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The OU Answers Top Purim Questions for 2015

The Purim questions below were answered by Rabbi Eli Gersten, rabbinic coordinator and halachic recorder for OU Kosher. The responses were reviewed by Rabbi Yaakov Luban, OU Kosher executive rabbinic coordinator. Rabbi Moshe Zywica, OU Kosher executive rabbinic coordinator, supervises the OU Consumer Relations Department. They are the most frequently asked questions to date on the OU Kosher Hotline (212-613-8241) by consumers. Questions may be submitted to [email protected] as well.

Q: Ta’anis Esther this year will be Wednesday, March 4. What time does the fast begin and when does it end?

A: The fast begins when one goes to sleep at night, unless one plans to wake up early to eat before the fast begins. If one planned to wake up early, he can eat until a lot ha’shachar (dawn)[1], which is 72 minutes before sunrise. The fast ends at tzeit ha’kochavim, nightfall. (There are different opinions regarding when tzeit ha’kochavim occurs. Rav Moshe Feinstein evaluated that it is 50 minutes after sunset, but if one is having difficulty fasting, he may break the fast 40 minutes following sunset.)

However, it is preferable to refrain from eating until after hearing the Megillah. If one is having a difficult time fasting, especially if he/she is waiting to hear a later reading of the Megillah, one may eat a snack after tzeit ha’kochavim. If one is very weak and needs to eat a meal, they may do so, but they should assign someone to remind them to hear the Megillah[2].

Q: Who is obligated to give a Machtzis Hashekel and when should it be given?

A: When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, there was an obligation in the month of Adar for every adult male to contribute a half-shekel coin toward the purchase of the upcoming yearly communal offerings. Today, as a remembrance of those coins, a machtzit hashekel (half-dollar coin) is given to charity. Since the word “shekel” is repeated in the Torah three times, the common custom is to donate three half-dollar coins to charity.

There is a difference of opinion as to whether all men from age 13 are obligated, or only from the age of 20. However, many have the custom that young men beginning at age 13 give the machtzit hashekel, and fathers give the machtzit hashekel on behalf of their young sons before the bar mitzvah age[3]. The coins are contributed on Ta’anis Esther before Mincha, but if they were not given then, they may be donated anytime afterwards as well[4].

Q: Can one fulfill their obligation of Purim seudah (festive meal) on the first night of Purim?

A: The mitzvah to eat a seudah on Purim is specifically in the day. However, it is proper to eat a partial seudah at night as well[5], and it is customary to eat seeds or grains on Purim night to remember the difficulty that Esther had in eating kosher when she was in the palace[6].

Q: What is the earliest/latest time that one can read the Megillah on the day of Purim?

A: The Megillah can be read anytime during the day of Purim, from sunrise until sunset[7]; however, to show our enthusiasm for the mitzvah it is proper to read the Megillah as early as possible. In cases of pressing need, one can read the Megillah from alos hashachar (dawn, 72 minutes before sunrise), but it may not be read any earlier. If one still has not read the Megillah by sunset, they should read the Megillah without reciting the beracha.[8]

Q: If I began my Purim seudah during the day, but it did not finish until after tzeis ha’kochavim, do I still recite Al Hanisim in bentching?

A: Yes. However, there is an opinion that if one already davened Ma’ariv, then they should no longer recite Al Hanisim in bentching. Therefore, to avoid this question, it is proper to bentch before davening Ma’ariv.[9]

Q: What are the guidelines for mishloach manot?

A: Both men and women are required to fulfill the mitzvah of mishloach manot. One must send two different portions of food or drink to at least one other Jew. The foods should be ready-to-eat items (e.g., not raw chicken, meat, or fish) that one would typically serve at the Purim seudah. The items need not be foods with different berachot.

For example, one may send as mishloach manot an apple and an orange. While there is no specific size or value for what constitutes a portion, some authorities maintain that the portions must be considered important by the receiver[10]. Therefore, one should not send a wealthy person a portion that he would consider inferior. It is proper to send “shalach” manos (a common slang usage), as the name implies, via a messenger[11].

Q: What are the restrictions for an aveil (one who is in their year of mourning the loss of a parent or 30 days of mourning the loss of other close relatives) regarding sending and receiving mishloach manot?

A: Everyone is obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of mishloach manot, including one who is in mourning. However, because these gift baskets are associated with an extra happiness, which is an unfitting display for one who is in mourning, the mishloach manot should be scaled back to the minimum. The mourner should send only one package of mishloach manot, and it should contain simple foods that do not give the appearance of a celebration[12]. Additional mishloach manot can be sent by the family without designating the aveil specifically.

Likewise, it is considered improper to send mishloach manot to a mourner. Instead one should address the mishloach manot to the family. However, some permit sending mishloach manot to a rebbi or teacher who is in mourning, since in this case the gift is viewed more like a payment or a tip[13]. If mourners did receive mishloach manot, they may accept the gift[14].

Q: What are the guidelines for matanot l’evyonim?

A: Every Jew is obligated to give gifts to two needy individuals. All men, women, and children over the age of bar mitzvah are obligated in this mitzvah, even if they do not have their own income, and even if they themselves would qualify to receive these gifts[15]. It has become customary for rabbis and other community leaders to collect funds on behalf of needy individuals. Monies can be given to these collections before Purim, provided the funds are distributed on Purim.

While there is a difference of opinion as to the exact minimum amount one can give to satisfy their obligation (a few pennies or a few dollars), it is well known that the Rambam (Megillah 2:17) writes that it is better to increase the amount one gives to matanot l’evyonim even more so than for the Purim seudah or mishloach manot. Additionally, there is a custom that on Purim anyone who puts out their hand for assistance should not be turned away empty handed.

Q: How should one conduct himself with respect to drinking on Purim?

A: While there are different halachic opinions regarding drinking on Purim, clearly, the safety of you and those around you takes precedence. One should exercise proper discretion. The OU does not condone underage drinking. Furthermore, excessive drinking is inappropriate. One must be vigilant in preventing any trace of chilul Hashem from inappropriate behavior on Purim.

Take the OU Purim Pledge

The month of Adar is a period of celebration on the Jewish calendar, culminating in the celebration of Purim.

The consumption of alcohol on Purim is just one of the many ways we celebrate the great miracle that took place in the time of Queen Esther—the story we read about in the megillah.

However, it seems that a percentage of people each year are putting themselves and others at risk by consuming too much alcohol, serving those who should not be served, and getting behind the wheel of a car when they are in no condition to do so.

We are all for maintaining Purim as the great day of celebration it is, but we feel that includes keeping as many people as safe as possible.

This year, the OU is asking all to “pledge” not to over-consume alcohol, serve alcohol to minors or those who are intoxicated and, perhaps most importantly, not to drink and drive. Won’t you join our efforts to ensure a safer Purim in 5775?

Best wishes for a Chag Purim sameach!

After you take the pledge on https://www.ou.org/life/holidays/take-purim-pledge/ be sure to have your friends and family join the cause. Share this page on Facebook and Twitter – use the hashtag #purimpledge.


I will not serve alcohol to minors.

I will not drink and drive, nor will I serve alcohol to guests who are driving.

I will not serve alcohol to any intoxicated guests.


[1] Shulchan Aruch O.C. 564:1

[2] Mishnah Berurah O.C. 692:16

[3] Mishnah Berurah O.C. 694:5

[4] See Teshuvas Avnei Yashfeh O.C. I:133

[5] Shulchan Aruch O.C. 695:1

[6] See Yalkut Yosef KS”A O.C. 695:18

[7] Shulchan Aruch O.C. 687:1

[8] Mishnah Berurah O.C. 687:5

[9] Mishnah Berurah O.C. 695:16

[10] Bi’ur Halachah 695 s.v. Chayiv

[11] Mishnah Berurah O.C. 695:18

[12] Mishnah Berurah O.C. 696:18

[13] Teshuvas Divrei Malkiel V:237

[14] Teshuvas Shevet HaLevi X:107

[15] Mishnah Berurah 694:1

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