With respect to Purim, our Sages made special arrangements for dwellers of small villages so that they too should be able to hear the Megillah reading. Permission was granted to read the Megillah for them on the closest Monday or Thursday preceding Purim. This applied when Monday and Thursday were market days, when the villagers would anyways come to town.1 This no longer being the case, the said concession is not applicable nowadays. In that spirit, however, I wish to address some “small town” halachic issues for Purim, as well as some common questions that arise in communities of all sizes.

Taanit Esther

As on other communal fasts, the reader chants the additional blessing of Aneinu in his repetition of the morning and afternoon Amidah. The rest of us incorporate Aneinu into the blessing ending “shome’a tefilah,” and only at Minchah. Also, there is a special reading of the Torah, both morning and afternoon.

On communal fasts, care must be taken to ensure that there are ten men present who are fasting. This requirement being unmet presents an obstacle for adding the blessing of Aneinu, as well for holding Torah reading.2

Megillah Reading in a Small Group

There is definitely a priority to hear the Megillah read among a large group. But what if there is no minyan? The Shulchan Aruch rules that – if possible – each individual should read the Megillah on his own, from a kosher Megillah.3 The Magen Avraham allows one of the group to read while the others will listen.4 At the end of the Megillah reading, the reader recites a long blessing (Horov Et Riveinu). The prevalent custom is that at a Megillah reading without a Minyan, this blessing is not recited.

When There is No Megillah: Hearing the Megillah over the telephone is not valid. Technology may do a pretty good job at replicating the human voice, but to fulfill the mitzvah one has to hear the actual human voice.5

A number of years ago, I was contacted by a very conscientious woman. She had been stuck in Mauritius for several months, and it looked like she would be there over Purim. As there were no practicing Jews on the island that she knew of, she asked whether we could send her a Megillah in English by fax, so she would be able to fulfill the mitzvah of reading the Megillah on Purim.

Now, the Talmud allows reading of the Megillah for foreigners in their foreign language.6 However, this is not generally followed today. Obviously, there would be no harm if she would read the Megillah in English (save for the few words that we’re not sure of their translation, which she would need to read in Hebrew).

I was, however, of the opinion that she should not say the blessings before her reading her fax-Megillah. This was because of the Halachic requirements for a Megillah to be handwritten, on parchment etc.

Daydreaming: Some rule that, although it is not imperative that one knows the translation of each word of the Megillah as it is read, one is obliged to listen to each word. Thus, daydreaming during Megillah reading presents a problem. It is therefore recommended to follow the reading from a Megillah—if possible, a kosher, handwritten Megillah. This would allow the listener to mouth the words quietly along with the reader. Possibly, even following the reading with one’s eyes word-for-word in a printed Megillah will serve as a solution for the daydreamer.7

Mishloach Manot

Two main reasons are given for this Mitzvah:

  1. To enhance one’s fellow’s Purim feast;
  2. To express friendship to one’s fellow.

There are numerous practical differences between these two approaches, one being:

A wealthy person named Reuven has a friend called Shimon, who lives just above the poverty line. Let’s say that Reuven sent Shimon mishloach manot consisting of quite basic foods. He may have enhanced Shimon’s Purim feast, but if it is to be an expression of friendship, then it needed to be significant on Reuven’s level too.

(I heard that many Chassidim would send mishloach manot to the house of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Typically, these were beautifully prepared with much thought and care, and they would be displayed on the table, so that when the Rebbe came home he would see the various presentations, after which most of the contents were sent to the yeshivah, for the students to enjoy. One year, a simple student from Eretz Yisrael decided that he, too, wished to give the Rebbe mishloach manot. All he could afford was an orange and a cookie, which he placed in a plain brown paper bag. That year, as the Rebbe scanned the table at home, he noticed the plain paper bag and declared: “This one we will use for our Purim feast!”)

Cellophane: It bears mentioning that plastic-free mishloach manot are valid, and that with as much gift-wrapping as may be, there must still be two portions of food, or a portion of food and a portion of drink. (I don’t think a water bottle counts.) I mention this because last year, an out-of-towner sent us a mishloach manot via a local gift-shop. This was comprised of a beautiful dish and a bottle of wine. I’m sure that my out-of-town friend gave many mishloach manot packages, but this one fell short of the halachic minimum.

Tevilat Keilim: It is now fashionable to display foods on flat sheets of glass or on mirror tiles. One sending mishloach manot in new dishes is not obliged to immerse those dishes in a mikvah. The recipient, however, may not reuse those dishes before having immersed them in a kosher mikvah. This includes mirror tiles or other glass presentation sheets.

Matanot Laevyonim

The Hebrew words evyon and ani denote two levels of poverty: perhaps “destitute” vs “needy.” Some maintain that the mitzvah of Purim is to donate to evyonim. Others rule that this Mitzvah is equally fulfilled by giving to an ani, one who is needy. This would include one whose income doesn’t suffice to cover his or her family’s regular needs, and has no assets that could be sold to raise the necessary funds. Similarly, one whose income suffices on a regular basis, but has been confronted with exceptional expenses, e.g. health issues or marrying off a child, would qualify as an ani.8