Your Purim To-Do List
1) Listen to the Megillah
To relive the miraculous events of Purim,listen to the reading of the megillah (theScroll of Esther) twice: once on Purim eve, Saturday night, February 23, and again on Purim day, February 24.
To properly fulfill the mitzvah, it is crucial to hear every single word of the megillah.
At certain points in the reading where Haman’s name is mentioned, it is customary to twirl graggers (Purim noisemakers) and stamp one’s feet to “eradicate” his evil name. Tell the children that Purim is the only time when it’s a mitzvah to make noise!
2) Give to the Needy (Matanot La’Evyonim)
Concern for the needy is a year-round responsibility; but on Purim it is a special mitzvah to remember the poor.
Give charity to at least two (but preferably more) needy individuals on Purim day, February 24.
The mitzvah is best fulfilled by giving directly to the needy. If, however, you cannot find poor people, place at least two coins into a charity box. As with the other mitzvahs of Purim, even small children should be taught to fulfill this mitzvah.
3) Send Food Portions to Friends (Mishloach Manot)
On Purim we emphasize the importance of Jewish unity and friendship by sending gifts of food to friends.
On Purim day, February 24, send a gift of at least two kinds of ready-to-eat foods (e.g., pastry, fruit, beverage) to at least one friend. Men should 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) Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Purim should be celebrated with a special festive meal on Purim day, at which family and friends gather together to rejoice in the Purim spirit. It is a mitzvah to drink wine or other inebriating drinks at this meal.
Special Prayers (Al HaNissim, Torahreading)
On Purim we include the Al HaNissim prayer, which describes the Purim miracle, in the evening, morning and afternoon prayers, as well as in the Grace After Meals. In the morning service there is a special reading from the Torah scroll in the synagogue (Exodus 17:8–16).
Purim Customs: Masquerades and Hamantashen
A time-honored Purim custom is for children todress up and disguise themselves—an allusion to the fact that the miracle of Purim was disguised in natural garments. This is also the significance behind a traditional Purim food, the hamantash—a pastry whose filling is hidden within a three-cornered crust.
Pre- and Post-Purim Observances
Torah Reading of Zachor
On the Shabbat before Purim (this year, February 23), 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 Thursday, February 21. 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.
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.