all. Rashba and Ritva maintain that the enactment was for the villagers to read the Megilla on the day of assembly with a minyan, while they would read it at night in their hometowns without a minyan. The only point of disagreement between Rashba and Ritva is which night the villagers would read the Megilla: Rashba maintains that they would read it on the night before the day of assembly, whereas Ritva maintains that they would read it on the night of Purim itself. Noda Bi-Yehuda 1:41 and Turei Even, Megilla 4a state that the law of the daytime reading is mi-divrei kabbala, while the nighttime reading is merely a rabbinic decree. Yabi’a Omer, oĥ 1:43:13 suggests that Ohel Mo’ed, Or Zaru’a, and Ran share this opinion. However, according to Roke’aĥ, Rashba, and Ritva, the nighttime reading is also mi-divrei kabbala (though a minyan is not required at night, because the miracle is publicized primarily during the day). Rambam and sa seemingly maintain that there is no difference between the nighttime and daytime obligations.

07. Women and Megilla Reading

According to Rashi and Rambam, women and men are equally obligated in the mitzva to read the Megilla, and a woman may read the Megilla for her family. In contrast, Behag and Rabbeinu Ĥananel maintain that a woman’s obligation differs from that of a man: Men must read the Megilla, whereas women must hear it. Therefore, a man does not fulfill his obligation with his wife’s reading. Responsa Avnei Nezer (oĥ 511) explains that this difference stems from the fact that women must hear the Megilla only in order to publicize the miracle, and therefore their obligation is only in hearing the Megilla and not reading it. In contrast, men are commanded to publicize the miracle and also to remember Amalek to wipe him out ultimately. Therefore, men are commanded to read the Megilla.[6]

Since the Rishonim are evenly split on this issue, most Aĥaronim rule that a woman may not read the Megilla on a man’s behalf except in pressing circumstances, when it is not possible for the man to read for himself or hear it from another man. In that case, at least he will fulfill the mitzva according to the opinion that a woman can read on a man’s behalf.[7]

A woman may read on behalf of other women. Some say that a woman cannot fulfill the obligation on behalf of many women, since Megilla reading has a status similar to Torah reading, and just as a woman does not read from the Torah, so too she does not read the Megilla for many women. Some poskim say that when the Megilla is read for women, no berakha is recited (Ben Ish Ĥai, Year 1, Hilkhot Purim 1 [Tetzaveh]; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 689:19). However, halakhic practice follows the overwhelming majority of poskim who maintain that a woman may read on behalf of other women, reciting the same berakha a man recites. And if the group is comprised of ten women, the reader recites the berakha of “Ha-rav et riveinu” after the Megilla. However, le-khatĥila, it is preferable that women hear the Megilla read by a man, to satisfy all opinions. Ideally, women should hear the Megilla in the synagogue with men, as the more people there are, the more the miracle is publicized.

When a man reads the Megilla for women, the prevalent custom is for the reader to recite the berakha for everyone; and if ten women are present, he recites the berakha of “Ha-rav et riveinu” after the reading. Others follow the custom that one woman recites the berakha for all the women. Both customs are valid.[8]

[6]. Turei Even (Megilla 4a) states that a man’s obligation to read the Megilla is rooted in divine inspiration (of the Megilla itself) and is a time-bound positive mitzva and thus applies only to men. Women, on the other hand, are obligated because of the rationale that “they too participated in that miracle,” a rationale that is solely rabbinic. Therefore, according to Behag and Rabbeinu Ĥananel, a man cannot fulfill his obligation with a woman’s reading. Raavya and Roke’aĥ concur, and this also seems to be the opinion of Tosafot and Ran. Mordechai states that according to this position, women recite a different formulation of the berakha’s ending: lishmo’a megilla (“to hear the Megilla”). However, Rashi, Rambam, Nimukei Yosef, Or Zaru’a, Ri’az, Me’iri, and others maintain that a woman’s obligation is identical to that of a man. Therefore, a woman can read on a man’s behalf, and she recites the same berakha that men do.

Some maintain that women and men have the same obligation, but women cannot read on behalf of men for a different reason. Smag states that it is because reading the Megilla is like reading the Torah. ma 689:5 explains that this means the Sages determined that women should not read the Megilla out of respect for the congregation, and that they cannot even read on an individual man’s behalf, so as not to make any distinctions. According to Kol Bo, women should not read the Megilla for men because a woman’s voice is considered erva. Those who maintain that women may read on behalf of men may have been referring to relatives, about whose voices one need not be so concerned. Alternatively, a woman could read for a man without the cantillation. Another possibility is that, technically, we are not concerned that a woman’s voice is erva in the context of mitzva observance.

[7]. Some Aĥaronim interpret sa 689:1-2 to mean that a woman can read on a man’s behalf, and that this is indeed the halakha (Birkei Yosef 271:1, Ma’amar Mordechai 689:2). Ĥazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 59 states that even though the halakha follows the more lenient opinion, one should only rely on it under pressing circumstances. Most Aĥaronim, however, maintain that a woman should not read on a man’s behalf. Thus state Levush, Eliya Rabba 689:2, Pri Ĥadash 689:1, Erekh Ha-shulĥan 689:3, Ĥikrei Lev, and Derekh Ha-ĥayim. Some maintain that this is also sa’s position (Pri Megadim, Eshel Avraham 689:4; also see Kaf Ha-ĥayim 689:14).

[8]. Korban Netanel (on Rosh, Megilla 1:4, n. 40) innovatively suggests that a woman may not read on behalf of many women. This is cited in sht 689:15. However, it seems that the intent is to be stringent le-khatĥila, because sht 689:16 states that the dominant opinion is that women and men have an equal obligation. Halikhot Beitah (Petaĥ Ha-bayit 25; also cited in Halikhot Shlomo ch. 19 n. 4) states that R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach questions Korban Netanel’s explanation and concludes that halakhic practice follows R. Yeĥiel Mikhel Tikochinsky, who rules in Lu’aĥ Eretz Yisrael that a woman may read on behalf of many women. The reason for the opinion that no berakha is recited on a reading for women is concern for the position that no berakha is recited when reading for an individual (above n. 4), and women collectively are considered like an individual (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 689:19). The opinion of most poskim is that there is no need to be concerned for this at all; as is written in Yabi’a Omer, oĥ 1:44. However, it seems obvious that it is a mitzva for women to hear the Megilla among a multitude of people; they are simply not obligated to the same degree that men are, for the same reason that women are exempt from time-bound positive commandments and from prayer in a minyan.

According to Rema 689:2, when a woman recites the berakha, she should recite “lishmo’a Megilla.” So state Levush, Baĥ, and mb 692:11. However, most poskim maintain that a woman recites the same berakha that a man does: “al mikra megilla” (“concerning the reading of the Megilla”). First of all, half of the poskim maintain, like Rashi and Rambam, that women and men have the same obligation. Second, even according to Behag and Rabbeinu Ĥananel, who maintain that a woman is obligated only to hear the Megilla, nonetheless, Rabbeinu Tam maintains that women may optionally fulfill mitzvot from which they are technically exempt and may recite berakhot over them, just like men do. Indeed, this is the Ashkenazic practice. Therefore, it may be that no distinction needs to be made between the formulation of the berakha for men and the formulation of the berakha for women. Most Sephardim follow this custom, and Pri Ĥadash and the Vilna Gaon concur.

The Talmud states in rh 29a, “Even though one has already discharged his obligation, he may absolve others of theirs.” That is, even if one has already performed a mitzva and recited a berakha over it, he may still recite a berakha on behalf of one who has not yet fulfilled his obligation. According to Behag and Rambam, this holds true only when the one who still needs to fulfill the mitzva does not know how to recite the berakha. If he knows how to recite the berakha, however, he must do so himself. Or Zaru’a and Ran, on the other hand, maintain that one may recite a berakha even on behalf of someone who knows how to do so himself. The answer to the question whether it is better for one of the women to recite the berakha as opposed to the male reader depends on this dispute. bhl 273:4 explains that the dispute concerns only the le-khatĥila case. Simply stated, it is preferable for one of the women to recite the berakha on behalf of all the rest, as this allows the women to fulfill their obligation according to all the opinions. Lu’aĥ Eretz Yisrael and Halikhot Shlomo 19:3 advocate this solution. In many communities, however, the reader recites the berakha, as mb states in 585:5 regarding shofar blowing and in 692:10 on the issue of women reading the Megilla. Minĥat Yitzĥak 3:54:38 states – based on a halakha in sa 689:5 and based on what we explained in n. 4, above – that if there are fewer than ten women, it is better for each one to recite her own berakha.

The issue of reciting the berakha of “Ha-rav et riveinu” when there are ten women is discussed below, n. 17.

08. Minors

It is a mitzva to train children to perform mitzvot, and from the moment a boy or girl reaches the stage at which he or she understands the Megilla and can listen to it as halakha requires, one must train them to do so. This does not depend on a child’s age, but on his personal development. Since the Megilla reading is quite long, most children reach the stage at which they can listen to the entire Megilla properly after the age of nine.

It is a good practice to bring younger children – from age five or six – to the synagogue to hear the Megilla. Even though they have not yet reached the age of education in the mitzva of Megilla reading, as they cannot listen to the entire Megilla meticulously, it is still good to bring them, because they understand the main gist of the story. However, one should not bring small children to the synagogue if they are liable to disrupt the reading and make it difficult for others to hear the Megilla. One must take care not to try to go beyond the letter of the law in educating his children at the expense of the other synagogue attendees, who might suffer because of his children’s disruptions.[9]

In order to stimulate joy and grab the children’s attention, there is a custom for the congregation to read aloud four verses that essentially signal the beginning and end of the miracle. Afterward, the reader reads these verses again from the scroll (Rema 690:17; mb 689:16; based on Mordechai and Levush). (The verses are: “A Jewish man” [Esther 2:5]; “Mordechai left” [ibid. 8:15]; “The Jews” [ibid. 8:16]; and “For Mordechai” [ibid. 10:3].)

It seems that the purpose of the custom to “beat” Haman with noisemakers is, likewise, to excite the children during the Megilla reading. However, one must be careful not to lend undue importance to this custom and not to make noise when the reader continues to read the Megilla (sa 690:17; also see mb ad loc. 59 and bhl).

[9]. sa 689:1 explains that children must hear the Megilla because of the laws of educating one’s children. sa 689:6 states that it is good to bring children to the synagogue. Levush and Sidur Yaavetz seem to maintain that this refers to children who understand the main gist of the Megilla, even if they are unable to fulfill the mitzva properly. For example, they cannot fill in on their own the words that they failed to hear from the reader. And even though bhl interprets sa’s statement differently, there seems to be no practical difference between sa’s ruling and what I wrote.

09. The Megilla

Megilat Esther is considered holy writ; therefore, it must be written in the way a Torah scroll is written, in black ink on parchment. If it is written using something other than ink, or on paper, it is invalid, and one who reads from it has not fulfilled his obligation. The hide from which the parchment is made must be tanned for the sake of writing a Megilla. The individual sheets of parchment must be sewn together with threads made of sinews. One must etch out the lines using a stylus before commencing to write on the parchment, so that the words come out straight. Furthermore, it must be written by hand, and the scribe must be mindful of the sanctity of the Megilla.[10]

When writing a Torah scroll, we make sure that all of its letters are written according to their exact configurations, that no letters touch each other, and, of course, that no letters are omitted or added unnecessarily. A scribe should likewise be careful about all these things when writing a Megilla. Be-di’avad, however, there is a difference between a Torah scroll and Megilat Esther: one may not recite the berakha over reading the Torah if the scroll contains a mistake in even one letter, but one may read from, and recite a berakha over, a Megilla that is missing some of its letters, if a perfectly kosher scroll is unavailable. For example, if a scribe mistakenly omitted several letters from a Megilla, or wrote them incorrectly – or if he originally wrote the scroll properly, but some of its letters faded over time – one may still use it to perform the mitzva, as long as the main part of it is written properly. The reason for this is that the Megilla is called a “letter,” indicating that its purpose is to tell the story from a written document, but it does not need to be as precise as a Torah scroll must be. We learn from here that one fulfills his obligation as long as the essentials of the Megilla are written properly, and on condition that one fills in the missing words by reading them from a printed Megilla or by reciting them by heart.[11]

Technically, one may write a translation of the Megilla, with ink on parchment, for someone who does not understand Hebrew, and by reading this translation, he can fulfill his obligation to read the Megilla. For example, one who knows only English may acquire an English translation of the Megilla, written in ink on parchment, and read from it (sa 690:8-11). We do not follow this ruling in practice, however, since we do not know how to translate the words precisely. Rather, one fulfills his obligation by hearing the Megilla in Hebrew even if he does not understand it, as long as he has the intention to fulfill the mitzva of Megilla reading (sa 690:8, mb ad loc. 32, ahs ad loc. 15).

[10]. A Megilla has the same status as a Torah scroll, as is clear from the Mishna and Gemara in Megilla 17a and 19a. One may write a megilla on a gevil (roll of parchment) or on klaf (split parchment), but it is customary to write it on klaf. According to Rambam, one does not need to tan the hide for the sake of the mitzva, but Rosh and most poskim rule that one must tan the hide for the sake of the mitzva (Beit Yosef and sa 691:1). The Aĥaronim debate whether a woman may write a Megilla. Birkei Yosef, Mateh Yehuda, and Pri Megadim posit that since a woman must read the Megilla, she may write one. R. Akiva Eger, Avnei Nezer, and others maintain that she is invalidated from writing a megilla, just as she is invalidated from writing a Torah scroll. Lishkat Ha-sofer 28:7 (by R. Shlomo Ganzfried, author of Kitzur sa) brings a support for those who permit women to write a Megilla from the verse “Then Esther wrote” (Esther 9:29), the source from which Megilla 19a derives the law that a Megilla must be written like a Torah scroll. He concludes that le-khatĥila, one should use a Megilla that was written by a man, in order to satisfy all opinions. Be-di’avad, however, when the only available Megilla was written by a woman, one may read from it and even recite the berakhot over it.

[11]. The rule is that one fulfills his obligation, be-di’avad, if he reads from a Megilla of which at least half is written properly, provided that no part of the story is entirely missing and that the beginning and end are intact (sa 690:3).

Some maintain that if some of the words are written in a different language, the Megilla is invalid, because it is like a document that is self-evidently counterfeit. Mateh Yehuda and R. Shlomo Kluger maintain that a Megilla is disqualified from use if letters are missing or added in a way that changes the meaning of a verse, because it, too, is like a self-evidently counterfeit document. In practice, though, most authorities maintain that mistakes do not invalidate a Megilla any more than erased letters do, as explained in mb 691:6, 14. See also bhl 690:8, regarding the alternative opinion, and Ritva.

One should not write vowels, cantillation marks, or berakhot in the Megilla, but be-di’avad, when no other scroll is available, one may read from such a Megilla and even recite a berakha over it (sa 691:9). A Torah scroll, however, is invalidated if vowels and cantillation marks are written inside (sa, yd 274:7). There is a stringency regarding the public reading of the Megilla: If one reads from a Megilla that is written together with other books of the Writings (Ketuvim), one does not fulfill his obligation. This is because the miracle is not publicized this way, as it looks like one is merely reading from the Writings. An individual, however, discharges his obligation when reading from such a Megilla (sa 691:8).

Some rule very leniently and allow one to read from an invalid Megilla (like the ones children use, which open like a scroll) with a berakha, if no kosher Megilla is available (Roke’aĥ, Orĥot Ĥayim). According to most poskim, however, under no condition may one recite a berakha on such a Megilla. Nonetheless, it is proper to read from it without a berakha (sa 691:10). mb ad loc. 26 adds that even if the only Megilla one has is a printed book, he should still read from it, so as to remember the story.

10. The Mitzva of Reading the Megilla and the Status of One who Missed a Word

To fulfill the mitzva of reading the Megilla, one must read it from a kosher megilla that was written in ink on parchment. If one recites it by heart or reads it from a printed book, he has not discharged his obligation (sa 690:3). If one reads most of the Megilla from a kosher scroll and the rest from a book or from memory, he has fulfilled his obligation, as long as he recites the entire Megilla without missing a word.

However, if the reader skips a word, or makes a mistake in one of the words that changes the meaning of the word, he has not discharged his obligation according to most poskim, and he must read the Megilla again properly.[12]

Even when the reader reads all the words properly, a listener does not discharge his obligation if he fails to hear one of the words. This is the most important practical halakha of Megilla reading, because people sometimes fail to hear all of the words, due to the excess noise caused by the presence of children in the synagogue. This problem becomes especially acute after Haman’s name is read, as the reader sometimes continues reading before the children finish making noise, causing those who sit in the back of the synagogue to miss a word, thus forfeiting the entire reading.

If one missed a word while hearing the Megilla reading, the solution is to read the missed word or words immediately from the printed Megilla one is using. If, in the meantime, the reader continues to read ahead, one should continue reading until he catches up with the reader. Even though the printed book in front of him is not a kosher Megilla, he may use it to fill in the missing words, be-di’avad, since he hears most of the Megilla from a kosher scroll. However, when listening to the Megilla from the reader, one should not read along with him from a printed version.[13]

[12]. Rashba and Ran maintain that one does not fulfill his obligation if he misses a word. Ri’az states that if the missing word does not affect the meaning of the verse, he has fulfilled his obligation. If one reads a word incorrectly, in a way that changes its meaning – like if he reads “nafal” (“fell”) instead of “nofel” (“was falling”) – Rashba, Ran, and Orĥot Ĥayim maintain that he has not fulfilled his obligation, while it seems from Tur and sa 690:14 that some maintain that he has fulfilled his obligation. This might be Rambam’s opinion. ahs 690:20 states that if, be-di’avad, the listeners did not instruct the reader to read the word again, he has still fulfilled his obligation. In practice, most poskim maintain that he has not fulfilled his obligation in either case, and thus he must read the word again; so state mb 690:5 and bhl 690:14. Everyone agrees that one must reread it if he missed a word that affects the meaning of the verse.

In my humble opinion, if the reader made a mistake that affects the meaning of the verse but most people do not understand the difference in meaning, he does not have to read the word again, be-di’avad, because the listeners did not misunderstand the meaning.

Some have a custom to read certain words twice because their correct reading is uncertain. For example: ke-omram/be-omram (Esther 3:4); laharog/ve-laharog (ibid. 8:11); bi-fneihem/li-fneihem (ibid. 9:2). One fulfills the mitzva even without following this practice.

[13]. Those who go above and beyond purchase a kosher megilla, from which they can read in order to fill in any words they may miss. This way, they fulfill the mitzva in the best possible manner (mb 689:19). However, if one does not know how to pronounce the words properly, he does more harm than good by reading from his own megilla. After all, we already learned that a mistake that affects the meaning of a word invalidates the reading. sa 690:4 and mb ad loc. 13 explain why a listener should not read along with the reader from a printed megilla.

11. The Laws of Reading the Megilla

When not in use, the Megilla is rolled up from the end of the scroll to the beginning. However, since Megilat Esther is referred to as a “letter,” it is customary to prepare the scroll for reading in public by spreading it out and folding it over, leaf over leaf, in order to publicize the miracle. When the reading is completed, the Megilla is rolled up again from end to beginning, making sure that it is not left open out of respect for the Megilla. Only after the Megilla is rolled up does the ĥazan recite the berakha of “Ha-rav et riveinu” (sa 690:17, mb ad loc. 55-56, Kaf Ha-ĥayim ad loc. 102-105).

One may sit or stand while fulfilling the mitzva of reading the Megilla. The only one who must stand is the reader, out of respect for the congregation (sa 690:1). Most Jews have a custom to stand for the berakhot (mb 690:1; Ben Ish Ĥai, Year 1, Hilkhot Purim 4 [Tetzaveh]; see also Kaf Ha-ĥayim 690:2).

The Megilla should be read with its cantillation, but if no one knows how to read it with the cantillation, it may be read without the cantillation, be-di’avad (Sha’arei Teshuva 690:1).

One must read the Megilla in order. If one reads it out of order, he does not fulfill his obligation. For example, if one misses a word or a verse during the reading, he should not say, “I will continue listening to the Megilla until the end, and I will make up what I missed afterward.” Rather, he must immediately fill in what he missed, catch up to the reader, and continue listening to the reading, in the proper order, until the end of the Megilla.[14]

One who dozes off while listening to the Megilla does not discharge his obligation, as he certainly fails to hear some words (sa 690:12). As we learned above (section 9), one who hears the Megilla fulfills his obligation even if he does not understand Hebrew.

Le-khatĥila, one should read the Megilla continuously, but be-di’avad, if one interrupted the reading in the middle – remaining silent or even speaking – he has not forfeited what he already read and may continue reading from where he left off (sa 690:5; also see mb ad loc. 18 and sa §65).

Many poskim maintain that one who hears the Megilla through an electric device, like a telephone, radio, or loudspeaker, does not fulfill his obligation. The reason for this is that such devices receive a person’s voice as electronic signals and transform it back into a new voice. Therefore, it is like hearing a recording of the Megilla reading, which is invalid. Le-khatĥila, one should heed this opinion.[15]

[14]. If one comes late to the synagogue and finds that the congregation has already begun reading the Megilla, he should not say, “I will hear the Megilla and make up the first few verses afterward,” as that constitutes reading the Megilla out of order. Rather, if he is concerned that he will not be able to hear it again later, he should quickly recite the berakhot, begin reading from a printed megilla until he catches up to the reader, and hear the rest from him. This solution is only effective on the condition that he hears most of the Megilla from the reader. If, however, he is concerned that by the time he finds the text of the berakhot and recites them, the reader will advance to such an extent that he will not be able to catch up to him before midway through the Megilla – and afterward he will not be able to fulfill the mitzva any other way – it is better that he skip the berakhot. This way, he will have enough time to catch up to the reader before the halfway mark and fulfill the mitzva (see bhl 690:3, s.v. “ve-davka”).

[15]. See Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 12:10, which cites a dispute among the poskim regarding this issue. Rav Kook (Oraĥ Mishpat §48) and Mikra’ei Kodesh (Frank) §11 maintain that one who hears the Megilla through an electric device discharges his obligation. Igrot Moshe, oĥ 2:108, 4:91:4 inclines this way as well. On the other hand, Mishpetei Uziel, Minĥat Shlomo 1:9, and Yeĥaveh Da’at 3:54 maintain that one does not fulfill his obligation in this way. Le-khatĥila, one should avoid using electronic devices to discharge his obligation, but if there is no alternative, one should rely on the more lenient authorities and fulfill the mitzva at least according to their opinion.

12. The Berakhot and the Order of the Reading

We recite three berakhot before the nighttime reading: “Who has sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us concerning the reading of the Megilla” (“asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu al mikra megilla”); “Who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days, at this time” (“she-asa nisim la-avoteinu ba-yamim ha-hem ba-zeman ha-zeh”); and “Who has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this time” (“she-heĥeyanu ve-kiyemanu ve-higi’anu la-zeman ha-zeh”).

The berakhot prepare us for the mitzva, focusing the reader and the listeners on fulfilling the mitzva and understanding its purpose: to remember and publicize the miracle that God performed for our ancestors. Nevertheless, one who reads the Megilla without reciting a berakha fulfills his obligation, as long as he intends to fulfill the mitzva (sa 690:14).[16]

There are varying customs regarding the recitation of She-heĥeyanu during the day. According to Sephardic custom, one does not recite She-heĥeyanu during the day because the She-heĥeyanu recited at night covers the entire day. According to Ashkenazic custom, one must repeat the berakha prior to the daytime reading, because that reading is an independent mitzva. Moreover, the daytime reading is the more important reading of the two; therefore, its berakhot cannot be covered by the berakhot recited at the nighttime reading (sa 692:1).

When reciting She-heĥeyanu before the Megilla reading, it is proper to have in mind that the berakha also applies to the other mitzvot of the day: mishlo’aĥ manot, matanot la-evyonim, and the festive meal. Sephardim have these mitzvot in mind at night, while Ashkenazim do so during the day (mb 692:1).

After the Megilla is read and the scroll is rolled back to the beginning, common custom is to recite “Ha-rav et riveinu,” a berakha of praise and thanksgiving. According to most poskim, this berakha is recited only when the Megilla is read in the presence of ten men or women. If fewer than ten people are present, however, we do not recite the berakha.[17]

[16]. The Rishonim disagree about whether or not mitzvot require kavana. sa 60:4, 690:13-14 rules that in practice, mitzvot indeed require kavana. Many Aĥaronim maintain that this applies to rabbinic mitzvot as well, meaning that one does not discharge his obligation if he does not intend to fulfill the mitzva. Le-khatĥila, one should express this kavana clearly in one’s mind. However, even if one does not have explicit kavana, he is still viewed as having kavana if he would answer the question, “Why did you read the Megilla?” by saying, “To fulfill the mitzva” (mb 60:10). Therefore, one who comes to the synagogue for Megilla reading or recites a berakha before reading the Megilla clearly has kavana and discharges his obligation. Only one who stays at home and overhears the reading from the synagogue does not discharge his obligation unless he explicitly intends to fulfill the mitzva.

[17]. In contrast to the berakhot we recite before the reading, “Ha-rav et riveinu” is not obligatory. Rather, it is a berakha of praise and thanksgiving that depends on one’s custom, as the Mishna states, “In a place where it is customary to recite the berakha, one should recite it, and in a place where it is customary not to recite the berakha, one should not recite it” (Megilla 21a). Nowadays, everyone recites it. Orĥot Ĥayim quotes the Yerushalmi as saying that one recites it only in a minyan, and Beit Yosef and Rema 692:1 codify this. However, Rashi, Maharam, and Radbaz maintain that even an individual recites it. Ben Ish Ĥai, Year 1, Hilkhot Purim 13 (Tetzaveh) concurs, and those who follow the rulings of Ben Ish Ĥai act accordingly. bhl 692:2 and Yabi’a Omer, oĥ 8:56 state that one should not recite the berakha unless a minyan is present, because it is a case of uncertainty. (This decision is especially logical in light of the ruling of Behag and Mahari Weil that an individual omits even the first three berakhot.) The prevalent custom is not to recite it when reading the Megilla alone, but one should not rebuke those who want to recite it. It is uncertain whether women count toward the ten (Rema 690:18). Pri Ĥadash and Pri Megadim state that this uncertainty relates only to the question of whether women can be counted together with men, but a minyan of ten women certainly recites the berakha. Although some have a custom not to recite it, the halakha follows those who maintain that it should be recited in the presence of ten women, as Mikra’ei Kodesh (Frank), Purim 35 and Yabi’a Omer, oĥ 8:56:4 state. It seems that, in practice, women can also be counted together with men, be-di’avad, since many authorities maintain that even one person may recite this berakha.

13. Taking Revenge on Haman and His Ten Sons

The execution of Haman and his ten sons is an integral part of the Megilla, for it confirms that justice was done and the wicked people who rose up against the nation of Israel were punished and put to death. Anyone who rises up against Israel, God’s nation, is in effect rebelling against God, Creator and Sustainer of the world, and – according to strict justice – deserves total annihilation. Several laws demonstrate the special significance of killing Haman and his sons.

First, the passage describing the execution of Haman’s ten sons is written in the Megilla in the format of a song. However, this format is unlike the format that appears in other biblical songs, such as the Song at the Sea, where the words and spaces are interwoven. The execution of Haman’s sons, in contrast, is written in a straight and organized fashion. On every line, one word is written on each of the two ends, with a space left in the middle. Thus, the names of the ten sons are written on the right side and the Hebrew word et, which connects the names, is written repeatedly on the left side (Megilla 16b, sa 691:3). The explanation is as follows. The purpose of all other songs is to convey the extent of the salvation that Israel experienced; therefore, they are written in a spacious and expansive format. The song describing the execution of Haman’s sons, however, expresses the joy we feel over the fact that they were utterly destroyed and that strict justice was meted out; therefore, it is written in a closed, linear style (Maharal, Or Ĥadash 9:10).

One must make an effort to read all the names in a single breath, to demonstrate that their souls departed from their bodies simultaneously. If one fails to do this, he has nonetheless fulfilled his obligation, be-di’avad. The letter vav in the name Vaizata is written higher than the other letters, to teach that Haman’s sons were all hanged together (Megilla 16b; sa 690:15, 691:4). The point is that the foundation of Israel’s faith is the existence of one God. The Amalekites oppose this belief and hate the Jews. Thus, when they are eliminated, God’s oneness is revealed to the world. Therefore, when Haman’s sons were punished, they died as one, since their deaths confirmed our belief in God’s oneness (Maharal, loc. cit.).

After the Megilla reading, one must recite, “Cursed is Haman, blessed is Mordechai; cursed is Zeresh, blessed is Esther; cursed are all the wicked people, blessed are all the righteous people; and Ĥarvona, too, is remembered for good (y. Megilla 3:7; sa 690:16).

In the time of the Rishonim, a custom began to spread among both the children and the adults, to bang on a surface when Haman’s name is read. Apparently, they wanted to express their hatred for wicked people and their joy over their downfall. Even though there is no source for this practice, Rema writes, “One should not abolish or deride any custom, for it was not established for naught” (690:17). However, some Rishonim disregard the custom, and some Aĥaronim even oppose it, because the noise is liable to prevent the listeners from fulfilling their obligation to read the Megilla (as explained above in section 10). In practice, one may continue following the custom of “beating” Haman, as long as it is assured that everyone can hear the entire Megilla properly.[18]

[18]. This custom is more prevalent in Ashkenazic communities. However, Maharil did not follow it. In our community of Har Bracha, we conduct two minyanim on Purim night. In the main minyan, the congregants stomp once with their feet each time “Haman” is read, causing almost no delays. At the yeshiva, the students “beat” Haman extensively. During the day, the entire community reads the Megilla together with the yeshiva students, and people bang minimally. (See above, n. 5, where we cited authorities who maintain that the requirement to read the Megilla in front of a multitude of people applies primarily to the daytime reading.)

14. Al Ha-nisim, Torah Reading, Eulogies, and Taĥanun

The Sages formulated the Al Ha-nisim prayer so that we may thank God for the salvation He performed for the Jewish people at the time of Purim. We recite it in the berakha of thanksgiving in the Amida and in the berakha of Nodeh Lekha (“We thank You”) in Birkat Ha-mazon. We do not mention Purim in the berakha of Me-ein Shalosh (“Al Ha-miĥya”).

If one forgets to recite Al Ha-nisim in the Amida or in Birkat Ha-mazon, he nonetheless fulfills his obligation. If, however, he remembers before concluding the berakha in which Al Ha-nisim is inserted, he should go back and recite it, unless he already said God’s name at the end of the berakha. In such a situation, it is proper to recite Al Ha-nisim at the end of the Amida, after the berakhot are completed, because one may add unlimited prayers of supplication and thanksgiving at that point. Similarly, one who forgets to recite Al Ha-nisim in Birkat Ha-mazon should recite it toward the end of the prayer, together with the Ha-Raĥaman passages, where one may add as many prayers of thanksgiving as he likes (Rema 682:1, mb ad loc. 4).[19]

One who begins his meal on Purim but continues eating long into the night must recite Al Ha-nisim in Birkat Ha-mazon, because the beginning of the meal determines when the meal took place (sa 695:3; see mb ad loc. 16).

The Sages enacted that three people are called to the Torah on Purim to read the section beginning with “Amalek came” (Shemot 17:8-16). Even though one of Ezra’s enactments was that no less than ten verses may be read in a public Torah reading, we read nine on Purim because the entire account of Amalek’s attack on Israel contains only nine verses. Some have a custom to read the last verse twice in order to arrive at a total of ten verses (sa 693:4), while others do not (Rema ad loc.).

This halakha is highly suggestive. As long as Amalek’s name has yet to be blotted out, God’s name is not yet fully revealed. Therefore, when we read the section of “Amalek came,” we read only nine verses.

Even though the Jews experienced a great salvation on Purim, the Sages did not institute the recitation of Hallel on that day. The Talmud (Megilla 14a) provides three reasons for this. R. Yitzĥak explains that we do not recite Hallel for a miracle that occurred outside the Land of Israel. According to Rava, it is omitted because we remained subjugated to Aĥashverosh even after the miracle occurred, and Hallel can be said only over a salvation that brings us freedom. R. Naĥman maintains that the Megilla reading is considered like Hallel; therefore, there was no need to enact the recitation of Hallel.[20]

One may not deliver eulogies or fast on the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar, whether one lives in a walled or unwalled city. The only time one may deliver a eulogy is at the funeral of a Torah scholar, provided that the body is present (sa oĥ 696:3, yd 401:5).

We omit Taĥanun and La-menatze’aĥ from our prayers on both days of Purim (sa 693:3). We also omit Taĥanun from Minĥa on Ta’anit Esther, if it immediately precedes Purim (mb 131:33).

It is customary to wear Shabbat/Yom Tov clothing on Purim, both at night and during the day (Rema 695:2, Kaf Ha-ĥayim 695:13).

[19]. The laws of Al Ha-nisim in the Amida are the same for Purim and Ĥanuka, as sa and Rema 693:2, 682:1 elucidate. This point is explained above, 11:8. There is, however, a difference regarding Birkat Ha-mazon. On Ĥanuka, the practice of reciting Al Ha-nisim in Birkat Ha-mazon is based on custom, while reciting it on Purim is obligatory. Some maintain that one who forgets to recite Al Ha-nisim at the daytime Purim meal must repeat Birkat Ha-mazon, since one must eat bread at the Purim meal (Maharshal, Shlah, Taz). Others maintain that one does not need to repeat Birkat Ha-mazon, since one does not need to eat bread at the meal (Terumat Ha-deshen, ma, Eliya Rabba). Still others maintain that even though one must eat bread at the meal, the law of Al Ha-nisim at the meal is no more stringent than that of Al Ha-nisim in the Amida, upon whose omission one does not need to repeat the Amida (ahs 695:7, 12). mb 695:15 concludes that one should not repeat Birkat Ha-mazon because we rule leniently in cases of uncertainty regarding berakhot.

[20]. Me’iri and Manhig state that, according to the opinion that the Megilla reading is in place of Hallel, one who cannot obtain a Megilla from which to read on Purim must recite Hallel instead. mt, Laws of Megilla and Ĥanuka 3:6, also seems to maintain that this reason is the primary one. However, some authorities write that the other answers are primary. Therefore, one who does not have a Megilla should, le-khatĥila, recite Hallel without a berakha, in order to satisfy all the opinions.

15. Working on Purim

The Sages did not originally establish Purim as a holiday on which work is prohibited. Over time, however, the Jewish people developed a custom to refrain from work on Purim, out of respect for the sanctity of the day, and the custom is binding. The Sages go so far as to say that anyone who works on Purim will never see any blessing from it (Beit Yosef, sa, Rema 696:1).

Therefore, one may not go about his regular work on Purim. If, however, refraining from work would cause him or his employer a great loss, he may work on Purim. In addition, a poor person who has nothing to eat may work on Purim (sht 696:2-3).

One may do joyous work on Purim, like preparing a new home for a son who will soon be married and planting decorative trees in one’s yard. In addition, one may do mitzva-related work, like writing down novel Torah insights. One may also do easy work, like writing a letter. All of this is permitted provided that it does not ruin one’s joy or prevent one from performing the mitzvot of Purim (sa 696:1, mb ad loc. 6).

One may cut one’s nails on Purim, because this is an easy task, while one may not wash clothes by hand, sew, or cut one’s hair (Ben Ish Ĥai, Hilkhot Purim 21 [Tetzaveh]). However, if they are needed on Purim, one may do arduous tasks, including washing clothes by hand, sewing, and cutting one’s hair (Rema 696:1).

Technically, one may engage in commerce on Purim, because successful transactions can bring one joy. However, it is proper to be stringent in this matter, because such endeavors can drag on and take away from the joy of Purim. Therefore, it is proper to open only stores that sell Purim necessities (mb 696:3, ahs 696:2, Kaf Ha-ĥayim 696:5).

The custom of refraining from work on Purim takes effect only during the day. It is true that some Aĥaronim rule stringently and prohibit work at night, as well. However, the very fact that there is a debate regarding working at night shows clearly that there is no accepted custom prohibiting work at night. Therefore, one may work on the night of Purim (see bhl 696:1).

Residents of unwalled cities may work on the Purim observed by residents of walled cities, and residents of walled cities may work on the Purim observed by residents of unwalled cities (sa 696:2).

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