The Laws of Purim - Keriat Ha-megilla
the laws of THE FESTIVALS
THE LAWS OF PURIM
In memory of Yissachar Dov Shmuel bar Yakov Yehuda Illoway
and Leah Ruth Illoway bat Natan Naso Jacobs
Shiur #17: The Laws of Purim
Rav David Brofsky
Rav said: The Megilla, when
read in its proper time, may be read even by an individual; when read in a
different time (i.e. on the 11th 13th of Adar, as
described by the Mishna Megilla 2a) it must be read in the presence of ten. R.
Assi said: Regardless of whether it is read in its proper time or not, it must
be read in the presence of ten.
Some Rishonim (Behag, Yereim,
R. Amram and R. Gershom, as cited by Hagahot Maynoniyot, Hilkhot Megilla
1:10) rule in accordance with R. Assi, and maintain the one who reads the
Megilla alone should not even recite the berakhot before the Megilla! Most Rishonim, however,
adopt Ravs lenient view, and this is the position codified in the Shulchan
Another question arises concerning the
scope of the debate between Rav and R. Assi. Do Rav and R. Assi both agree that
be-diavad (after the fact)
one who reads the Megilla alone has certainly fulfilled his obligation,
but disagree as to whether there is a preference to read the Megilla in a
quorum? Or, do they disagree on the level of be-diavad, such that
according to R. Assi, one who reads without a quorum has not fulfilled his
obligation at all?
The Beit Yosef (690) cites the
Rosh (Megilla 1:6) and Rashi (5a s.v. R. Assi) who explain that R.
Assi stated his opinion only on the level of le-khatechila (the preferred
standard). According to Rav, then,
there is not even any preference to read the Megilla with a quorum. This
is also the view of the Ba'al Ha-maor (
The Behag, however, disagrees, and
explains that R. Assi in fact disqualifies a Megilla reading conducted privately, and Rav
maintains that one should preferably read with a quorum. Some attribute
this understanding to the
Apparently, R. Assi held that one must
actively create a proper environment of pirsumei nisa (publicizing the
miracle) by reading the Megilla with a quorum, either le-khatchila
(Rashi, Rosh, Baal Ha-maor) or even be-diavad (Behag, and
possibly Rif and Rambam). Rav, however, maintains that reading on the proper
day, when everyone else reads, provides sufficient pirsumei nisa to
justify reading alone, perhaps even le-khatechila.
Interestingly, the Orchot
Chayim (Hilkhot Megilla 24) cites the Raavad as ruling that while
one should preferably read the Megiila in the presence of ten, he may
read alone if the others have already heard the reading. The Raavad explains
that a person in this case may read privately because "there was already a
publicizing in the city through the public reading." In other words, while the
day of Purim itself does not generate enough pirsumei nisa to justify
reading the Megilla privately (le-khatechila), once the Megilla
has been publicly read in the city, then the desired pirsumei nisa has
been achieved and one may then read alone.
To what extent, and at what cost, should one maximize the pirsumei
nisa aspect of ones Megilla reading? The Arukh Ha-shulchan
(690:25) writes that it is customary to endeavor to hear the Megilla read
with a quorum, and "the larger the congregation, the greater the hiddur
[enhancement of the mitzva], as 'the glory of the King is in
the multitude of the people' ("be-rov am hadrat melekh" - Mishlei 4:28)."
He notes, however, that if one cannot hear the Megilla properly in the synagogue because of the
noise, then it may be preferable to gather ten people and read the
Megilla at home. We will return to this point when we discuss the custom
to make noise upon hearing Hamans name.
The Times for the Megilla Reading
The Gemara in Megilla (4a) teaches
that one must read the Megilla both at night and during the
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: A person
is obligated to read the Megilla at night and to read it again during the
day, as the verse states (Tehillim 22:3), "My Lord, I cry by day but You do not
answer, and by night but have no respite." It was similarly stated by Rabbi
Chelbo in the name of Ulla of Bira: A person is obligated to read the
Megilla at night and to read it again during the day, as the verse states
(Tehillim 30:13), "In order that my soul may sing praises to You and not be
silent; Hashem, my Lord, I will forever be grateful to You."
One might question the nature of these
two readings and their relationship to one another. Are these two readings
identical in nature, and the Gemara simply teaches that one should perform the
same mitzva twice, or are they two distinct obligations, each with its
own source and nature? In presenting this halakha, the Gemara employs the
term "ve-leshanota," which literally means "to repeat, perhaps
indicating that these two readings are indeed identical.
We might begin by examining a debate
among the Rishonim as to whether the berakha of
she-hechiyanu should be repeated before the daytime reading. Rabbeinu Tam
(cited by the Rosh 1:6) and the Ri (in Tosafot s.v. chayav) rule
that she-hechiyanu should indeed be repeated during the day. The Rambam
(Hilkhot Megilla 1:3) and Rashbam (cited in the Mordekhai, Megilla 781)
disagree, and rule that one should recite she-hechiyanu only before the
Seemingly, the Rambam and Rashbam
believe that although one reads the Megilla twice, the second reading
simply repeats the first mitzva, and therefore does not warrant an
additional recitation of she-hechiyanu. Rabbeinu Tam and the Ri, by
contrast, apparently maintain that the second reading deserves its own
berakha as it is something more than a repeat performance of the first
According to this view of Rabbeinu Tam
and the Ri, why and how would the daytime reading differ from the nighttime
Some suggest that the daytime reading
contains an additional dimension which is lacking in the nighttime reading.
Tosafot, for example, writes:
Even though one has recited
zeman [the berakha of she-hechiyanu] at night, he
repeats the berakha during the day because the primary expression of
pirsumei nisa (the publicizing of the miracle) occurs at the daytime
reading. The verse implies this as well, as it says, "by night but have no
respite" in other words, even though one reads during the day, he must still
read at night. The primary reading is during the day, as the main festive meal
is during the day
According to Tosafot, the additional
focus upon pirsumei nisa adds a special dimension to the daytime reading.
The Rosh adds that "the primary pirsumei nisa occurs during the day,
during the time of the festive meal, as well as the matanot la-evyonim
and mishloach manot." Apparently, as the distribution of the matanot
la-evyonim and mishloach manot, and the festive meal, all occur by
day, the pirsumei nisa is most effectively expressed during the day of
Purim, and it therefore lends its character to the day's reading of the
Others note that the nighttime and
daytime readings of the Megilla may also originate from different sources. R.
Yechezkel Landau, for example, in his Noda Bi-yehuda (Mahadura
Kama, O.C. 41), suggests that while the morning reading was established by
the prophets, and is therefore categorized as divrei kabala (originating
from prophetic revelation), the nighttime reading was enacted later by the
In a previous shiur (http://vbm-torah.org/archive/moadim69/15-69moed.htm), we noted that for these reasons, some distinguish between the daytime and nighttime readings, suggesting that they differ in content, or in level of obligation. For example, R. Chanokh Henikh Agus, in his Marcheshet (1:22:9), posited that through the daytime reading one fulfills two mitzvot: pisumei nisa and hallel. The hallel component of Megilla most likely applies only by day, when hallel is generally read. The Marcheshet applies this distinction to the issue of whether a woman may read the Megilla on behalf of a man. The Behag rules that a woman cannot discharge a man's obligation of Megilla, and the Marcheshet explained that this is because women are exempt from the hallel component of Megilla. Accordingly, he writes that, at least theoretically, a woman should be able to read the Megilla for a man on Purim night, when their obligations are identical.
As we saw, R. Tzvi Pesach Frank (Mikraei Kodesh Purim, 29) offered a different reason why a woman might be able to read for a man at night, even according to the Behag. He cites R. Aryeh Leib ben Asher Ginzburg (1695-1785) as contending (in his Turei Even, Megilla 4a, s.v. nashim) that while a man's obligation in Megilla originates from divrei kaballa, a woman's obligation, which is based upon the principle of af hein hayu be-oto ha-neis, is rabbinic in origin, and thus a lower level of obligation. For this reason, he explains, a woman cannot discharge the higher obligation of a man. Based upon this distinction, R. Tzvi Pesach suggested that men and women might share the same level of obligation on Purim night, when Megilla reading constitutes only a Rabbinic obligation, and therefore a woman would be able to read the Megilla for men at night! We already noted that these suggestions were made in the context of theoretical Talmudic discourse, regarding one interpretation of the Behag, and therefore should bare to practical relevance.
Another possible indication of the
different levels of obligation between the nighttime and daytime readings
appears in the Ran (
The Shulchan Arukh (692:1)
rules in accordance with the Rambam, that one should not recite
she-hechiyanu before the daytime reading, and this is the practice of
Sefaradim. Ashkenazim, however,
follow the ruling of the Rema (ibid.), in accordance with Rabbeinu Tam and the
Ri, that one should repeat the berakha during the day.
The Magen Avraham (1) cites the
Shelah as recommending that an announcement be made before the reader recites
the berakhot that everyone should have the seudat Purim and
mishloach manot in mind when reciting or hearing she-hechiyanu.
Sefaradim, who recite she-hechiyanu only once, before the evening
reading, should have this in mind at night, while Ashkenazim, who repeat this
berakha before the morning reading, should have this in mind during the
recitation of she-hechiyanu before the morning reading.
(Interestingly, the Beiur
Halakha discusses whether the occasion of Purim itself mandates reciting
she-hechiyanu, as do the other festivals. We discussed this issue
previously (http://vbm-torah.org/archive/moadim69/12-69moed.htm) in
addressing the question of whether one who cannot light Chanukah candles should
still recite she-hechiyanu.)
Regarding the proper time for the
evening reading, it is certainly preferable to wait until nightfall (tzeit
ha-kokhavim) to read the Megilla. The Raavad (Rif; Megilla 3a),
however, records the custom in
Based on these Rishonim, the
Shulchan Arukh (692:4) rules that one who is unable to hear the
Megilla at night may read it, with its berakhot, already from
pelag ha-mincha. The Peri Chadash (687) disagrees, and insists
that one who reads the Megilla before tzeit ha-kokhavim should
repeat it after nightfall with the berakhot!
Interestingly, R. Ovadya Yosef
(Yabia Omer, O.C. 1:43), in a response written in Adar of 1947, relates
that during the period of the British Mandate, before the establishment of the
State of Israel, the Mandatory authorities imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew,
violators of which were liable to execution. R. Yosef was asked whether people
who were unable to hear the Megilla after tzeit ha-kokhavim due to
the curfew could read it during the previous day.
He concludes that the extenuating
circumstances warranted acting leniently, and thus communities should hold
public readings on the thirteenth of Adar, before dark, and read the
Megilla with its berakhot.
One may not eat on Purim night or on
Purim morning before fulfilling the mitzva of Megilla reading
(Shulchan Arukh 682:4). This halakha might pose some difficulty on
Purim night, which follows the fast of Taanit Ester. Moreover, many married
women who are unable to hear the Megilla reading immediately at
nightfall, and fulfill the mitzva after their husbands return from
synagogue, might have difficulty fasting until after hearing the
The Magen Avraham writes that
fundamentally, Halakha forbids only eating a substantial quantity (a
ke-beitza) of bread or cake before Megilla reading. When necessary, therefore,
one may be lenient and partake of drinks, foods other than bread and cake, or
less than a ke-beitza of
cake before hearing the Megilla. The Acharonim write that
one who has great difficulty fasting should certainly eat and drink in small quantities before Megilla
reading, rather than read
the Megilla before nightfall. If a small amount doesn't suffice, one
should eat a meal and ask a friend to remind him to attend the Megilla
reading (Mishna Berura 692:16).
Regarding the daytime reading of the
Megilla, one should preferably read the Megilla only after sunrise
(netz ha-chama), though one who reads after dawn (alot ha-shachar)
has fulfilled his obligation.
The Berakhot Recited Before and After Megilla Reading
As mentioned above, the Megilla
reading is preceded by three berakhot: the birkat ha-mitzva
(al mikra megilla), the birkat ha-nissim (she-asa
nissim), and the birkat ha-zman (she-hechiyanu).
The authorities note that the Megilla scroll should preferably not be
read in the same manner as the Torah, which one rolls as he goes along. R. Hai
Gaon, as cited by numerous Rishonim, records the custom to fold the
Megilla like a letter, reminiscent of the Purim story, which featured the
sending of letters throughout the
The Gemara (Megilla 21a) relates that the recitation of the final
berakha of ha-rav et riveinu after the reading of the
Megilla is dependent upon communal custom.
What is the nature of this
Some assert that ha-rav et
riveinu was instituted not for the Megilla reading, but rather as a
birkat ha-shevach a berakha of praise for the Purim miracle.
The Ran (12a in
The Ritva (Megilla 21b) cites this
view, but subsequently rejects it. The Avudraham (Hilkhot Birkat
Ha-mitzvot) similarly dismisses the Rans theory, and advances the following
The reason why they established a
berakha after all mitzvot fulfilled through reading both
readings which are required by Torah law, such as the shema reading, and
readings ordained by the Sages, such as reading the Megilla, reading
hallel, the haftara and pesukei de-zimra more so than
other mitzvot, is because we learned that the public reading of the Torah
must be followed by a berakha through a kal ve-chomer" [a
fortiori deduction] from birkat ha-mazon, and they therefore established
that ALL mitzvot fulfilled through reading should be followed by a
berakha, like the public Torah reading.
According to the Avudraham, ha-rav
et riveinu indeed relates to the
Megilla reading, as the Sages specifically
instituted that this berakha be recited at the conclusion of the
The Arukh Ha-shulchan (5)
explains that this berakha is not inherently related to the reading of
the Megilla per se, but rather is a berakha of pirsumei
nisa, which should therefore be recited publicly.
We have thus identified two approaches
to the berakha of ha-rav et riveinu. Some view it as an
independent berakha commemorating the miraculous events of Purim, while
others explain that it was instituted to conclude the reading of the
Megilla, just as we conclude hallel, haftarot, and
pesukei de-zimra with a berakha.
These two approaches might yield some interesting practical
1. The Shulchan Arukh (690:17)
writes that upon completing the Megilla reading, one should roll the
Megilla and then recite the berakha of ha-rav et
The Maharil (56) explains that it is
disrespectful to leave the Megilla open unnecessarily, and he even
criticized a reader who began reciting the berakha before rolling the Megilla. Conversely, the Magen
Avraham (690:19) distinguishes between this berakha and the
berakhot recited after the haftara reading, which one should
specifically recite while the haftara scroll is still open (Shulchan
Arukh 284:6). He explains that since the berakha of ha-rav et
riveinu was not instituted upon the reading of the Megilla, one may,
or even should, roll up the Megilla before reciting it. He even concludes
(20) that one may, if he wishes, recite the berakha first and then
afterwards roll the Megilla.
Interestingly, the Eshel Avraham (Butshash) writes that only the reader should roll the Megilla before reciting ha-rav et riveinu, while the listeners may recite the berakha and then roll their scrolls. Of course, this assumes that even the listeners recited ha-rav et riveinu individually (as opposed to the common practice that only the reader recites this berakha). In any event, the Eshel Avraham comments that it may be preferable for the listeners to recite the berakha before rolling their scrolls so that the berakha immediately follows the reading.
Seemingly, these Acharonim may disagree as to whether the
berakha relates to the Megilla reading, or if it functions as an
independent berakha praising God for the miracles of Purim (Magen
2. Similarly, the authorities debate
the question of whether one may speak between the reading of the Megilla
and the recitation of ha-rav et riveinu.
The Tur cites the Ba'al
Ha-itturs comment that "since the final berakha is dependent upon
local custom, one should not criticize one who talks between the reading [and
" The Beit Yosef and Bach explain that since
the berakha was instituted over the miracle of Purim, and not the reading
of the Megilla, interruptions are allowed in between the reading and the
The Tur (692), however,
disagrees, arguing that if one indeed recites ha-rav et riveinu, then he should not
interrupt between the reading and the berakha. The Bach explains that
Tur viewed ha-rav et riveinu as a berakha which concludes
the reading of the Megilla, similar to the berakha of
yishtabach which concludes pesukei de-zimra. Therefore, one should not interrupt
between the Megilla reading and the berakha.
3. May one recite the berakha of ha-rav et riveinu
without a quorum? The Beit Yosef (692) cites the Orchot Chayim
(Hilkhot Megilla 7), who asserts that according to the Talmud Yerushalmi
(4:1), one should recite this berakha only "be-tzibbur in the
presence of a quorum. The Rema (692:1) cites this view, as well.
One might suggest that it the
berakha merely concludes the reading of the Megilla, than just as
the Megilla may be read without a quorum (when it is read in the proper
time), ha-rav et riveinu may similarly be recited privately. Conversely,
if the berakha was instituted in order to publicize the miracle, then we
should likely limit its recitation to public forums, where the miracle is
properly publicized. The Arukh Ha-shulchan (692:5) indeed explains the
Rema in this manner.
In truth, however, one might dispute
this reasoning. On the one hand, one might suggest that the berakha was
instituted specifically as the conclusion of a public Megilla reading,
which may differ qualitatively from a private reading. On the other hand, even
if the berakha was instituted to publicize the miracle and to offer
thanksgiving, one may still be able to recite it privately.
The Eliya Rabba (692:8) cites numerous authorities who disagree with the Orchot Chayims position, and he rules that even an individual may recite ha-rav et riveinu. The Biur Ha-gra also implies that the berakha may be recited without a quorum. The Biur Halakha, however, concludes that since reciting the berakha is in any event only a custom, and generally we follow the rule of safek berakhot le-hakel (we refrain from reciting berakhot in situations of doubt), an individual should not recite this berakha. The Arukh Ha-shulchan (ibid.), by contrast, allows reciting the berakha even privately. For one thing, he writes, he was unable to locate the passage in the Yerushalmi that was cited as the source for this halakha (possibly because the Yerushalmi may not have referred to ha-rav et riveinu at all, as noted by the Vilna Gaon). Additionally, the requirement of a quorum for the berakha of ha-rav et riveinu does not appear in the writings of any other Rishonim, and, thirdly, the custom was to recite the berakha even without a quorum.
Regarding this quorum which may be
preferable or even required in certain circumstances, in a previous shiur
(http://vbm-torah.org/archive/moadim69/15-69moed.htm) we questioned whether
Halakha here refers to a minyan, which generally consists of ten
males, or even to ten women, who may comprise a community. This question would impact upon the
issue of whether ha-rav et riveinu should be recited at a reading for
women (regardless of whether the Megilla is read by a man or a
The Shulchan Arukh (692:1)
records that nowadays it is customary for all communities to recite this
Let us briefly review a number of the
practical halakhot relevant to the reading of the
Generally, one who fulfills a
mitzva through the reading of a text, such as keriat shema,
should preferably hear his recitation, though be-diavad (after the
fact), if one did not hear what he recited, he has nevertheless fulfilled his
obligation. With regard to the Megilla reading, however, the Beit
Yosef (689) cites the
The Mishna (Megilla 17a) teaches that
one who reads the verses of the Megilla out of order has not fulfilled
his obligation; this halakha is codified in the Shulchan Arukh
(690:6). Therefore, one who arrives late to a Megilla reading should not
simply listen until the end and then read the part which he missed. Rather, he
should recite the berakhot, and then read from a printed Tanakh until he
catches up to the reader, at which point he should listen to the reader. Assuming he catches up before the reader
has read more than half the Megilla, he fulfills his obligation despite
having read part of the Megilla from a printed text.
The Tur (690), citing the
Talmud Yerushalmi (Megilla 2:2), teaches that we do not correct the reader for
certain mistakes. The Ran (
The Rashba (Teshuvot 467) and
Preferably, one should not speak at
all throughout the entire Megilla reading. The laws of interruption for
Megilla are similar to those of interrupting during keriat shema,
as we discussed elsewhere (http://vbm-torah.org/archive/tefila/67-10tefila.htm).
One who interrupted should read the verses which he missed from a Tanakh, as
The Gemara (Megilla 16b) teaches that
one should read the sons of Haman (Esther 9:7-10) in a single breath
(Shulchan Arukh 690:15), in order to demonstrate that they were all
killed together. It is customary to begin the breath from the words chamesh
meot ish and to conclude with the word aseret. Tosafot note that
one who did not read these verses in a single breath has nevertheless fulfilled
It is customary for the congregation
to read the four verses of redemption (2:4, 8:15, 8:16. 10:3) out loud, and
then for the reader to repeat them (Rema 690:14). It is also customary for the reader,
when reciting the verse ba-layla ha-hu (Esther 6:1), which relates how
the king could not sleep, to raise his voice, hinting to the dual meaning of
the word ha-melekh (the king). Some also gently raise or shake the
Megilla when reading the words ha-igerret ha-zot
There are some phrases that the reader
repeats, with slight changes, in consideration of divergent texts (Esther 8:11,
9:2). Some repeat the entire verse instead of just the phrase in
One of the customs most prominently
associated with the reading of the Megilla is the custom to make noise
upon hearing Hamans name, which appears fifty-four times in the Megillat Ester.
. This practice appears as early as the twelfth century. R. Avraham b. Natan
Ha-yarchi, in his Sefer Ha-manhig, writes:
The custom of the children in France
and Provence is to take two stones, to write upon them the name of Haman, and to
hit them against each other when the reader mentions Haman and his evil [deeds],
and Let the names of the wicked rot (Mishlei 10:7).
This practice met with considerable
opposition. Some expressed concern that the noise may prevent the congregants
from fulfilling their obligation to hear every word of the Megilla.
Others objected to the apparent violation of synagogue decorum. Many note that
the Maharil, for example, reportedly did not make noise during the reading of
Hamans name (Sefer Maharil, Minhagim). In 1783, a riot nearly erupted in
The Rema (690:17) records this custom,
and concludes, One should not mock this custom, as it was not established
Some have accepted additional
stringencies upon themselves, and attempt to drown out other phrases in the
Megilla besides Haman. There
are those who jokingly jeer upon hearing the word mas (taxes - 10:1),
and there are reports of certain anti-Zionist sects who make noise when the
reader reads the word medina (state)!
As mentioned, there were halakhic
authorities who expressed concern over the possibility that congregants will not
properly hear each word of the Megilla as a result of this custom. Each
community must find a proper balance between the desire to retain this ancient
custom and the concern that the congregation properly fulfills the mitzva
of keriat ha-megilla.
Next week we will conclude our study of the laws of Purim, as we discuss the festive Purim meal, mishloach manot and matanot la-evyonim.