Of all the mitzvos of the day of Purim, the mitzvah that perhaps occupies us the most is the mitzvah of se’udas purim, the “Purim feast.”
By way of introduction, it should be noted that the mitzvah of mishloach manos is also considered part of the mitzvah of the Purim feast: Even when the Megillah is read on a different day (in a purim meshulash year), the mitzvah of mishloach manos is always fulfilled on the same day as the se’udah.
In this article we will discuss the mitzvah of the Purim feast: When during the day of Purim should the meal be held? Is there an obligation of eating meat during the meal, and should it begin with bread? How does the mitzvah of the feast integrate with the day’s general obligation of joy?
We will seek to address these questions through studying the fundamental aspects of this central Purim mitzvah.
The Purim Feast at Night
The mitzvah of eating the Purim feast is found in the Gemara (Megillah 7b), where Rava states: “One who eats the Purim feast at night does not fulfill his obligation.” The wording of the verse, which mentions “days of feasting and joy,” imply that the feast must be held specifically in the day, and not at night.
Because the Purim feast cannot be held at night, the Magen Avraham (695:6) writes, citing from the Kol Bo, that a person should not eat meat on Purim night, lest it be mistaken for the Purim feast. The same ruling is cited by the Beis Yosef in the name of Rabbeinu Asher.
However, the Darkei Moshe writes that the custom is not to be concerned for this ruling. Furthermore, the Ra’aviah (cited in the Morderchai, Megillah 787) writes that just as there is an obligation to read the Megillah at night, though the principle obligation is to read it during the day, so one must eat a meal at night, though the principle meal is eaten during the day.
The Mordechai himself disputes this assertion, yet the Bach (695) defends the position of the Ra’aviah, explaining that although the principle feast must be during the day, one must nonetheless engage in some degree of feasting even at night.
The Rema (695:1) rules similarly, and the Mishnah Berurah (3) writes that one should eat something extra in honor of the day, and this is likewise ruled by other poskim (see Kaf Ha-Chaim 4; Toras Ha-Moadim 11:6).
In this spirit, the Eliyahu Rabbah (695:5) writes (citing from the Sefer Ha-Yom) that even on Purim night a person should “find in his home candles lit, 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 aguish.”
The Joy of Purim and the Joy of Yom Tov
The obligation of joy (to some degree), even on the night of Purim, raises the question of the general obligation of joy on Purim.
Rav Betzalel Zolti (Mishnas Yaavatz, Orach Chaim 79) writes that there is a fundamental distinction between the obligation of joy on Purim, and the obligation of joy on Yom Tov.
On Yom Tov, the obligation of joy relates to the fundamental nature of the day. As the Rambam (Yom Tov 6:17-18) writes, Yom Tov obligates us to be in a state of joy, and each must experience this joy as befitting to him: men with meat and wine, women with fine clothing, and so on.
On Purim, however, the mitzvah of is not inherent to the day; rather, the Sages enacted that we should perform a particular act of joy in the Purim feast, as the Rambam writes (Megillah 2:15): “There is an obligation to eat meat and to hold a fine meal… and drink wine until he becomes drunk.”
A Day of “Joy and Feasting”
The Mishnas Yaavatz continues to prove his case from the verses of the Megillah itself. Initially, the verse writes that the Sages of the time enacted “joy, feasting, and festival” (Esther 9:19). Later, however, the verse writes that “they made them into days of feasting and joy” (9:22). The Gemara (Megillah 5b) explains that initially, the Sages thought to a festival day, with a full prohibition on forbidden labors. Finally, however, only the “feasting and joy” were enacted, and Purim was not made into a festival day.
However, this explanation does not explain why the order of the words in the verse change – initially “joy and feasting and festival,” and later “days of feasting and joy.” Why does the order of the words change? The answer, according to the Mishnas Yaavatz, is that initially, when the Sages thought to enact a full festival day, the feasting was a result of the festival joy, and it is therefore written after the joy. Finally, however, no festival was enacted, and therefore the feasting comes before the joy, because the joy is defined in terms of the feasting.
Yet, it appears clear that Purim is a day of joy, even beyond the daytime feast, as the Rambam writes (6:14): “The mitzvah of the fourteenth of Adar for residents of villages and towns, and the fifteenth for residents of walled cities, is to make it into a day of joy and feasting.” Moreover, the Shulchan Aruch (696:7) cites an opinion that permits an onen to eat meat and wine on Purim, “because the personal obligation of mourning cannot defer a public Torah obligation of joy on Purim.”
Clearly, this indicates that there is a true obligation of joy on Purim. Yet, there remains a clear difference between the obligation of joy on Purim, where the Sages enacted a specific form of joy (the Purim feast), and the parallel obligation on Yom Tov, which is a general obligation that is expressed, as noted, in different ways for different people. Certainly, however, Purim obligates us in being joyful, which the obligation of feasting means to express.
The joy of Purim does not spread merely to the night of Purim (as noted above), but even spreads out to include both days of Purim. The verse writes that the Sages enacted “days of feasting and joy,” and one should add an element of extra joy and feasting for both days (Rema 695:2).
Joy with Meat and Wine
The Rema writes (695:1, citing from the Tur) writes that “it is a mitzvah to augment [one’s joy at] the Purim feast.” Thus, the Bach (695) writes that although preparations for the feast might prevent a person from Torah study, a person should not be concerned for this, because the mitzvah of the Purim feast defers the mitzvah of Torah study.
The implication of poskim is that the joy of Purim requires specifically meat. Were this not the case, why should there be a custom (as cited from several poskim) to refrain from eating meat on the night of Purim, lest one think that this was the Purim feast (there is no similar instruction concerning chocolate…)?
Moreover, the Shulchan Aruch (696:7) rules explicitly that a mourner is permitted to eat meat on Purim, as noted above. The Peri Megadim (Eshel Avraham 15) derives (from the adjacent ruling of the Rema) that there is a specific obligation to eat meat and wine on Purim.
It is preferable, wherever possible, to eat actual meat on Purim. However, it seems that one can also fulfill the mitzvah by eating fowl, which in also considered as entailing an element of joy (Beitzah 10b, and Tosafos).
The obligation of drinking wine is simple, for a “feast” (mishteh) implies a “feast of wine,” and Chazal write (Megillah 7b) explicitly that a person is obligated to drink on Purim, as ruled by the Shulchan Aruch (695:2; concerning drinking alcoholic drinks other than wine, see Mikra’ei Kodesh 44).
It should be noted that the obligation of drinking wine is specifically as part of the Purim feast, a point implied by the wording of the Shluchan Aruch. The Rambam (Megillah 2:15) writes this explicitly: “What is the manner of this feast? That a person should eat meat and hold a fine meal … and drink wine until he becomes drunk, and falls asleep in his state of inebriation.”
We have already discussed the amount that a person must drink and the degree of drunkenness that must be reached (see here). According to many authorities, one should be wary of “getting stoned,” yet as is known there are different customs in this matter. Either way, a person must ensure that his drinking will not lead him to treating mitzvos, such as benching and davening, without 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 minchah 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 Feast
The Peri Megadim (loc. cit.) expresses doubt over whether a person must eat bread as part of his Purim meal.
Poskim dispute this halachah. According to the Maharshal (no. 48, in the name of Rav Yaakov Pollack), there is an obligation to eat bread at the Purim feast, and therefore somebody who forgets to recite al ha-nissim at the Purim feast must bench once again. 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 the later Purim feast.
The Yaavatz (Mor U-Ketziah 695) likewise rules that a person must eat bread at the Purim feast, and this is likewise the ruling of the Shelah (Laws of Purim).
The Magen Avraham (695:9), however, disputes this opinion, and makes a number of claims. Firstly, benching should not be any more stringent than davening. The halachah is that somebody who forgets al ha-nissim in davening does not repeat the prayer. If so, why should somebody who forgets al ha-nissim in benching repeat birkas ha-mazon?
Furthermore, if a person has already eaten a meal for breakfast, he has already fulfilled his basic obligation of the Purim meal, and should not repeat benching if he forgets al ha-nissim at the later Purim feast.
Finally, and most pertinently, he observes that there is no obligation at all of eating bread at the Purim feast, “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 (12) rules that out of doubt, a person should not repeat benching. The Aruch Ha-Shulchan (695:7, 12) writes on the one hand that there is a mitzvah of eating 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.
There is room to add that the Rosh (Berachos Chap. 7, no. 23) writes (in the name of Rabbeinu Yehudah) that “a person is obligated to eat bread on Yom Tov because of joy.” This presents us with a support for the opinion that obligates eating bread as part of the Purim feast.
Mishloach Manos and Eating Together
The Rambam implies that the mitzvah of mishloach manos is an integral part of the mitzvah of the Purim feast. In the context of the Purim feast, the Rambam rules (2:15) that “a person is likewise obligated to send two portions of meat or two cooked foods, or two types of food to his friend.”
This likewise emerges from the passage of the Gemara that places together the mitzvah of mishloach manos with the Purim feast, 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 feast itself.
The obligation of mishloach manos as part of the Purim feast teaches us the importance of company for a person’s joy. One should therefore be careful to eat the Purim feast together with others – family or friends – for (good) company induces joy. When a person eats on his own, he cannot reach the same level of joy (Shelah; Mishnah Berurah 695:9).
Timing of the Purim Feast
For ordinary years, it is customary to hold the Purim feast after the time of minchah, and one should be careful that the main part of the meal should be held before sunset (the Mishnah Berurah (9) writes that it is praiseworthy to eat the feast in the morning, but this is not the common custom).
However, when Purim falls on Friday (as it does this year in Jerusalem), many authorities write that one should hold the Purim feast in the morning, before midday (chatzos). This is ruled by the minhagim of Rav Yitzchak Isaav Tirna (p. 36): “When Purim falls on Friday, the Purim feast is held in the morning, and not in the afternoon after minchah.” The reasons he gives for this is the honor of Shabbos on the one hand, and the Shabbos meal (being hungry) on the other.
The Rema cites this ruling in the Darkei Moshe (695:4), and likewise in his glosses to the Shulchan Aruch (2), and this is also ruled by the Mateh Moshe (Purim 1011). The Mishnah Berurah (249:13) rules similarly with regard to a se’udas mitzvah on Shabbos eve, stating that “one should preferably bring it forwards to the morning, because of the honor of Shabbos, as we find concerning the Purim feast.”
The Aruch Ha-Shulchan (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 from Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l.
However, somebody who doesn’t manage to eat the se’udah before chatzos can do so even later, as the Aruch Ha-Shulchan 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 from the Bach.
By contrast, some write that the Purim feast can be started in the afternoon, and continued until Shabbos enters. 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 even among Sefardim, is to hold the meal in the morning, we will not elucidate on this option.