One of the four mitzvahs of Purim is to give matanot la’evyonim, “presents to [two] poor people.”1

What are the basics?

The obligation is to give a “present” to two different poor people, which can include money or food. The poor person should receive the gift by Purim and should be able to use it toward his Purim meal, although he need not actually use it.2

Who is obligated?

Both men and women are obligated to give matanot la'evyonim.3 Children who have reached the age of education (5-6, depending on the child) should be taught to do this mitzvah as well.4

Are the poor obligated to give?

Yes, even the poor are obligated to give. In fact, poor people may give money (or food, see below) to each other in order to fulfill this mitzvah and thereby minimize any loss.5

How much to give?

The minimum amount one can give is two prutot (the equivalent of a few cents, as explained in this footnote6) each to two poor people.7

Others are of the opinion that one should give enough to purchase a small meal the size of three eggs (165 grams), which is about three slices of bread.8 Some define this as the amount a bagel/roll and a drink would cost. Others contend that it must be able to purchase a respectable festive meal that could bring joy to the receiver.9

Although the basic halachah follows the first opinion, if one is able, it is proper to try to give more, following the stricter opinions.

Can I use maaser (tithe) money?

No. As is the case with all mitzvahs, one cannot use maaser money to fulfill one's obligation. However, once you have discharged your obligation (see above), you can distribute maaser money among poor people.10

Who is considered “poor”?

The mitzvah is to give to two evyonim, “poor” Jewish people.11 So giving to a synagogue or a school is a great mitzvah, but it is not included in this mitzvah.

Ideally, one should give to a fellow Jew who doesn’t have enough money to buy food for Purim. However, according to most opinions, any person who cannot afford basic necessities for themselves and their household, and has no unused property or items that can be sold, also qualifies. For example, if one has exorbitant medical expenses that they have no way of paying, he is also considered poor and may receive matanot la’evyonim.12

What if someone fakes poverty?

The halachah is that one is not supposed to be exacting with their money on Purim. Rather, one should “give to anyone who extends their hands in need.”13 Many infer from this that as long as you gave under the impression that the recipient was truly in need, you fulfilled your obligation.14 Nevertheless, if you did somehow find out on Purim that you had been fooled, then you should give to another (truly poor) person.

Am I obligated to give “all who ask”?

On Purim “one should give to anyone who extends their hands in need.” This, however, is limited to actual poor people asking for help, not necessarily organizations (although, of course, it is also good to give if you can). As mentioned, once you have fulfilled the mitzvah of the day, any additional charity can be taken from one’s maaser.

When to give?

The mitzvah is to give on Purim day, not night.15 According to the Kabbalists, matanot la’evyonim should ideally be given after the daytime reading of the Megillah.16 In fact, one should have this mitzvah (as well the Purim feast and giving mishloach manot) in mind during the Shehecheyanu blessing recited before the daytime reading of the Megillah.17

Can I give matanot la’evyonim Purim eve or night?

One does not generally fulfill his obligation by giving it Purim night (see below).18

Can I give it before Purim?

There is a concern that if you give this gift to the pauper before Purim, he may use it before Purim day and you would not have fulfilled your obligation. If you are sure that the pauper will save the gift until Purim (such as if you gave the money with this stipulation), many are of the opinion that you have fulfilled your obligation.19

A better way to go about this would be to appoint a messenger or give through an organization that will give the funds to the needy on Purim day on your behalf.20

The ideal thing would be for you to give the funds to an organization on Purim itself that will quickly distribute the funds on Purim.

Can I give on Purim to be distributed on Shushan Purim in Jerusalem?

According to most opinions, if you sent the money or gave it to an organization on 14 Adar, when it is Purim for you, but it will only be received on Shushan Purim by the poor of Jerusalem on 15 Adar, their Purim, you have fulfilled the mitzvah.21

What if it's late on Purim and there are no poor folk around?

In a pinch, you can set the money aside or put it in a charity box earmarked to be given to the poor at a later date. Ideally, however, if you know you will be in this situation, you should make arrangements in advance with an organization that will distribute the money for you on Purim. Additionally, as mentioned above, there are organizations that specifically distribute charity to the poor of Jerusalem on the 15th, so even if it’s late in the day on the 14th, you can give to them and still have fulfilled the mitzvah in a more ideal way.22