Keeping a Store Open on Purim
Question: May I keep my store open on Purim?
Answer: This is really two questions: (1) Does the halacha permit working on Purim? and (2) If it does, is it proper and advisable to work on Purim?
The Gemara (Megilla 5B) concludes that Purim is not a Yom Tov so there is no prohibition on work. However the Gemara states that one who works on Purim will not see blessing (a siman bracha) from his efforts. The reason is that even though there is no formal prohibition, working on Purim is not proper (See Gra 696, 1)
Many Rishonim say that one who works on Purim will not only not profit from his labors, he will even lose his original investment. This is based (see Beis Yosef siman 696) on an incident recorded in the Gemara in which Rav cursed a farmer who planted flax on Purim. Not only did his planting fail to produce a new crop of flax, but even the seed he planted was lost. This example proves the contention that one who works on Purim even loses his initial investment.
Other Rishonim differ. They say that while one will not profit from work on Purim, he won’t necessarily lose either.
To fully answer your question one must understand why working or doing business on Purim is improper. The reason is because Purim is a day of happiness, and working or doing business generally detracts from the joyous mood we are supposed to maintain. Therefore, work which is consistent with the spirit of the day is permitted even if one will derive benefit from this work. The Gemara relates that on Purim, Rebbi constructed a structure that enhanced his happiness.
Thus, the Shulhan Aruch (696,1) rules that it is permissible and appropriate to plant a garden or build a wedding hall on Purim. In a similar manner, the Terumas Hadeshen (1, 112) writes that one may sew a costume on Purim day.
Therefore, if your store sells Purim food or Purim supplies or anything else that a person would be happy to purchase on Purim you may keep your store open and even benefit from your labors. Furthermore, the Taz (696, 1) and some other Poskim rule that any commercial activity is conducive to a spirit of joy and is permissible on Purim. Thus, the Oruch HaShulchan (696, 2) writes that it was customary in his time to open stores on Purim. However, he adds that those who are careful in their observance of halacha would close their stores early or not open them at all. It appears that he is referring to stores that don’t sell items that relate to the holiday. The Mishna Berurah (696, 6) writes that one should not become engrossed in permitted activities to the extent that he won’t be happy on Purim.
Storefront Broken on Purim
Question: As part of their Purim fun, some bochurim (over bar mitzvah) threw stones at my store and broke the glass. I know who they are because the cameras picked up their activities. Are they liable for the damages or do we rule that on Purim one is not liable for his actions that cause damage?
Answer: There are two possible reasons to rule that they are not liable. One reason is a general one and one is related to Purim. The general reason is that perhaps drunks are not liable for their actions. The Purim reason is based on the Ramo (Orach Chaim 695, 2) who brings an opinion that one is not liable if he damaged someone on Purim.
As far as the general reason, drunks are responsible for their actions. Even if one transacted a deal when drunk he cannot cancel the deal for that reason (Choshen Mishpot 235, 22). The only time one has grounds to cancel the transaction of a drunk is if he is “as drunk as Lot,” the Halachic term for a state in which a person completely lacks awareness of his actions. Furthermore, the Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomo: Bava Kamo 3, 3) rules that even when one has become “as drunk as Lot,” he is liable for damage he caused. He rules this way so that no one will purposely become “as drunk as Lot” in order to cause damage with impunity. Rabbi Akiva Eiger records this Maharshal in his notes on the Shulchan Aruch (ibid.) and this ruling is considered authoritative.
One must consider that perhaps, the above is only true during the year when there is no mitzvah to become drunk. However, on Purim, when drunkenness is a mitzva, perhaps one is not responsible for his actions?
However, concerning Purim the Gemara (Megilla 7B) records how Rabba and R. Zeira, two of the leading amoraim, ate together on Purim and in the course of the meal Rabba slaughtered R. Zeira. (The next day he davened and brought R. Zeira back to life.).
Many poskim cite the Meiri who comments that the Gemara brings this anecdote as proof that this is not the proper way to celebrate Purim. Rather one’s happiness should lead him to love Hashem and to feel gratitude to Hashem for his miracles. The Rambam (Megilla 2, 15) rules that it suffices if one’s Purim intoxication brings him to sleep. This is the ruling of the Ramo (695, 2) and the Mishna Berurah (695, 5). Furthermore, the Maharshal discussed earlier specifically states that even on Purim one is liable if he is drunk.
However, there is another reason to be lenient on Purim based on the above-mentioned ruling of the Shulchan Aruch. This ruling is not specific to drunks but is a minhag that we aren’t so exacting on Purim because people understand that damages may result from people’s celebrating and therefore the custom is for people to forgive damage caused by excessive levity.
However, the Mishna Berurah (695, 13) says that this only applies to insignificant damage. Furthermore, the Aruch Hashulchan writes that the custom of forgiving Purim-related damages no longer applies in our times. Moreover the Magen Avrohom (695, 8) writes that the minhag to be lenient only applied to unintentional damage and not to intentional damage. In your case the damage the bochurim caused was intentional and significant. Therefore, you are entitled to ask those who damaged your storefront for the full amount of the damage.
Originally published by the author in Ami Magazine. Reprinted with their kind permission.