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Purim How-To Guide

Purim How-To Guide

Your 2016 Purim guide contains the story of Purim and all you need to know about the 4 mitzvahs of Purim and the other observances of the day

Editor’s Note
Purim begins this year on Wednesday evening, March 4, 2015, and continues through Thursday night, March 5. What follows is a brief step-by-step guide to Purim observance. We have also included links to additional Purim resources.

Time for Some Fun!

Purim, celebrated on the 14th of Adar, is the most fun-filled, action-packed day of the Jewish year. It commemorates our nation’s miraculous salvation more than two millennia ago.

The Purim Story in a Nutshell

The Persian empire of the 4th century BCE extended over 127 lands, and all the Jews were its subjects. When King Ahasuerus had his wife, Queen Vashti, executed for failing to follow his orders, he orchestrated a beauty pageant to find a new queen. A Jewish girl, Esther, found favor in his eyes and became the new queen—though she refused to divulge the identity of her nationality.

Meanwhile, the anti-Semitic Haman was appointed prime minister of the empire. Mordechai, the leader of the Jews (and Esther’s cousin), defied the king’s orders and refused to bow to Haman. Haman was incensed and convinced the king to issue a decree ordering the extermination of all the Jews on the 13th of Adar—a date chosen by a lottery Haman made (hence the name Purim, “lots”).

Mordechai galvanized all the Jews, convincing them to repent, fast and pray to G‑d. Meanwhile, Esther asked the king and Haman to join her for a feast. At the feast, Esther revealed to the king her Jewish identity. Haman was hanged, Mordechai was appointed prime minister in his stead, and a new decree was issued granting the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies.

On the 13th of Adar, the Jews mobilized and killed many of their enemies. On the 14th of Adar, they rested and celebrated.

How We Celebrate

Though we dress up in holiday finery, Purim doesn't feature holiday work restrictions. Nonetheless, all the better if you can take the day off from work and focus on the holiday and it’s four special mitzvahs:

(Note: If you are spending Purim in Jerusalem, the laws vary. Click here for details.)

1. Hear the Megillah

Head to your synagogue to hear the whole megillah. The megillah, a.k.a. “The Book of Esther,” is the scroll that tells the Purim story. Listen to the public reading twice: once on Purim night, and again on Purim day. This year, that’s Wednesday night, March 4, and Thursday day, March 5, 2015. Pay attention—it is crucial to hear every word.

When Haman’s name is mentioned (following Chabad custom, only when accompanied with an honorific title), you can twirl graggers (noisemakers) or stamp your feet to eradicate his evil name. Tell your kids that Purim is the only time when it’s a mitzvah to make noise!

The megillah is read from a handwritten parchment scroll, using an age-old tune. Contact your local Chabad rabbi if for any reason you can’t make it to your synagogue for the megillah reading. He’ll do his best to send a megillah reader to your home or office.

2. Give to the Needy (Matanot La’Evyonim)

One of Purim's primary themes is Jewish unity. Haman tried to kill us all, we were all in danger together, so we celebrate together, too. Hence, on Purim day, we place special emphasis on caring for the less fortunate.

Give money or food to at least two needy people during the daylight hours of Purim, March 5. In case you can't find any needy people, your synagogue will likely be collecting money for this purpose. At least, place two coins in a charity box earmarked for the poor.

On Purim, we give a donation to whoever asks; we don’t verify his or her bank balance first.

As with the other mitzvahs of Purim, even small children should fulfill this mitzvah.

3. Send Food Gifts to Friends (Mishloach Manot)

On Purim, we emphasize the importance of friendship and community by sending gifts of food to friends.

On Purim day, March 5, send a package containing at least two different ready-to-eat food items and/or beverages (e.g., pastry, fruit, beverage) to at least one Jewish acquaintance during the daylight hours of Purim. Men send to men and women to women.

It is preferable that the gifts be delivered via a third party. Children, in addition to sending their own gifts of food to their friends, make enthusiastic messengers.

4. Feast!

During the course of Purim day, March 5th, gather your family, maybe invite a guest or two, and celebrate with a festive Purim meal. Traditionally, this meal begins before sundown and lasts well into the evening.

The table should be festively bedecked with a nice tablecloth and candles. Wash for bread or challah, andenjoy a meal featuring meat, wine and plenty of Jewish songs, words of Torah and joyous Purim spirit. Sing, drink, laugh, have fun together.

Note: When Purim falls on a Friday, out of deference to the approaching Shabbat, we start the meal earlier, ideally before midday.

Special Prayers

On Purim, we include the brief V'al Hanissim section in all the day's prayers, as well as in the day's Grace after Meals. This prayer describes the Purim story and thanks G‑d for the "miracles, redemptions, mighty deeds, saving acts and wonders" that He wrought for our ancestors on this day many years ago.

In the morning service, there is a special Torah reading (Exodus 17:8-16), describing the battle Joshua waged against Amalek—Haman's ancestral nation—almost one thousand years before the Purim events unfolded.


On Purim, children—and some adventurous adults, too—traditionally dress in costumes, an allusion to G‑d's hand in the Purim miracle, which was disguised by natural events. Make sure your children masquerade as good, cheerful characters, such as Mordechai and Esther.

Dress up your kids before taking them to the synagogue for the megillah reading. Many synagogues have a masquerade party, along with prizes for the children, during or after the megillah reading.

Shushan Purim

In certain ancient walled cities—Jerusalem is the primary example—Purim is observed not on the 14th of Adar (the date of its observance everywhere else), but on the 15th of Adar. This is to commemorate the fact that in the ancient walled city of Shushan, where the battles between the Jews and their enemies extended for an additional day, the original Purim celebration was held on the 15th of Adar.

The 15th of Adar is thus called “Shushan Purim,” and is a day of joy and celebration also in those places where it is not observed as the actual Purim.

Pre- and Post-Purim Observances

Torah Reading of Zachor

On the Shabbat before Purim (this year, February 28), a special reading is held in the synagogue. We read the Torah section called Zachor (“Remember”), in which we are enjoined to remember the deeds of (the nation of) Amalek (Haman’s ancestor) who sought to destroy the Jewish people.

The Fast of Esther

To commemorate the prayer and fasting that the Jewish people held during the Purim story, we fast on the day before Purim. This year we fast on Wednesday, March 4. The fast begins approximately an hour before sunrise, and lasts until nightfall. Click here for exact times for your location.

The “Half Coins” (Machatzit HaShekel)

It is a tradition to give three coins in “half” denominations—e.g., three half-dollar coins—to charity, to commemorate the half-shekel that each Jew contributed as his share in the communal offerings in the time of the Holy Temple. This custom, usually performed in the synagogue, is done on the afternoon of the “Fast of Esther,” or before the reading of the Megillah.

Shushan Purim

In certain ancient walled cities—Jerusalem is the primary example—Purim is observed not on the 14th of Adar (the date of its observance everywhere else), but on the 15th of Adar. This is to commemorate that fact that in the ancient walled city of Shushan, where the battles between the Jews and their enemies extended for an additional day, the original Purim celebration was held on the 15th of Adar.

The 15th of Adar is thus called “Shushan Purim,” and is a day of joy and celebration also in those places where it is not observed as the actual Purim.

Useful Purim Links:

  • Click here for our mega-Purim site.
  • Here for a global Purim event directory.
  • Here for Purim FAQ.
  • Here for the story of Purim.
  • Here for Purim insight and inspiration.
  • Here for Purim stories.
  • Here for Purim multimedia.
  • Here for our Purim Kids’ Zone.
  • Here for Purim shopping.
  • Here for Purim recipes.
Illustrations by Yehuda Lang. To view more artwork by this artist, click here.
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Discussion (45)
September 10, 2015
to Jim
Sure, as long as the food is kosher. Staff
September 9, 2015
Is it permissible?
I would like to give a Jewish colleague mishloach manot on Purim.
Would that be acceptable, even though I am not Jewish?
Jim C.
New Mexico
March 5, 2015
Thank you Chabad for this useful summary of Purim Mitzvot. Dr John
John Kaplan
Las Vegas, NV
March 4, 2015
what's the difference between shalach manos and mishloach manot?
sue miller
March 3, 2015
Vunderful...we Jews love to endless are all a bissel right!
Elisabeth Gelb
September 3, 2014
The Hebrew says "V'ti lakach Esther". " Esther was taken." Which means by force.
September 2, 2014
There is not even a hint that Esther was taken against her will. In fact the record shows she cooperated fully with Hegai the king's eunuch so as to appear before the king in the best possibly way. Her modesty was completely compromised as she went to spend a night with the king in his bedroom.
March 12, 2014
Jack - Midland Park
Esther was kidnapped and taken to the palace. Mordechai had been hiding her. When the soldiers made a house to house search they found her and took her away. Once there, she did not use makeup or perfumes or wear any of the beautiful clothing that they gave her, so as not to be chosen queen.
March 11, 2014
Historical entries concerning Queen Vashti note that she was eventually re-instated and reigned (again. The half shekel - wasn't it commanded when census (numbering the people) was carried out. King David had a huge personal and national penalty for NOT collecting it. Later, it was used for community offerings within the Temple system. Didn't you love it when the Islamic voices insisted that Starbucks should remove their logo star lady because it was Esther. A Jewish reference which apparently was not to their liking. Starbucks denied the Esther reference.
March 3, 2014
It is indeed our oral tradition that tells us that Vashti was executed. It is common that many details in the story are not specifically mentioned in the text itself.

I have heard a suggestion that perhaps this was not written down because the there was a backlash against Achasverosh after this act. (See Midrash Tehilim 22:26) It took time before it began to be forgotten by the nations and when Esther was appointed things got better still.

When the Megilah was written (still under control of Achashverosh) it would therefore make a lot of sense why they left out this important detail, so as not to bring back memories of this act which caused the king so much trouble.
Yisroel Cotlar
Cary, NC