When Purim falls on a Sunday, the holiday begins at the close of Shabbat, on Saturday night. This brings up a number of practical considerations.

First, one must be careful not to violate the Shabbat with Purim preparations. The Talmud tells us that Queen Vashti was killed by her husband because she forced her young Jewish maids to desecrate the Shabbat.1 Vashti’s demise led to Esther’s being appointed queen, and ultimately saved the Jewish nation. With this in mind, we should be extra careful not transgress Shabbat on account of Purim.

This means:

  1. Items such as megillahs, noisemakers (graggers) and reading glasses that you may need at the megillah reading on Saturday night should be brought to the synagogue before Shabbat. Do so even if your community has an eruv, because we refrain from carrying anything on Shabbat for use after Shabbat.
    Note: If you are driving or bringing items to the synagogue after Shabbat, you should perform the havdalah ceremony first, or at least say the words “Blessed be He who separates between the sacred and the profane.”
  1. All preparations for mishloach manot (gifts of food) and the festive meal should be done either before Shabbat or on Purim itself. One should not prepare anything on Shabbat that isn’t needed for the Shabbat day.

Fast of Esther

Haman’s decree to annihilate the Jewish nation was scheduled to be enacted on the 13th of the Jewish month of Adar, the day before we celebrate Purim. When the decree was transformed and the Jews were able to defend themselves, the sages of Israel instituted the day of battle as a fast day, called Taanit Esther, the Fast of Esther.

When the 13th of Adar falls on Shabbat, a day of joy and pleasure, we fast on the preceding Thursday, since fasting and extra prayer on Friday would interfere with the Shabbat preparations.2

In commemoration of the half-shekel coin that each person contributed when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, it is customary to give three coins in “half” denominations (e.g., three half-dollar coins) to charity on the day of the Fast of Esther before the afternoon prayer service. These coins are known as machatzit hashekel. When the Fast of Esther is observed on Thursday, most still give the coins then. Some, however, have the custom to give them on the day of Purim itself.

For more, see Fast of Esther and Shekalim.