Of all the mitzvos of the day of Purim, the one that perhaps occupies us the most is the mitzvah of se’udas Purim: the Purim feast. The seudah gives us an opportunity to celebrate the day with our own families, often accompanied by friends and by visitors who join us to participate in the festivities.
Since it is not held on Shabbos or Yom Tov, and because of the special obligation to drink wine at the meal, the Purim seudah has a unique atmosphere among mitzvah gatherings of the year. However, aside from eating and merrymaking, there are also several halachos that one must be aware of, in order to ensure that he fulfills the enactment in the manner the Sages instituted.
In this article we will therefore discuss the mitzvah of the Purim seudah. When should the Purim seudah be held, and at which time should it be eaten when Purim occurs on Friday? Is there an obligation to eat meat, and should it begin with bread? And is the mitzvah of mishloach manos related to the Purim seudah? These questions, among others, are discussed below.
The Purim Seudah at Night
The Megillah writes that the days of Purim were instituted as days of “feasting and joy.” It is clear from the Megillah that part of the Purim enactment is therefore to engage in feasting. Is there a specific time when this must be done?
The Gemara (Megillah 7b) cites Rava who states, “One who eats the Purim seudah at night does not fulfill his obligation.” The wording of the verse, which mentions “days of feasting and joy,” implies that the seudah must be held specifically in the day.
Because the Purim seudah cannot be held at night, the Magen Avraham (695:6) cites the Kol Bo, that some even have a custom to refrain from eating meat on Purim night, since if one eats meat it could be mistaken for the Purim seudah. The same minhag is cited by the Beis Yosef in the name of Rabbeinu Asher.
However, the Darkei Moshe writes that this is not the common custom. There even is an opposing opinion of the Ra’avya (cited in the Mordechai, Megillah 787) that just as there is an obligation to read the Megillah at night, though the main obligation is to read it during the day, so one must eat a meal at night, though the principal meal is eaten by day.
However, the Mordechai himself disputes this assertion since it is contradicted by the Gemara. The Bach (695) justifies the position of Ra’aviah, explaining that although the main seudah is eaten by day, one must also eat a meal at night.
The Rema (695:1) writes that one should also eat something extra at night, and the Mishnah Berurah (3) states that this is true even if Purim falls on Motzei Shabbos. This is also ruled by other poskim (see Kaf Ha-Chaim 4; Toras Ha-Moadim 11:6).
In this spirit, the Eliyahu Rabbah (695:5) writes (citing the Sefer Ha-Yom) that even on Purim night a person should “find his home lit with candles, the table laid and the bed made, and he should eat and drink with great joy and a glad heart, and gladden the members of his household, and distance from them every rift and anguish.”
In ordinary years, when it is customary to hold the Purim seudah after minchah, one should be careful to eat the main part of the meal before sunset. The Mishnah Berurah (695, 9) writes that it is praiseworthy to eat the seudah in the morning, but this is not the common custom. This applies when Purim is on Thursday.
However, when Purim falls on Friday (as it does this year in Jerusalem), many authorities write that one should hold the Purim seudah in the morning, before midday (chatzos). This is ruled by the minhagim of Rav Yitzchak Isaac Tirna (p. 36): “When Purim falls on Friday, the Purim seudah is held in the morning, and not in the afternoon after minchah.” The reasons he gives for this are the honor of Shabbos on the one hand (eating the meal right before Shabbos depreciates the honor of Shabbos), and the need to eat the Shabbos meal (while being hungry) on the other.
The Rema cites this ruling in his Darkei Moshe (695:4), and likewise in his glosses to the Shulchan Aruch (2). This is also ruled by the Mateh Moshe (Purim 1011). The Mishnah Berurah (249:13) rules similarly concerning any se’udas mitzvah which is held on Friday, stating, “One should preferably bring it forwards to the morning, because of the honor of Shabbos, as we find concerning the Purim seudah.”
The Aruch HaShulchan (249:7) likewise writes that one should eat the meal before chatzos, and this is also the ruling given by the Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah (42:27), citing Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l.
However, one who doesn’t manage to eat the se’udah before chatzos may do so even later, as the Aruch HaShulchan rules: “However, if one did not start before, the meal can be started even after the tenth hour, because this is a mitzvah on its day.” A similar ruling is given by the Mishnah Berurah (249:13), citing the Bach.
By contrast, some write in the name of the Maharil that the Purim seudah on Friday can be started even on a lechatchilah level in the afternoon before the tenth hour of the day and continued until Shabbos begins. At this stage, Kiddush is made, and the meal is continued as the Shabbos meal. Because the common custom, both among Ashkenazim who follow the ruling of the Rema and also among Sefardim, is to eat the meal in the morning, we will not elucidate this option.
Joy of Meat and Wine
The Rema (695:1, citing the Tur) writes, “It is a mitzvah to augment [one’s joy at] the Purim seudah.” The Bach (695) writes that one sees from the Gemara that it is proper for a person to learn less, if necessary, on account of the Purim seudah.
Authorities imply that the joy of Purim requires specifically a meat meal. Were this not the case, why should there have been a custom of some (cited earlier) to refrain from eating meat on the night of Purim, lest one think that this was the Purim seudah?
Moreover, the Shulchan Aruch (696:7) rules explicitly that an onein is permitted to eat meat on Purim. The Peri Megadim (Eshel Avraham 15) derives that there is a specific obligation to eat meat and drink wine on Purim.
It is therefore preferable, wherever possible, to eat meat on Purim. However, it seems (an onein ordinarily may not eat fowl either) that one can also fulfill the mitzvah by eating fowl, which is also considered as including an element of joy (Beitzah 10b, and Tosafos).
The obligation to drink wine is clear, for the Purim seudah is termed mishteh in the Megillah, which implies a “seudah of wine.” Chazal thus write (Megillah 7b) explicitly that a person is obligated to drink on Purim, as is also ruled by the Shulchan Aruch (695:2). Concerning drinking alcoholic drinks other than wine, see Mikra’ei Kodesh (44). The general custom is to be lenient in this matter.
It should be noted that the obligation to drink wine is specifically as a part of the Purim seudah, a point implied by the wording of the Shulchan Aruch. The Rambam (Megillah 2:15) writes this explicitly: “What is the manner of this seudah? That a person should eat meat and hold a fine meal … and drink wine until he becomes inebriated and falls asleep in his state of inebriation.”
We have previously discussed the amount a person must drink and the degree of drunkenness that must be reached. According to many authorities, one should be wary of getting to a state of loss of control, yet as is known there are different customs in this matter. One way or another, a person must ensure that his drinking will not lead him to treat mitzvos, such as benching and davening, with less than due respect.
In this spirit, the Mishnah Berurah (Biur Halachah, s.v. ad delo yada, in the name of the Chayei Adam) writes: “However, somebody who knows that he will show disrespect for mitzvos, such as washing, benching, or that he won’t daven mincha or maariv – it is better that he should not get drunk, and all of his deeds should be for the sake of Heaven.”
Eating Bread in the Purim seudah
The Peri Megadim (loc. cit.) expresses doubt over whether a person must eat bread as part of his Purim meal.
Poskim dispute this. According to the Maharshal (no. 48, in the name of Rav Yaakov Pollack), there is an obligation to eat bread at the Purim seudah (for otherwise it is not a proper meal), and therefore somebody who forgets to recite al ha-nissim at the Purim seudah must bench once again (which is the halacha for additions to benching (such as retsei in the first two meals on Shabbos) where the meal is obligatory).
He further writes that even if a person has already eaten a meal on the morning of Purim, he must nonetheless repeat benching if he forgets al ha-nissim at a later Purim seudah.
The Yaavatz (Mor U-Ketziah 695) likewise rules that a person must eat bread at the Purim seudah, and this is also the ruling of the Shelah (Laws of Purim).
However, the Magen Avraham (695:9) disputes this opinion and makes a number of claims. First, benching should not be more stringent than davening. The halacha is that somebody who forgets al ha-nissim in davening does not repeat his prayer. If so, why should somebody who forgets al ha-nissim in benching repeat birkas ha-mazon?
Furthermore, certainly if a person has already eaten a meal for breakfast, he has already fulfilled his basic obligation of a Purim meal, and should not repeat benching if he forgets al ha-nissim at a later Purim seudah.
Finally, and most pertinently, he observes that there is no obligation at all to eat bread at the Purim seudah, “for we do not find an obligation to eat bread on Purim, and he can exempt himself with other delicacies.” Several Poskim agree with this ruling (see Shevet Ha-Levi 4:54, sec. 2).
The Mishnah Berurah (15) rules that out of doubt, a person should not repeat benching if al ha-nissin was omitted. The Aruch HaShulchan (695:7, 12) writes on the one hand that there is a mitzvah to eat bread, yet on the other hand that somebody who forgets al ha-nissim does not repeat benching, because the case is no more severe than forgetting al ha-nissim in davening.
Note that the Rosh (Berachos Chap. 7, no. 23) writes (in the name of Rabbeinu Yehudah), “A person is obligated to eat bread on Yom Tov because of joy.” This presents us with support for the opinion that obligates eating bread as part of the Purim seudah since it is a fulfillment of the joy of Purim.
Mishloach Manos and Eating Together
When Purim falls on Shabbos the seudah is eaten (Shulchan Aruch 688, 6) on Sunday. The poskim rule (See Mishna Berurah (18) that likewise one sends mishloach manos on Sunday. Thus we see that mishloach manos is connected to the Purim seudah. This likewise emerges from the passage of the Gemara that places together the mitzvah of mishloach manos with the Purim seudah, mentioning for instance that Abaye bar Avin and Rabbi Chaninah bar Avin used to exchange Purim meals, thereby fulfilling the mitzvah of mishloach manos with the Purim seudah itself.
The obligation of mishloach manos as part of the Purim seudah teaches us the importance of company for a person’s joy. One should therefore be careful to eat the Purim seudah together with others – family or friends – for (good) company enhances one’s joy. When a person eats by himself, he cannot reach the same level of joy (Shelah; Mishnah Berurah 695:9).
Wishing all a truly joyous Purim!