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Purim How-To Guide

Purim How-To Guide

Your 2018 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

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Editor’s Note
Purim begins Wednesday night, February 28 and continues through Thursday, March 1, 2018 (March 2 in Jerusalem). 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 antisemitic 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 its 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, February 28 and Thursday, March 1, 2018. Pay attention—it is crucial to hear every word.

When Haman’s name is mentioned (Chabad custom is that this is only when it is 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 LaEvyonim)

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 2. 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 2, 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 2, 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, and enjoy 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.

Masquerade!

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.

Pre- and Post-Purim Observances

Torah Reading of Zachor

On the Shabbat before Purim (this year, February 24), 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, February 28. 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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Anonymous March 12, 2017

Amen! Super helpful! Thanks for posting! Reply

Dori Bulgaria March 11, 2017

Very interesting story about how to celebrate this Purim festival, which I liked very much! I really enjoying all of these beautiful stories and now when I have some more information about this festival I will celebrated with my friends together! Reply

Alan Herman Jerusalem March 3, 2017

Purim Candle Lighting Apparently after reading relevant sources, although we celebrate with light as the Megillah Esther says, we do not light candles to mark the start of Purim because it is not mentioned in the Torah. The Megillah of course is still part of the Bible, in the Writings. Reply

Steve March 2, 2017

How do you follow all these rules and regulations? You should go to heaven after remembering and following all the rules and regulations! Reply

Wendy Horton Covina February 12, 2017

I love this 😚 Reply

Alan Herman Jeusalem March 23, 2016

Unless you are in Jerusalem. Then we dress up and clown around Thursday night and next day, and start the Seudah next day earlier because Kabbalat Shabbat is approaching. Reply

Diane Albuquerque, NM USA March 22, 2016

Thanks for the tips! Yes, we will go to our local Chabad for hearing the Megillah and having a Hawaiian meal:)
We don't know who we would give mishloach manot. We have no Jewish neighbors, and don't have kosher items to give anyone. I did make my own hamentashen since can't buy them here.
I assume if I give a donation to Chabad, it will find its way to a needy family.
I hate costumes, and being members of AA for years, we won't be getting drunk.

My question is that no where does it say to light candles. If no candles lit like other Yom Tov, why is that? Even on Pesach and Sukkot, we light candles like Shabbat. I realize Chanukah is different with the menorah, but there is always a Shabbat to light candles. Why is Purim different?

Looking forward to spending Thursday afternoon at Chabad. If it weren't for Chabad here, there is nothing but Reform & Conservative.
Kol Hakavod to the Rebbe for bringing Torah Judaism to places where there is none. Chag Pesach Sameach to Chabad.org! I've learned so much! Reply

Chabad.org Staff via chabadone.org March 2, 2016

To Anonymous Purim starts Wednesday night in 2016 and lasts for the next 24 hours. Kids and adults are welcome to dress up Wednesday night, Thursday day or both! Reply

Anonymous ohio March 1, 2016

when do the kids dress up? wednesday night or thursday night? Reply

Chabad.org Staff via chabadone.org September 10, 2015

to Jim Sure, as long as the food is kosher. Reply

Jim C. New Mexico 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? Reply

John Kaplan Las Vegas, NV March 5, 2015

Thank you Chabad for this useful summary of Purim Mitzvot. Dr John Reply

sue miller fl March 4, 2015

what's the difference between shalach manos and mishloach manot? Reply

Elisabeth Gelb victoria March 3, 2015

Vunderful...we Jews love to endless debate...you are all a bissel right! Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem September 3, 2014

Esther The Hebrew says "V'ti lakach Esther". " Esther was taken." Which means by force. Reply

Glenn Alliance 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. Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem 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. Reply

Emunah USA 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. Reply

Yisroel Cotlar Cary, NC March 3, 2014

Vashti 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. Reply

Jack Midland Park February 20, 2014

Esther in beauty contest A year later, I am still waiting for an answer to my Feb 20, 2013 message. Reply

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