Purim – Halacha


Purim is a 1 day holiday which commemorates the deliverance of the Israelites from the genocidal plan of Haman. Unlike the miracle of Hanukkah the Israelites did not achieve independence from their Persian masters. However after the death of the king Ahasuerus his son Darius II granted the Israelites permission to build the second temple. A companion article on this website “Personalities of Purim” analyzes the role of the major figures of Purim from the view point of Aggadah (homiletics).   

This article discusses the holiday of Purim from the perspective of Halacha, quoting extensively from Shulchan Aruch and associated commentaries, on the following topics:

  • Reading of Megillah.
  • Additional prayers and Torah reading.
  • Gifts to the Poor.
  • Gifts of Food.
  • Festive meal.
  • Day of Celebration


Day of Celebration

Purim is unique of all of the Jewish holidays in that it is celebrated on different days depending upon city of residence, independent of country. Residents of unwalled cities celebrate Purim on the 14th of the Hebrew month Adar. By contrast residents of walled cities celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar. A separate article on this website, “Shushan Purim” discusses the reasons and Halacha for this second day of Purim.   

Reading of Megillah

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 687:1), based upon the Talmud Megillah 4a, rules that the entire book of Esther (i.e. Chapters 1-10) is read from a scroll on the night and following day of Purim. The Mishna Berurah (ibid. 687:1) explains that the night reading should begin after 3 stars appear in the nighttime sky. In a situation of great duress (e.g. curfew during COVID) the nighttime reading of the Megillah may begin 1.25 hours before sunset (Shulchan Aruch ibid. 692:4). The daytime reading is valid any time in the day and may begin as early as sunrise but if started late in the afternoon should be completed before sunset (Shulchan Aruch ibid.).  In a situation of need one may read the Megillah starting from dawn (ibid.)


The reader of the Megillah makes the following blessings before the night reading (ibid. 692:1): 

  • Reading of the Megillah על מקרא מגילה .
  • On the miracle שעשה נסים .
  • Thanksgiving (Given us life) שהחינו.

For the daytime reading, there is a difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardic customs with respect to the blessings. According to the Sephardic practice, the reader recites only the first 2 blessings before the morning reading because the blessing of thanksgiving at night covers the entire day of Purim. By contrast according to Ashkenazi practice, all 3 blessings are recited before the daytime reading because the blessing of thanksgiving covers the new mitzvoth of the day (i.e. sending gifts of food and partaking of the festive meal (Mishna Berurah (ibid. 692:1). In addition, the thanksgiving blessing covers the daytime reading of the Megillah which is the primary reading (ibid. 692:2). The Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 692:1) records a custom to recite a blessing, after reading of the Megillah, to thank Hashem for destroying our enemies and bringing salvation. This blessing is only recited when the Megillah was read in the presence of 10 men (i.e. minyan).

The following table compares and contrasts the blessings before and after the Megillah reading.

BlessingRecited bySize of Group
AfterCongregation10 or more males


Women are also obligated in the mitzvah of hearing the Megillah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 689:1) because they were involved in the miracle of Purim (Megillah 4a) as follows:

  • End of persecution.
  • Deliverance through Esther.

End of Persecution

Haman conceived a genocidal plan (Esther 3:13) against all of the Israelites (i.e. men, women, and children). When the decree was rescinded, allowing the Israelites to defend themselves, both men and women were saved.

Deliverance through Esther

 Queen Esther was the heroine of Purim by rescuing the Israelites through her intervention and intrigue (ibid. 5:4 and 7:3-10). In addition after telling Ahasuerus that she was Jewish the king appointed her cousin Mordecai as his prominent minster (Ester 8:1-2). Consequently the nations of the kingdom were afraid to attack the Israelites (ibid. 8:16) resulting in a great victory (ibid. 9:1-3). The companion article on this website “Personalities of Purim” provides many details about the roles of Esther and Mordecai.

Nature of Obligation

Although women are obligated to hear the nighttime and daytime reading of the Megillah, there is a dispute whether women can read the Megillah for men (Shulchan Aruch ibid. 689:1). This dispute is based upon apparently conflicting sources:

  • Talmud (Arachin 3a) – “Women are obligated in the mitzvah of reading the Megillah.”
  • Tosefta (Megillah 2:4) – “Women are exempt from the mitzvah of reading the Megillah.”

Since women are obligated to hear the Megillah the latter source means that women are exempt from reading the Megillah.

Allowed to read for men

Rashi, on the former source, clearly writes that women may read the Megillah for men because their mitzvah involves both hearing and reading the Megillah. According to his view the former and latter sources are in disagreement.

Not allowed to read for men  

This view holds that these sources are not in disagreement because the former source refers to the obligation to hear the Megillah reading. By contrast the latter source refers to mitzvah of reading the Megillah for men. Women are allowed to read the Megillah for other women (Shulchan Aruch ibid.).  

Writing Megillah

The decisors of Halacha debate the validity of a Megillah scroll written by a woman. Appendix 1 analyzes the different viewpoints on this issue.

Verses out Loud

The Rema (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 690:17) records a custom that the following verses of redemption from the book of Esther are read aloud by the congregation and then by the reader from the Megillah scroll. 

2:5Introduce Mordecai
8:15Mordecai publicly promoted by the king
8:16Jews rejoice over the promotion
10:3Mordecai appointed as viceroy 

The Mishna Berurah (ibid. 690:58) explains that these verses are said aloud to express joy over the redemption and to teach the children the message of Purim (ibid. 689:16). Some have the custom to read aloud verse 6:1 (Yalkut Yosef Saka Edition 690:38) which is the turning point of the Megillah where Ahasuerus cannot sleep and asked for the royal chronicles to be read. He found out that Mordecai had saved him from an assassination plot (ibid. 6:2) and not given a reward (ibid. 6:3). As a result the king rewarded Mordecai with royal honours (ibid. 6:10).  

Noise Making

The Rema (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 690:17) records a custom to make noise when the name of Haman is read from the Megillah. The Rema explains that children would draw the face of Haman on sticks or stone and then bang them together to fulfill the biblical commandment to erase the memory of Amalek (Deuteronomy 25:19). Later the gragger, a noise making, ratchet type device took the place of these sticks or stones. This device may be formed of wood, metal, or plastic because there is no requirement in Halacha for this device. The word gragger is derived from a Yiddish word meaning rattler. The Mishna Berurah (ibid. 690:59) writes that one may stomp his feet instead of using sticks or stones.

Origin of Custom

It is interesting to note that the custom of making noise at Haman’s name is neither cited by the Talmud nor Maimonides. The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 49:1) states that Rabbi Yehudah the prince, redactor of the Mishna, would say in reference to Haman on Purim, “Cursed is Haman and cursed are his sons” based upon Proverbs 10:7, “The name of the wicked shall rot.” A similar custom is recorded in the Jerusalem Talmud (Megillah 3:7). However these curses may have been said after the reading of the Megillah, as recorded in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 690:16). Tractate Soferim 14:6 records the custom to curse Haman after the reading of the Megillah.     

The Rema quotes the Abudraham, a 14th century source written in Spain, as the source for this custom. In the opinion of the author this noise making in addition to fulfilling the commandment to erase the memory of Amalek also served as a catharsis for European Jewry from the suffering of the crusades, inquisition and pogroms. This would explain the widespread acceptance of this custom in Ashkenazi communities despite the apparent lack of decorum in the synagogue. Sephardic communities did not accept this custom (Yalkut Yosef, Saka Edition 689:94).

Different Customs

The Mishna Berurah (ibid.) comments that some authorities were against making noise at the mention of Haman’s name to avoid disrupting the reading of the Megillah resulting in the following practices when to make noise:

Where  (Haman’s Name)Source
NoneMishna Berurah 690:59
SelectedMishna Berurah 690:59 (Oz V’Hadar Edition note 133)
AllRema 690:17 Mishna Berurah 690:60

To balance between joy on Purim and maintaining decorum in the synagogue some communities allow making noise on selected names of Haman (i.e. with a description or event). The following table shows examples of these occurrences, related verses in the book of Esther, and source of custom.

Haman the son of Hammedata3:1, 8:5, 9:10, and 9:24Sefer Haminhagim Chabad
Haman the Agagite3:1, 3;10, 8:3, 8:5, and 9:24Sefer Haminhagim Chabad
Haman the evil one7:6Sefer Haminhagim Chabad
Haman the son of Hammedata the Agagite8:5Aruch Hashulchan (ibid. 690:24)
Demise of Haman’s 10 sons 9:10Ketzot Hashulchan 690
First and Last Mention3:1 and 9:24Ben Ish Chai Tetzaveh
Haman’s Downfall7:10Mishna Berurah 690 Oz V’Hadar Edition (Note 133)

The following article discusses many details about noise making during the reading of the Megillah.


In any event the Mishna Berurah (ibid. 690:60) rules that the reader of the Megillah should stop while the congregation is making noise in order for the congregation to hear every word of the Megillah. If someone did miss some words he may read from a printed text provided that the words are inserted in the order of the reading (ibid.).

Liturgy – Prayer and Scriptural readings

Thanksgiving for Miracles

The Tosefta (Berachot 3:14) and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 693:1) mention that one should recite a prayer of thanksgiving for the miracle of Purim. In addition the Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 682:1) states that this thanksgiving prayer ( על הנסים ) is inserted in the Amidah in the blessing of thanks (מודים) which is the 18th  blessing out of 19 and in the grace for meals in the blessing over the land ( על הארץ ) which is the 2nd blessing out of 4.


The Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 693:3) rules that Hallel (Psalms Chapters 113-118 inclusive) is not recited on Purim. The Talmud (Megillah 14a) explains why Hallel is not said:

  • Miracle of Purim occurred outside of Israel.
  • Israelites were still subjects of Ahasuerus.
  • Reading of the Megillah replaces Hallel.

Outside of Israel

The Maharsha (Arachin 10b) explains that a miracle outside the land of Israel is not as intense as in Israel because the divine presence is not as manifest outside of Israel. In Israel, Hashem will act directly, as the verse states (Deuteronomy 11:12),” A land (Israel) that Hashem looks after … from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” By contrast Hashem appoints an angel to perform miracles outside of Israel.

Similarly the name of G-d does not appear in the book of Esther because the miracle of Purim did not occur in a supernatural manner. Although supernatural miracles did occur in Egypt at the time of the exodus, this occurred before the Israelites lived in Israel. Once the Israelites entered Israel, all other lands were no longer fit for Hallel.

Subjects of Ahasuerus

The Talmud (Megillah 14a) explains that Hallel, to commemorate a miracle, is recited only when the Israelites achieve independence (i.e. are servants of Hashem and not subjects to a foreign monarch. The Talmud (ibid.) bases this ruling on the 1st verse in Hallel (Psalms 113:1), “Praise, you servants of Hashem, the name of Hashem.” Hence on Hanukkah, when the Hasmonean achieved independence from the Seleucids, Hallel is recited.     

Reading of the Megillah

The Talmud (ibid.) further explains that the reading of the Megillah, which publicizes the miracle of Purim, replaces Hallel. According to this reason, if one is unable to hear a reading of the Megillah he should recite Hallel. However according to the previous 2 answers he would be exempt. Therefore the recital of Hallel, when one cannot attend a reading of the Megillah, is debated by the later authorities of Halacha (i.e. post Shulchan Aruch) with a consensus that one should recite Hallel without the opening and closing blessings (Shaarei Teshuva Orach Chaim 693:3).

Torah Reading

The sages (Megillah 30b) chose the section of the Torah (Exodus 17:8-16) for the Torah reading at the morning service of Purim because it:

  • Recounts a victorious battle of the Israelites against Amalek.
  • Alludes to the writing of the Megillah.

Battle against Amalek

This victory parallels the story of Purim where the Israelites defeated their enemies and the 10 sons of Haman were hung on the 13th of Adar (Esther 9:5-10). The Targum on Esther 3:1 identifies Haman as descendant of Agag, the king of Amalek (1 Samuel 15:8) at the time of King Saul. Furthermore the second Targum (ibid.) actually traces the linage of Haman through multiple generations back to Amalek. The Targum (Esther 9:16) explains that the 75,000 killed during this battle were from Amalek.

Writing of the Megillah

The Talmud (Megillah 7a) interprets Exodus 17:14 as an allusion to canonize the book of Esther. The verse follows, “Hashem said to Moses: Write this battle as a memorial in the book.” Although on a literal basis the book refers to the Torah, through allusion the book refers to canonization of the book of Esther.


Although a full Torah reading contains at least 10 verses (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 137:1), this section of the Torah only has 9 verses leading to difference between Sephardic and Ashkenazi rituals. According to the formal ritual the last verse is repeated to bring the total of verses read to 10 (Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 693:4)). According to the latter ritual the reading is left at 9 verses since this is a complete topic (Rema ibid.) and the verses before and after this reading in Exodus do not relate directly to the battle.

Gifts to the Poor

The sages at the time of Purim instituted a practice of giving gifts to the poor on Purim and codified by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 694:1). This section will cover the following topics:

  • Source of obligation.
  • Obligation.
  • Reason.
  • Practical considerations.
  • Time.

Source of Obligation

The book of Esther (9:22) mentions these gifts, “The days on which the Israelites rested from their enemies … to observe them as days of feasting and joy, sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor ( ומתנות לאביונים ) .”

Giving of gifts to one to another are mentioned in both Esther 9:19 and 9:22. By contrast gifts to the poor are mentioned only once. Perhaps the book of Esther did not wish to emphasize the poor on this day of rejoicing; therefore one mention of the poor is sufficient.   


The Talmud (Megillah 7a) specifies that each adult Israelite send at least 2 gifts to 2 poor people (i.e. 1 gift to each poor person). By contrast the obligation of giving gifts of food means sending at least 2 portions of food or drink to at least 1 person. The difference in the obligation is found in the verses. In the case of gifts of food the verse (Esther 9:22) states, “Sending portions (plural which implies a minimum of 2) one to another (which means 1 person).” When giving to the poor the same verse says, “Gifts to the poor” where the word “poor” in Hebrew is written in plural implying a minimum of 2. Although the word “gifts” is also written in plural, which could imply 2 gifts per person, the Talmud interprets the 2 gifts as a total number meaning 1 gift per person for 2 people.

In contrast to gifts of food, a person may give money or one portion of food to the poor (Mishna Berurah 695:2). Presumably the reason for this distinction is to allow the poor to take care of their needs as they see fit (i.e. either money or food). When giving gifts to the well to do one sends two portions of food or drink consistent with the standing of the recipient.

Size of Gift

The Mishna Berurah (694:2) points out that neither the Talmud nor the Shulchan Aruch specify the value of the gift, hence there a range of opinions amongst the decisors of Halacha. On one hand, the minimum amount of money recognized by Halacha (e.g. theft, damages, or gifts) is a perutah, a small copper coin worth about 2-5 cents in today’s currency. Since one cannot buy anything of substance with this minimal amount most authorities in Halacha determine that the gift of food or money should be equal to one meal (e.g. meat sandwich and a drink) which is $5- 10. In addition to the letter of the law, the giver should consider the spirit of the law (Leviticus 19:18), “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Hence the gift should be significant to avoid offending the recipient with a small gift and should bring him joy.   

Knowledge of Giver

To avoid embarrassment the recipient does not need to know the giver.


Maimonides (Laws of Purim 2:17) explains that giving gifts to the poor enables them to enjoy the Purim feast without having to beg for food or money. Although one gift to the poor is sufficient one should give liberally. Maimonides writes (ibid.), “It is preferable for a person to be more liberal with his donations to the poor than to be lavish in his Purim feast or in sending portions to his friends. There is no greater happiness than to gladden the hearts of the poor, orphans, widows, and converts. One who brings happiness to the hearts of these unfortunate individuals resembles the Divine Presence, which Isaiah 57:15 describes: to revive the spirit of the lowly and those with broken hearts.”

Practical Considerations

The donor may give money to the rabbi or sexton of the congregation to distribute funds amongst the poor. This method avoids embarrassment of the recipient because he does not know the giver. In addition the rabbi or sexton knows the identity and needs of the poor and they would be happy to receive these funds in a discrete and dignified manner. In fact many synagogues have charity funds that distribute money to the poor year round.


The Mishna Berurah (695:22) rules that one must give these gifts to the poor on the day of Purim and not at night. At the time of the Talmud (Megillah 4b), the poor would assemble in the synagogue at the reading of the Megillah because many people are in the synagogue at that time.

Gifts of Food

The sages at the time of Purim instituted a practice of giving gifts of food on Purim and codified by Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 695:4). This section will cover the following topics:

  • Source of obligation.
  • Obligation.
  • Reason.
  • Practical considerations.
  • Time
  • Gematria.

Source of Obligation

The book of Esther (9:19 and 9:22) mentions the giving of gifts as follows:

9:19 – “The Israelite villagers … celebrate the 14th day of the month of Adar as a day of joy and feasting … and of sending portions (delicacies -מנות) to one another.”

9:22 – “The days on which the Israelites rested from their enemies … to observe them as days of feasting and joy, sending portions (delicacies -מנות) one to another, and gifts to the poor.”

The first verse refers to those who live in open cities and celebrate Purim on the 14th of Adar. The second verse, which mentions days, includes those who live in walled cities and celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar.  Hence each group sends gifts of food on their respective days of celebration.  


The Talmud (Megillah 7a) interprets these verses as an obligation for each adult Israelite to send at least 2 portions of food or drink to at least 1 person. The verse mentions portions in plural (which implies a minimum of 2) and one another which means to one person. One may send more than 2 portions of food to 1 person or many people, according to one’s budget, as the Shulchan Aruch (ibid.) says, “Those who give more are praiseworthy.” The Mishna Berurah (ibid. 695:20) rules that the food must be ready to eat with minimal preparation. Hence there is a dispute about sending raw, salted meat which requires cooking. In the time of the Talmud people sent cooked or fried fish, cooked or roasted meat, or wine. Today people send biscuits, nuts, sweets, spirits, wine, or grape juice.  Rabbi Joel Sirkis, commentator on the Tur Shulchan (ibid. 695), explains that the sages required sending of two portions of food or drink to emphasize the dual nature of the mitzvah of Purim (i.e. elevation of Mordecai and downfall of Haman). 

The identification of the word מנות with food or delicacies is based upon the book of Nehemiah (i.e. 8:10 and 8:12). This chapter relates that Ezra assembled the Israelites on the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) (ibid. 8:2) to read the Torah, lead the Israelites to return to Hashem, and observe the mitzvoth. After hearing the words of the Torah the people were taken back and began to cry (ibid. 8:9). Nehemiah reassured the people that their return to Hashem was sincere and Hashem would forgive them (ibid. 8:10). Therefore Nehemiah advised them to rejoice on this Day of Judgment as the verse states, “Eat rich foods, drink sweet drinks, and send portions (delicacies –מנות) to whoever has nothing prepared. For this day is holy to our L-rd and do not be sad.” The Israelites followed through as the verse relates (ibid. 8:12), “Then all the people went to eat, drink, send portions (delicacies –מנות), and rejoice greatly.” Hence we see that the word מנות, meaning portions or delicacies, is used in the context of sending gifts of food to rejoice where previously there was fear of divine punishment. Similarly on Purim the Israelites send gifts of food (delicacies –מנות) to rejoice on Purim to commemorate the miracle of Purim when the Israelites were threatened with destruction on account of their previous sins.      

Based upon the above discussion the Aruch Hashulchan (ibid. 695: 15) rules that the portions must be significant and not the minimum size of an olive for solid food or ¼ of a lug for drinks (3 to 4 fl oz. or 90-120 cc). The Biur Halacha (695:4) writes that the size of the gift should be commensurate with the status of the receiver.

Women’s Obligation

Women are also obligated to send gifts because they were involved in the miracle of Purim. However to avoid impropriety, men should send to men and women to women (Shulchan Aruch 695:4). The Mishna Berurah (ibid. 695:25) writes a husband may send on behalf of his wife. In addition the Dirshu Edition of the Mishna Berurah (ibid. 695:58) writes that nowadays the prevailing custom is that families exchange gifts. Since husband and wife are both givers and recipients this avoids the issue of impropriety and resolves the issue of the obligation of women sending gifts.     

Giving or Receiving

The codifiers of Halacha debate the nature of the obligation to send gifts of food. Is the primary obligation to give gifts or receive them? In other words, does the reason of promoting solidarity and joy apply equally to the sender and receiver or primarily to the latter? The difference in these views applies when there is a delay of one or more days between the sending and receiving of the gifts. The Baer Hetev (ibid. 695:7) rules that the primary obligation lies with the recipient. Hence one may send gifts before Purim as long as they are received on Purim.  However the Aruch Hashulchan (ibid. 695:17) disagrees because he holds that the solidarity and joy applies to both sender and receiver.    


Although the Talmud does not provide a reason for these gifts later authorities explain:

  • Gifts promote solidarity.
  • Gifts allow a poor person to enjoy the Purim feast without being designated as a poor person.     

The difference between these reasons applies in Halacha. For example according to the 1st reason one may give gifts to the rich or poor but only gifts of food. According to the 2nd reason one should only give to the poor, either gifts of food or money. According to the 1st reason the sender must indicate his name on the gift to promote solidarity. However according to the 2nd reason the gift may be anonymous to avoid embarrassing the needy. Hence by taking into account both views one may give gifts of food to the rich or poor with the name of the sender but with a preference to the needy.

Practical Considerations

When giving gifts of food one must consider the suitability of the gift to the recipient in terms of medical diet, standard of kashrut, and dairy based products which cannot be eaten during a meal of meat and even afterwards for 1.5 – 6 hours depending upon custom. The codifiers of Halacha debate whether a person fulfills his obligation if the recipient will not eat the food because of the above considerations. All agree that at the outset a person should send gifts that the recipient will enjoy on Purim. However after the fact, some hold that a person has not fulfilled his obligation because this type of gift does not promote solidarity or enjoyment. However others rule that the obligation of sending gifts is fulfilled because other members of the family may enjoy this food. In addition the Rema (Shulchan Aruch ibid. 695:4) rules that if the recipient refuses the gift the sender has fulfilled his obligation along the lines of “It is thought that counts”.  However this ruling is also disputed hence the debate in Halacha. All agree that if the food is not kosher then the sender has not fulfilled his obligation.      


The Rema (Orach Chaim 695:4) rules that one must give these gifts of food on the day of Purim and not at night. Rabbeinu Asher (Rosh) eminent rabbi and Talmudic commentator of the 13th and 14th centuries explains that the daytime of Purim, in contrast to the night, is the main time for joy, feasting, and proclaiming the miracle of Purim (Rosh Megillah 1:6). In addition the verses in the Megillah that mention feasting, joy, and sending of gifts (Esther 9:19 and 9:22) speak of the day(s) of Purim (ימי), which implies daytime Talmud (Megillah 7b).


It is interesting to note that the Megillah uses the Hebrew word מנות for portions or delicacies. This word has a gematria of 496 which in terms of mathematics represents a perfect number, meaning that the sum of all if all of its factors equals the number itself. Specifically the factors of 496 are:  1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 31, 62, 124, and 248 and when added together equal 496. From a secular viewpoint a perfect number strikes a harmony between the extremes of excess and deficiency as when the number’s divisors is too large or small.  Hence in terms of Purim the word מנות connotes significance and harmony.    

Festive Meals and Special Foods


As discussed above, the festive meal should begin during the day (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 695:1) and extend into the night after Purim provided that the majority of the meal was consumed during the day (Rema ibid. 695:2). Although one may begin the meal in the morning the widespread practice is to begin the meal in the afternoon to allow time for sending of gifts (Mishna Berurah 695:8). When Purim occurs on Friday, the meal should begin before noon to leave room for the evening Shabbat meal and allow time to prepare for Shabbat (Rema ibid. 695:2).

Although the word (משתה) implies drinking wine the sages understood that a festive meal should be served with a main course and not only drinking. In contrast to Hanukkah which does not require a festive meal, this festive meal commemorates the deliverance of the Israelites from the decree of Haman and the elaborate feasts with wine suggested by Esther (ibid. 5:4 – 1st feast and 6:14 – 2nd feast). In addition the death of Vashti (Esther 1:12), former queen of Ahasuerus, and the coronation of Queen Esther occurred through feasting (ibid. 2:18).

Since the Talmud did not specify the menu for this feast there is a debate amongst the codifiers of Halacha about these items:

  • Bread.
  • Meat.
  • Other Dishes.
  • Wine.


Neither the Talmud nor its early commentators mention a requirement to eat this meal with bread. Hence the later authorities debate this requirement based upon inferences from the book of Esther and Talmud. The former source (ibid. 9:22) calls Purim a time of feasting and joy. Rabbeinu Asher, (Rosh) a medieval commentator on the Talmud, understands that on days of rejoicing (e.g. festivals) the Israelites eat a festive meal served with bread (Rosh Berachot 7:23). Based upon this view there would be a requirement to eat the festive meal on Purim with bread. However the Rosh did not mention this requirement when discussing the laws of Purim. In addition it could be argued that this requirement only applies to holidays from the Pentateuch where the Torah commands the Israelites to rejoice (Deuteronomy 16:11 and 16:15).  

The Magen Avraham, a 17th century commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, writes (Orach Chaim 695:9) that he did not find a clear indication that bread must be eaten with this Purim meal. Similarly the Shaarie Teshuva (Orach Chaim 695:1) quotes a view that bread is not essential for this meal. However the Aruch Hashulchan (ibid. 695:7) states that this festive meal requires bread like the festive meals of the Sabbath and holidays. In addition he brings support for his view from the feast that Lot made for his guests which included matzos (unleavened bread). The verse (Genesis 19:3) follows, “He (Lot) made a feast (משתה) and served them unleavened cakes which they ate.”      

In addition to the menu, this issue has Halachic implications for the grace after meals if someone omitted the thanksgiving prayer ( על הנסים ). If bread is essential to this meal then one must repeat the grace after meals upon omission of this prayer, similar to the meals of the Sabbath and festivals. However if bread is not essential to this meal then the grace after meals should not be repeated upon omission. The Mishna Berurah (695:15) rules to not repeat the grace because we follow the principle of being lenient when in doubt about saying a blessing. The Magen Avraham (ibid. 695:9) agrees for a different reason. Just as one is not required to repeat the Amidah upon its omission, (Rema ibid. 693:2) the same applies for grace after meals.     


The decisors of Halacha debate the requirement to eat meat at this festive meal. The Talmud (Pesachim 109a) states that when the temple was standing, one fulfilled the mitzvah of rejoicing on the festivals (Deuteronomy 16:14) through the partaking of sacrificial meat. After the destruction of the temple, one expresses joy through the consumption of wine. The Biur Halacha (Orach Chaim 529:2) explains that although nowadays there is not a biblical obligation to eat meat on the festivals, nevertheless one fulfills this commandment by eating meat as a sign of rejoicing. Therefore the Mishna Berurah (ibid. 529:20) writes that one should eat meat at the Purim meal. Maimonides (Laws of Purim 2:15) also states that one should eat meat at this meal.

Although the Shulchan Aruch does not clearly mention an obligation to eat meat on Purim one can draw an inference from the laws of onen, someone who has lost a close relative (e.g. father or mother). This person should not eat meat or drink wine until after burial when he ceases to be an onen (Yoreh Deah 341:1). However on Purim an onen may eat meat because the public mitzvah of rejoicing (שמחה) overrides the personal mitzvah of mourning (Orach Chaim 696:7). In addition this mitzvah of rejoicing on Purim originates from scripture and therefore has a comparable status to Torah law.

The decisors of Halacha express different opinions whether one is required to specifically eat ovine/bovine meat or one may substitute with fowl (Mishna Berurah Dirshu edition 695:3).

Other Dishes

In addition to meat, Maimonides (Laws of Purim ibid.) writes that one should serve as attractive a feast as his means permit. However neither the Talmud nor Shulchan Aruch specifies the actual food items. Hence the choice is dependent upon local custom and taste. The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 695:7) writes that in his time people would prepare dumplings and cooked vegetables (e.g. carrots with prunes – tzimmes).

The Rema (ibid. 695:2) records a custom to eat “seeds” on Purim to commemorate the kosher food that that Esther ate in the palace of the king (Megillah 13a). There are different opinions concerning the identity of these seeds ranging from seeds, cabbage (or other vegetables), pulses, to rice (or other grains). Although the Mishna Berurah limits eating of these “seeds” to the night of Purim, the Aruch Hashulchan (ibid. 695:9) records a custom to eat this dish at this  festive meal.  


Since the miracle of Purim occurred through wine, the sages obligated the Israelites to drink wine at this festive meal. In fact the Talmud (Megillah 7b) states, “A person (Israelite) is obligated to become intoxicated with wine on Purim until he does not know the difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordecai.” At a literal level, this statement implies that a person should become totally drunk that he does not know right (i.e. blessed Mordecai who with Queen Esther saved the Israelites – Esther 8:1-5) from wrong (i.e. cursed Haman who sought the destruction of the Israelites – Esther 3:13).

A companion article on this web site “Drinking on Purim” analyzes the range of interpretations of the above statement and provides the following guidelines:

  1. Drinking more than normal while maintaining full control.  
  2. Drinking until moderate impairment (e.g. unable to compute gematria or losing place in a song).
  3. Drinking until falling asleep.
  4. Drinking until inebriated but before an accident may happen. Practically one should have a safety person or in the vernacular “a designated driver” to avoid any serious incidents. 


Hamantaschen are 3 cornered cookies with a filing which date back to 16th century Germany. The word hamantaschen means Haman’s pockets (pockets are taschen in German). This name  may also be a play on words because the German word for poppy is “mohn” which is similar in pronunciation to Haman. Hence the original filing was poppy seeds. These cookies became popular in the 19th century with use of baking powder which facilitated mass production.      

It is interesting to note that despite the widespread consumption of hamantaschen on Purim there is no source for this custom in any of the classical works on Halacha (e.g. Maimonides, Shulchan Aruch and associated commentaries). Some attempt to connect hamantaschen to the custom of eating seeds on Purim. However as mentioned above there is a range of opinions about these seeds (including cabbage and rice) and not necessarily poppy seeds. In addition the custom of eating seeds may only apply to the evening meal. By contrast people eat hamantaschen throughout Purim.

The origin of the triangular shape of these cookies is also shrouded in mystery because there is no clear source in Halacha for this shape. Some have attempted to explain this shape as corresponding to Haman’s hat. However that is unlikely because Persians at the time of Purim wore turbans and not hats. A more likely explanation relates to the widespread use of these hats, called tricorne, starting in 17th century Europe. Originally these hats were worn by musketeers who could easily fire their rifles at shoulder level with hitting their brims. Then this fashion spread to the aristocracy who could show off their wigs and later to the common people. Perhaps the triangular shape of hamantaschen represents a parody of gentile society (i.e. military and aristocracy). In Modern Hebrew hamantaschen are called “ears of Haman”, presumably because of their shape. However there is no reason in Halacha for this name.           

Over 20 million hamantaschen are consumed in Israel during a Purim season which represents 3 hamantaschen per Israelite. Although hamantaschen are typically consumed on Purim there is no issue in Halacha to consume hamantaschen before or after Purim. Hence the Purim season could extend over the month of Adar (i.e. 1-2 weeks before and after Purim). In addition there is no difference in Halacha between different fillings of these cookies (e.g. poppy seed, prune, apricot, or chocolate); it is simply a matter of taste.

Other Activities

The Rema (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 696:8) records a custom to wear masks on Purim and then costumes. In addition he even permits cross dressing as part of a Purim masquerade. However many authorities in Halacha take exception to this latter ruling because it seems to run counter to a verse in Deuteronomy (22:5), “A man’s attire shall not be on a woman, nor may a man wear a woman’s garment. Whoever does so is an abomination to Hashem.” The Rema allows this type of dressing on Purim because it is for joy and not promiscuity. The Mishna Berurah (ibid. 695:30) rules that one should refrain from this leniency. However if one wears only one item of the opposite gender it may be permissible because one’s gender is recognizable. The Aruch Hashulchan (ibid. 696:12) writes that in his time (late 19th century) the custom was not to cross dress on Purim. Perhaps the reason for this change in attitude reflects the demographics of European Jewry. In the time of the Rema, 16th century renaissance Europe, there was an interest in masquerade balls. However with the increasing persecution of Russian and Polish Jewry under the different czars there was less interest in Russian society.     

The Dirshu Edition of the Mishna Berurah (696:53) discusses the suitability of costumes for Purim as follows:

Priest of churchNot permitted
Ahasuerus or HamanNot recommended
Clown or popular culturePermitted (by some communities)
Rabbinic garb (frock with special hat or turban)Permitted (act with respect)
Mordecai or EstherPermitted

Purim Plays

Although not mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch it was common practice in the past to put on Purim plays or skits, often satirical, for entertainment. However the subject material must be respectful of the Torah and its teachers.   


This article discusses the different laws and customs of Purim including reading of the Megillah, gifts to the poor, exchanging gifts of food, and partaking of an elaborate feast with drinking of wine or spirits. In addition this article analyzed the origins of the gragger and hamantaschen which are not mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch. Purim is celebrated in a physical manner to commemorate the physical deliverance from genocide and its eternal message of hope will remain with the Israelites throughout time. Maimonides writes (Laws of Purim 2:18), “Although all memories of the difficulties endured by our people will be nullified (in the Messianic era) … the celebration of Purim will not be nullified, as Esther 9:28 states: These days of Purim will not pass from among the Jews, nor will their remembrance cease from their seed.”

Appendix 1 – Women Writing a Megillah

It is interesting to note that neither the Talmud nor Shulchan Aruch discusses the validity of a Megillah scroll written by a woman. Hence there are different views on this matter.

Torah Scroll

The Shulchan Aruch rules that a Torah scroll written by a woman is not valid (Yoreh Deah 281:3). The Talmud (Gittin 45b) explains that tefillin and mezuzah written by women are not valid based upon a comparison of verses mentioning tefillin and mezuzah as follows:   

Deuteronomy 6:8 – “You shall bind them for a sign upon your hand. They shall be for ornaments between your eyes. 

Deuteronomy 6:9 – “You shall inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house and your gates.”

The Talmud connects binding to inscribing and states that those who are obligated to bind tefillin are permitted to write the mezuzah meaning that those who are exempt from tefillin are not permitted to write a mezuzah. Since women are exempt from the mitzvah of donning tefillin, because it is time bound (Rashi on Gittin 45b), they are not eligible to write tefillin. Although women are obligated in the mitzvah of affixing a mezuzah they are not eligible to write a mezuzah based upon the above derivation.

This derivation is based upon the fact that the mitzvah is to affix a mezuzah and the writing of a mezuzah is only a preparation for this mitzvah. Hence the mention of writing alludes to the eligibility of writing tefillin or a mezuzah. The reader may ask, “Since this derivation is based upon verses that mention tefillin and mezuzah, how does the Talmud prove that women are not eligible to write a Torah scroll?” Rabbeinu Nissin explains that if women are ineligible to write small sections of the Torah (i.e. tefillin or mezuzah) then they are ineligible to write larger section of the Torah (i.e. a fortiori argument).    

Megillah Scroll

The validity of a Megillah scroll written by a woman depends upon many factors. For sake of brevity the author will limit the discussion to the following points:

  • Similarity to Torah scroll.
  • Women’s obligation to hear or read the Megillah.
  • Verse from Esther (9:29).

Torah Scroll

The Megillah must be written in the same manner as a Torah scroll, namely parchment and black ink (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 691:1). Hence if the laws of a Torah scroll apply to a Megillah then a woman is ineligible to write a Megillah.

Unlike a Torah scroll, a Megillah is valid if words are missing or spelt incorrectly (ibid. 690:3). Since the laws of writing a Megillah or more lenient than those of a Torah scroll, this allows for the possibility of a woman writing a Megillah.

Women’s Obligation

Since women are obligated to hear the Megillah they may be obligated to write a Megillah. However according to the view that a woman is only obligated to hear and not read the Megillah, women may be ineligible to write a Megillah.

Verse (Esther 9:29)

The Megillah states (Esther 9:29), “Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew wrote with full authority, to confirm the second Purim letter.” This verse seems to imply that Esther actually wrote the Megillah with the co-operation of Mordecai, implying that a woman may write a Megillah. However the verse may be interpreted as Esther wrote about the Megillah, requesting the sages of her generation to canonize the Megillah. Therefore this verse is not a proof of eligibility of women to write a Megillah. 

In fact different versions of the Targum support these alternate interpretations. The primary Targum translates the verse as, “Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew wrote the entire Megillah to elaborate on the full force of the miracle to confirm the second Purim letter.” Hence this translation indicates that Esther and Mordecai actually wrote the Megillah meaning that women may write a Megillah scroll. However the secondary Targum translates the verse as, “Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew wrote about the full force (of the miracle) to establish (i.e. canonize) the Megillah …” Hence this translation only indicates the canonization of the Megillah and has no bearing on the dispute of women writing a Megillah. The Talmud (Megillah 7a) follows the interpretation of the secondary Targum and understands this verse as referring to Esther’s request of canonization of the Megillah.

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