From Cairo to Frankfurt: Purim Cairo and Purim Frankfurt

face maskIs there a halachic basis for the various local observances, such as Purim Frankfurt, Purim Cairo and Purim Ancona?

Local Purims

In the course of Jewish history, there have unfortunately been numerous occasions when communities suffered from major crises that threatened their lives. Upon surviving these travails, many communities chose to commemorate the event by creating a Yom Tov with special observances to thank Hashem for His salvation. Many of these observances were called “Purim,” and in the course of the last several hundred years there were dozens of recorded local Purims, some that were celebrated by the Jewish community of a town or city, and others that were observed by families. Some of these commemorations included that the festival was preceded by a fast day, similar to Taanis Esther preceding Purim.

As the events of the last seventy years have emptied many of these communities of their Jews, most of these celebrations and the miracles they commemorate have become forgotten. This article will be concerned primarily with the halachic sources and controversies concerning these celebrations. But first, let me share some of the background events of a few of these local observances.

Purim Cairo

One of the earliest recorded local holidays is a festival that was celebrated in Cairo on the 28th of Adar, which bears a strong similarity to the original Purim. In 5284 (1524), the Governor of Egypt, Ahmed Pasha, became a very powerful ruler, although he was officially responsible to the Ottoman Empire and Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Pasha craved the wealth of many of the Egyptian Jews and, in order to seize their possessions, he arrested twelve prominent leaders of the Jewish community, including the community’s rav, the Radbaz. Pasha demanded an exorbitant ransom, far more than the community could ever raise, to be paid by the 28th of Adar, or he would execute the captives and exile the rest of the community.

On the day set for the ransom deadline, Pasha was assassinated by some of his servants who knew that he was plotting to overthrow the sultan. The 28th of Adar was joyously proclaimed a local festival and was observed for as long as a sizable Jewish community existed in Cairo.

Purim Frankfurt
The rogue of the Purim Frankfurt story (5374/1614), Vincent Fettmilch, actually called himself the “new Haman of the Jews.” He was a fiery agitator whose hordes attacked the Jewish quarter of Frankfurt. After two years of anti-Semitic disturbance, he angered the Holy Roman Emperor, who had Fettmilch hanged. The Jewish community commemorated these events by creating a fast day, similar to Taanis Esther, on the 19th of Adar, and a festival on the 20th, which was called Purim Frankfurt. A special megillah was written, known as Megillas Vinz (for Vincent), to commemorate the occasion.

Tunis

Purim Kidebuni was a festival observed in parts of North Africa. In 5465 (1705), the governor of Tunis, warlord of one faction of the barbary pirates, laid siege to Tripoli, threatening to decimate the population should he conquer the city. Fortunately, disease broke out suddenly among his followers, and the siege failed. A festival was declared for the 24th of Teiveis.

Another North African Purim

On the 4th of Marcheshvan, 5302 (1541), Charles V of Spain attempted to seize Algiers, where many Jews had taken refuge fifty years earlier when fleeing during the Spanish expulsion. The Spaniards landed, but their fleet and army were destroyed by a storm because of the prayers of Rav Shelomoh Duran, a descendant of the Tashbeitz. Thus the Jews were spared facing expulsion a second time and the inquisition that the Spaniards would have brought with them. For obvious reasons, they called the holiday they established Purim Edom.

Shiraz

On the 2nd day of Marcheshvan, the Jews of Shiraz (Iran) celebrate a festival called “Moed Katan.” According to an old manuscript written in the Jewish-Persian language (similar to what Yiddish is to German, and Ladino to Spanish), a Jew who was supposed to have been both a shocheit and a kosher retail butcher was caught selling non-kosher meat. The criminal converted to Islam, changed his name to Abu al-chasan, and then became a moseir, accusing the Jews of many crimes. The Shiite rulers gave the Jews of Shiraz the choice between death and conversion to Islam. Suddenly and mysteriously, Abu al-chasan died on the 2nd of Marcheshvan, leaving behind a retraction that all his accusations were false. The evil decree against the Jews was rescinded. The incident was commemorated via a local festival called “Moed Katan.”

These are a few examples of the kinds of local festivals that were established to thank Hashem for His kindness. The first question we have is whether we can find a halachic source for a community establishing its own local festival.

Who introduced Hallel?

One source for the observance of local festivals is based on the following passage of Gemara (Pesachim 117a, as explained by Rashbam; cf. Rashi ad locum).  The Gemara asks: “Who originally declared the Hallel?” The Gemara proceeds to mention several instances in Jewish history when Hallel was recited spontaneously to thank Hashem for His salvation (Rashi ad loc.). Among the specific situations mentioned are:

— In addition to singing Az Yashir upon surviving keriyas yam suf, Moshe and the Bnei Yisrael also sang Hallel (Rashbam).

— Yehoshua and the Bnei Yisrael sang Hallel after their victory over the 31 kings.

— In addition to the song of Devorah, she and Barak recited Hallel after their victory over Sisra.

— Chizkiyah sang Hallel when he survived Sancheiriv.

— Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah sang Hallel when Hashem saved them from the fiery furnace.

— Mordechai and Esther recited Hallel when they were in control of the city of Shushan.

Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah

The reason for the reciting of Hallel by Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah is somewhat different from the other events recorded in the Gemara. In all the other instances, the entire Jewish nation was imperiled and saved, whereas, in their situation, Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah were saved as individuals. One may have thought that Hallel should be recited only to thank Hashem for the saving of the entire nation. However, we see from Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah that reciting Hallel is an appropriate way of thanking Hashem even for a salvation that affected only individuals.

In his halachic commentary on this Gemara, the Meiri (Pesachim 117a) rules that an individual or community may establish a practice of reciting Hallel every subsequent year as a commemorative way to celebrate their salvation, provided that they do not recite a brocha prior to reciting the Hallel. To quote the Meiri: “Any individual who was redeemed from a potential calamity may institute that he recite Hallel that day every year, albeit without reciting a brocha beforehand. The same is true for every community. In fact, a practice of the prophets was to recite Hallel whenever one was redeemed from trouble.” Thus, a community or an individual may establish the annual recital of Hallel on a specific date to commemorate an event of salvation.

After they move

Are individuals who have relocated from a community required to continue observing the local Purim? I found this question discussed about five hundred years ago by Rav Moshe ben Yitzchak Alashkar, known as the Maharam Alashkar, a gadol of his generation, who received halachic inquiries from the greatest gedolim of his era, including the Mahari Beirav, Rav Eliyahu Mizrahi, and the Maharalnach. It is interesting to note the difficulties and wanderings of the Maharam Alashkar himself. Born about 5226 (1466) in Spain, he was expelled in 1492 with all the other Jews, and in his escape from Spain was captured by pirates who threatened to execute him. Eventually, he escaped from the pirates and found refuge in Tunis, but the Jews of this community were then expelled. The Maharam Alashkar wandered onward to Greece, then later Cairo, and eventually succeeded in settling in Yerushalayim, where he passed on in 5302 (1542). In addition to probably being the posek hador in the Mediterranian basin, he was  also the source of many teshuvos of the geonim that would otherwise have been lost, and he translated responsa of the Rambam from Arabic into Hebrew.

The following question that the Maharam Alashkar discusses is germane to our discussion: A local takkanah (based on other evidence, I believe it was Sepanto, Italy) had established the 11th of Teiveis as a local festival, for the Jews of that town and their descendants wherever they would reside, in commemoration of some deliverance that had transpired on that date. The question was: The community is now destroyed. Must they continue to observe this takkanah?

The Maharam Alashkar first quotes the Talmudic sources that a community has the ability to establish regulations that are binding on its members. He writes that although regulations and customs of a community are, in general, not obligatory upon someone once he relocates, when the community accepted upon its members and their descendants to follow a certain practice regardless of whether they reside in the original location, they must continue observing the practice even after they relocate (Shu”t Maharam Alashkar #49). His conclusion is quoted by many prominent halachic authorities as definitive (Magen Avraham, 686:5, Elyah Rabbah, 686:5, Mishnah Berurah, 686:8; also see the Chayei Odom and the Chasam Sofer that I will quote later in this article).

Celebrating on the Tenth of Av

Our next discussion is the extent to which we go to celebrate a personal Purim.

Sena’ah was the name of one of the large Jewish family clans that returned from Bavel together with Ezra (Ezra 2:35; Nechemiah 7:38). According to the Mishnah (Taanis 26a), they were descended from the tribe of Binyamin (see Tosafos, Eruvin 41a s.v. Mivnei) and they brought wood to the Beis Hamikdash on the tenth of Av, which was then observed as a day of celebration. The Gemara (Eruvin 41a; Taanis 12a) records that the Tanna Rabbi Elazar ben Tzadok, continued to observe this date even after the churban (Tosafos, Taanis 12a s,v, Hasam), although the cause for the celebration no longer existed. This is even more surprising since Rabbi Elazar ben Tzadok himself was a kohen (see Bechoros 36a), and therefore not descended on his father’s side from Sena’ah and the tribe of Binyamin. As Tosafos (Eruvin 41a s.v. Mivnei) notes, his observance of this date as a family festival was either because his membership in this family clan was from his mother’s side or because his wife was a descendant of the tribe of Binyamin and a member of this family.

Tisha B’Av on the tenth

As we know, when Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbos, the fast day is observed on Sunday, which is the tenth of Av. Since we now know that the Sena’ah family observed the tenth of Av as a festival even after the churban, what did they do when Tisha B’Av fell on Shabbos, causing the national day of mourning to coincide with their personal festival? The Gemara quotes Rabbi Elazar ben Tzadok as saying that they began the fast together with the rest of klal Yisrael, but did not complete its observance to the end of the day since it was a family festival. This means that they ate on the day that the rest of klal Yisrael was still observing all the laws of Tisha B’Av! We see the extent to which the observance of the family festival was kept. Based on this Gemara, the Maharam Alashkar ruled that a local festival must continue to be observed.

[There is a curious halachah that results from this Gemara. Several rishonim record the following practice from the baal Tosafos, Rabbeinu Yaakov ben Rabbeinu Yitzchak Halevi, who is also called Yaavetz. (He should not be confused with much later gedolim, such as Rav Yaakov Emden, who are also called Yaavetz.) Yaavetz once celebrated a bris on the tenth of Av which was a Sunday and therefore a postponed Tisha B’Av. Several rishonim record that after davening mincha, Yaavetz bathed and broke the fast because it was his own personal Yom Tov (Mordechai, Taanis #630; Hagahos Maimoniyos, Taanis 5:8; Tur Orach Chayim, Chapter 559). This practice is recorded as normative halachah – that the baalei simcha, meaning the mohel, the sandek and the parents of a bris that falls on a postponed Tisha B’Av do not complete the fast because it is their own personal Yom Tov.]

Controversial custom

However, the Maharam Alashkar’s position on this question was not universally accepted. The Pri Chodosh (Orach Chayim 496:14) expressly disputes what the Maharam Alashkar writes, concluding that even a local resident does not need to observe the custom of local festivals and celebrations. The Pri Chodosh contends that the practice is not binding even while the original inhabitants continue to reside in the same city in which the miracle happened, and it is certainly not incumbent upon their descendants or anyone who relocated from the city.

Explaining the Pri Chodosh’s objection to the Maharam Alashkar’s ruling requires an introduction regarding an ancient manuscript called Megillas Taanis, which the Gemara (Shabbos 13b) teaches us was written by the Tanna Chananyah ben Chizkiyah, who lived at the end of the second Beis Hamikdash period (Rambam, Introduction to Peirush Hamishnah, towards the end). Megillas Taanis is a list of dates on which miraculous events occurred. To commemorate these celebrations, Chazal prohibited fasting and conducting eulogies on these dates. After the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, a dispute (Rosh Hashanah 18b-19b) developed as to whether these dates remained minor festivals prohibiting hespedim and fasts, or whether, in light of the churban, these festive days are no longer significant, a position that the Gemara calls: batlah Megillas Taanis, Megillas Taanis is no longer in effect.” The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 19b) concludes that, with the exception of Chanukah and Purim, batlah Megillas Taanis. It is also important to note the Gemara’s comment that if batlah Megillas Taanis, certainly no new days can be added as holidays (Rosh Hashanah (18b, 19a).

The Pri Chodosh contends that the creation of any of these local festivals runs counter to the Gemara’s conclusion that batlah Megillas Taanis. He, therefore, concludes that the community declaring specific practices on these days has no halachic legitimacy and that one is not required to observe them.

We will continue this topic next week…

 

The Special Mitzvah of Reciting Hallel

 

814761_51961477Hallel is our unique praise to Hashem that is reserved for special occasions. Whenever the Jews survived a crisis, they responded by singing Hallel. Thus, we sang Hallel when we crossed the Yam Suf and again after the allied kings of Canaan were defeated in the days of Yehoshua. Hallel was sung when Devorah and Barak’s small force defeated the mighty army of Sisra and when the huge army of Sancheiriv fled from Yerushalayim. It was also sung when Chananyah, Mishoel, and Azaryah survived Nevuchadnetzar’s fiery furnace and when the Jews were saved from Haman’s evil decrees. After each of these events, Jews recited Hallel to thank Hashem for their miraculous salvation (Pesachim 117a, see Rashi; cf. Rashbam).

In the same vein, Chazal instituted the recital of Hallel to commemorate Yomim Tovim and days when miracles provided salvation for the Jewish people. The Gemara teaches that we recite the full Hallel eighteen days every year in Eretz Yisrael and twenty-one days in Chutz La’Aretz. These days include: The eight days of Sukkos/Simchas Torah (nine days in Chutz La’Aretz), the eight days of Chanukah, the first day(s) of Pesach and Shavuos (Arachin 10a). Each of these days is either a Yom Tov or commemorates a miracle. Full Hallel is not recited on Rosh Chodesh, because it is neither a full Yom Tov nor does it commemorate a miracle (Arachin 10b). (We will soon discuss the partial Hallel that we recite on Rosh Chodesh and the last days of Pesach.)

Hallel includes Chapters 113-118 of Tehillim, with some of the verses repeated.

WHY DO WE RECITE THESE SPECIFIC VERSES?

The Gemara (Pesachim 118a) says that these chapters of Tehillim were chosen for Hallel because they mention five unique events: (1) The Exodus from Egypt, (2) The Splitting of the Yam Suf, (3) The Receiving of the Torah, (4) The Resurrection of the Dead, and (5) The Travails of the Coming of Moshiach.

  • The Exodus from Mitzrayim is explicitly mentioned in the pasuk, “Be’tzeis Yisrael Mi’mitzrayim,” “when Yisrael left Egypt.”
  • The Splitting of the Yam Suf is implied in the pasuk, “Hayom ra’ah vayanos,” “The Sea saw and fled.”
  • Receiving the Torah is alluded to by the pasuk, “He’harim rakdu ch’eilim,” “The mountains danced liked rams.” This refers to the mountains that danced in excitement when the Jewish people received the Torah.

(4)        The Resurrection of the Dead is implied by the pasuk, “Es’haleich lifnei Hashem be’artzos hachayim,” “I will walk before Hashem in the land of the living,” thus alluding to a future time when the deceased will return to life.

(5)        The Travails of the Coming of Moshiach is implied by the pasuk, “Lo lanu Hashem,” “Not for our sake, Hashem.” This pasuk alludes to several calamitous events that will transpire in the era preceding Moshiach’s arrival.

WHY ARE PARTS OF THE HALLEL REPEATED?

The practice of repeating some pesukim of Hallel is already mentioned in the Mishnah (Sukkah 38a). Many interpretations are suggested for this custom. Rashi explains the reason for this custom as follows: From the words “Hodu Lashem ki tov” until “Pischu li shaarei tzedek,” every theme mentioned is repeated. After “Pischu li,” this style ceases. However, in order to make the rest of the Hallel continue this poetic style, the custom is to repeat these last pesukim.

WHY DO WE SPLIT A PASUK IN HALF?

During Hallel, we divide the pasuk “Ana Hashem Hoshia Na, Ana Hashem Hatzliacha Na” in half and recite it as two different pesukim. This practice is already mentioned in the Gemara (Sukkah 38b). Normally, it is forbidden to divide a pasuk, except to teach schoolchildren, who may find it too difficult to learn the explanation of an entire pasuk at one time (Megillah 22a). Why are we permitted to divide this pasuk during Hallel?

Tosafos (Sukkah 38b) explains that this pasuk is different, because it was originally recited as part of a conversation between Dovid HaMelech and his family. Dovid’s brothers declared “Ana Hashem Hoshia Na” and Dovid responded “Ana Hashem Hatzlicha Na” (Pesachim 119a). Therefore, even though it was subsequently written down as one pasuk, it is treated as two separate statements during Hallel.

WHY IS HALLEL RECITED STANDING THE WHOLE YEAR, BUT SITTING AT THE SEDER?

Most mitzvos are performed while standing, and there are additional reasons why Hallel should be recited standing. Hallel testifies to Hashem’s miracles and wondrous deeds, and testimony must be made while standing (Mishnah Berurah 422:28). Furthermore, the pasuk in Hallel declares, “Sing praise, servants of Hashem who are standing,” implying that this is the proper way to give praise (Shibbolei Leket).

On the other hand, at the Seder Hallel is recited sitting, because this demonstrates that we are freemen (Shibbolei Leket).

Someone who recited Hallel while sitting need not repeat it (Mishnah Berurah 422:28, quoting Pri Megadim).

WHEN SHOULD ONE RECITE HALLEL?

Chazal derive from the verse of Hallel, “From when the sun rises in the east until it sets shall Hashem’s Name be praised,” that Hallel should be recited by day and not by night (Megillah 20b). Although the day begins when the eastern horizon lights up (amud hashachar), Chazal ruled that Hallel should not be said until after sunrise.

One should preferably recite Hallel immediately after Shacharis. However, if one failed to do so, one can recite Hallel the entire day.

The exception to this rule is when we recite Hallel on Pesach night as part of the Haggadah, since the miracle took place at night. Many communities have the custom of reciting Hallel in shul, also, that night.

MAY ONE LEAN WHILE RECITING HALLEL?

Resting one’s weight on a table or shtender in such a way that one would fall if the support was removed is considered the same as sitting. Therefore, many poskim contend that one may not lean while reciting Hallel (Magen Avraham 422:11). However, some poskim (Beis Meir; Biur Halacha) maintain that it is acceptable to rest one’s weight on a stand or table while reciting Hallel.

WHY IS HALLEL ON SUKKOS DIFFERENT FROM HALLEL ON PESACH?

Why do we recite the full Hallel every day of Sukkos, but only on the first day of Pesach?

The Gemara gives a surprising answer. On Sukkos, we recite full Hallel daily, since each day of Sukkos has a different korban in the Beis HaMikdash, while on Pesach, we do not recite full Hallel every day, because the same korban was offered every day. Thus, we see that Yom Tov is not a sufficient reason to recite Hallel. There must also be something novel about the day.

In a similar vein, we recite Hallel every day of Chanukah, because the miracle became greater every day as the oil miraculously continued burning. Therefore, each day is considered a new Yom Tov (Tosafos, Taanis 28b s.v. veyom).

The Midrash provides a different reason why the full Hallel is not recited on Pesach — we should not recite Hallel at the time when our enemies suffered (quoted by Shibbolei Leket #174).

There is no Hallel on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, because one should not sing on days when judgment is being rendered (Arachin 10b). Rambam explains that these are not days of total simcha, and that Hallel must be recited only on days of complete simcha (Hilchos Chanukah 3:6).

HALLEL ON PURIM?

Why we do not recite Hallel on Purim? After all, we do celebrate the tremendous miracle that transpired by saying the prayer Al HaNisim and performing many mitzvos. The Gemara provides three answers.

(1) Because the miracle of Purim occurred outside Eretz Yisrael.

(2) Because reading the Megillah is a form of Hallel.

(3) Because in Hallel we say, “Praise Him, servants of Hashem,” and we are still servants of Achashveirosh (Arachin 10b).

There is a practical difference between these opinions. According to the second opinion, someone who has no Megillah to read on Purim would be required to recite Hallel! Indeed, Rambam appears to rule according to this opinion (Hilchos Chanukah 3:6).

“HALF HALLEL”

Why do we say only a partial Hallel on Rosh Chodesh and the latter days of Pesach? Reciting the partial Hallel on these days originated as a minhag and not as a takanah of Chazal. Reciting partial Hallel on Rosh Chodesh as a custom is mentioned in a puzzling story.

The Gemara relates that the Amora, Rav, went to Bavel. [It is unclear whether this meant the country of Bavel in the environs of present day Iraq, or the city of Bavel (Babylon).] Rav was perturbed when the congregation began reciting Hallel after the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei and was about to interrupt them. But when he noticed that they were skipping parts of the Hallel, presumably similar to what we do, he chose not to interrupt them, saying, “I see that they are observing a custom of their fathers” (Taanis 28b).

Rav’s reactions seem very enigmatic. Why was he so concerned about their reciting Hallel that he was prepared to interrupt them in the middle? Furthermore, why did the fact that they omitted something make him change his mind? And, finally, why did he justify their practice on the basis that it was a custom of their fathers?

To understand what happened, we need to understand what is wrong with reciting Hallel on days not included in Chazal’s takanah.

The Gemara teaches us that someone who recites Hallel every day is a blasphemer (Shabbos 118b). What? A blasphemer! What’s so terrible about what he did?

The Maharal explains as follows: Non-believers sometimes ask that if Hashem is all-powerful, why does He allow evil to exist? Why aren’t all evildoers immediately destroyed? But to believers, this is not a question at all, because they understand that Hashem allows the world to exist naturally, without His interference. If Hashem destroyed evildoers, His existence would be so obvious that there would be no reward for those who do His will. Therefore, Hashem allows the world to function without His obvious involvement.

However, occasionally the need arises for Hashem to perform a miracle. When this happens, Hashem demonstrates His presence, and the world temporarily switches into “miraculous mode.” We commemorate these special occasions by reciting Hallel and celebrating the revelation of Hashem’s presence.

But, reciting Hallel on an ordinary weekday implies that Hashem’s control over the world should always be obvious. This leads to blasphemy, because if Hashem’s control is obvious, non-believers can ask why evildoers continue to exist without Hashem destroying them. Thus, the non-believer interprets saying Hallel every day as proof that Hashem is powerless to stop the forces of evil. This is, of course, terrible blasphemy (Gevuros Hashem #61). This is why Rav was so disturbed when he noticed the people of Bavel reciting Hallel on a day that is neither Yom Tov nor a day when a miracle occurred.

WHY DID RAV, INDEED, NOT STOP THE RECITAL OF HALLEL?

Why did Rav change his mind when he realized that the people were omitting parts of Hallel?

Although Rishonim record variant customs as to which parts of Hallel are omitted on Rosh Chodesh, every custom I have seen, as well as the usual practice today, omits the passages that include the words “Lo lanu” and “Ahavti” (see Rashi, Taanis 28b s.v. de’midalgi; Rambam, Hilchos Chanukah 3:7). These omissions delete two of the five essential components that make the Hallel a unique praise. By skipping these passages, what is left is, indeed, a beautiful praise, but it is not a fulfillment of the mitzvah of Hallel.

Only when one recites the full Hallel on a weekday is it considered blasphemy. Therefore, the custom of the community of Bavel was to recite a partial Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, thus praising Hashem for his wondrous deeds, without performing an act that could, G-d forbid, imply blasphemy. This is why Rav saw no reason to interrupt them.

DO WE RECITE A BRACHA ON “HALF-HALLEL”?

As we mentioned, Hallel on Rosh Chodesh is a custom and not a takanah of Chazal. Do we recite a bracha before reciting this partial Hallel, since reciting it is, technically, not a mitzvah but a custom? This question is disputed by the Rishonim. Rambam rules that one does not recite a bracha before doing a custom (Hilchos Chanukah 3:7). This approach is the prevalent practice among the Sefardim and Edot HaMizrach in Eretz Yisrael, who do not recite a bracha on Hallel on Rosh Chodesh (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 422:2). Tosafos (Taanis 28b), however, rules that one may recite a bracha on Hallel on Rosh Chodesh and the last days of Pesach, and this is the universal practice among Ashkenazim (Rema).

DOES ONE RECITE “HALF-HALLEL” WHEN DAVENING IN PRIVATE?

The Gemara rules that an individual need not recite partial Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, but that once he began reciting Hallel, he should complete the partial Hallel (Taanis 28b). The custom among Ashkenazim is to recite partial Hallel with a bracha, even when davening alone. However, one should make an effort to recite the Hallel together with the tzibur, in order to avoid any shaylah. For this reason, if someone arrives late in shul, he should recite Hallel with the tzibur and daven afterwards. If he is in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra when the tzibur begins Hallel, he should recite the Hallel with the tzibur, as if it is part of Pesukei Dezimra (Mishnah Berurah 422:16).

ORDERLY HALLEL

Hallel, like Shmoneh Esrei, is one of the prayers that must be recited in its proper order (Megillah 17a). If someone misses a word or sentence, he must return to the place he omitted (Rema, Orach Chayim 422:6).

I was once in shul on Chanukah, and the chazan inadvertently skipped Lo Lanu and recited the subsequent paragraph, Hashem Zecharanu. The chazan was a talmid chacham, and, upon realizing his error, he recited Lo Lanu and then repeated Hashem Zecharanu. Although the lay people in the shul did not understand why the chazan had repeated the paragraph, he had, indeed, followed the correct procedure.

WOMEN AND HALLEL

Are women required to recite Hallel?

The mishnah implies that women are exempt from reciting Hallel (Sukkah 38a). This is because Hallel is a time-bound mitzvah, from which women are absolved.

However, some poskim rule that women are obligated to recite Hallel on Chanukah and Pesach, since it is recited in regard to miracles that benefited women. According to these poskim, women are absolved from Hallel on Sukkos and Shavuos, since it is recited only because of Yom Tov and not because of a miracle (see Tosafos, Sukkah 38a s.v. Mi; Toras Refael, Orach Chayim #75).

The logical basis for this distinction is that women are required to observe mitzvos established because of miracles that benefited them. This is why they they are required to kindle Chanukah lights, to hear Megillah on Purim and to drink the four cups of wine at the Seder (Megillah 4a, Shabbos 23a; Pesachim 108b).

To the Jew who yearns to make Hashem’s presence an integral part of his life, nothing is more distressing than when Hashem hides His presence. Yet, in today’s world, not only is Hashem’s presence hidden, but much of modern society ignores His existence altogether. How can we safeguard ourselves from this influence?
Reciting Hallel with tremendous emotion and reliving Hashem’s miracles rekindles the cognizance of Hashem’s presence. The moments that we recite Hallel can encapsulate the most fervent experience of His closeness.

In the merit of joyously reciting Hallel, may we see the return of the Divine Presence to Yerushalayim and the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash, speedily in our days.

Matanos La’evyonim

clip_image002_thumb.gifMegillas Esther teaches that one of the mitzvos established by Mordechai and Esther was “matanos la’evyonim,” giving gifts to the poor. Since the megillah states one should give gifts “La’evyonim,” which is plural, we derive that one must give gifts to at least two poor people (Gemara Megillah 7b).

WHAT IS THE MINIMUM GIFT TO FULFILL THE MITZVAH?

There are several opinions regarding the minimum gift needed to fulfill the mitzvah. The Maharasha contends that one must give each person an amount significant enough to be respectable (Chiddushei Agados, Megillah 7a s.v. shadar). Some contemporary poskim rule this way.

Zera Yaakov (Shu”t #11) contends that it is sufficient if the poor person could purchase a minimum meal with the gift, which he defines as bread the size of three eggs (quoted in Pischei Teshuvah 694:1). Thus according to this opinion, one fulfills matanos la’evyonim if one gives three slices of bread to each of two poor people (or enough money for each to purchase three slices of bread).

Ritva contends that one is required to give only the value of a prutah, a copper coin worth only a few cents (Ritva, Megillah 7b; Menoras HaMaor; Shu”t Maharil #56). Mishnah Berurah (694:2) rules this way and one can certainly follow this approach.

HOW MUCH SHOULD ONE STRIVE TO GIVE?

The above amounts are indeed extremely paltry matanos la’evyonim and only define the minimum amount to fulfill the mitzvah. There are two other rules that are important:

Firstly, one should give money to every person who asks for a tzedakah donation on Purim without verifying whether he has a legitimate tzedakah need (see Yerushalmi Megillah 1:4). We will explain the details of this halacha later. (It is obvious that one should not make a major donation without verifying that the need is legitimate.)

Secondly, one should calculate how much one intends to spend for shalach manos and the Purim seudah and then designate a greater amount of money for matanos la’evyonim (Rambam, Hilchos Megillah 2:17).

MATANOS LA’EVYONIM VERSUS SHALACH MANOS

Question: Assuming that one has limited resources, which is more important to give, many gifts to the poor or many shalach manos?

One should give a greater amount of matanos la’evyonim and limit how much shalach manos he sends (Rambam, Hilchos Megillah 2:17).

IS IT BETTER TO GIVE A LOT TO A FEW POOR, OR A LITTLE TO EACH?

The Bach rules that someone with 100 gold coins to distribute for matanos la’evyonim should distribute one coin to each of 100 poor people rather than give it all to one individual because this makes more people happy (Bach 695 s.v. v’tzarich lishloach). According to Rav Elyashiv, it is better to give two large gifts that will make two aniyim happy than to give many small gifts that are insufficient to make the recipients happy (quoted in Shevus Yitzchok on Purim, pg. 98).

These two Piskei halacha are not in conflict — quite the contrary, they complement one another. The mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim is to make as many poor people happy as possible. Receiving a very small gift does not place a smile on a poor man’s face, although it fulfills the minimal requirements of the mitzvah as noted above. However, both the Bach’s gold coin and Rav Elyashiv’s large gift accomplish that the poor person becomes happy. Therefore, giving each person enough of a gift to bring a smile to his face is a bigger mitzvah than giving a very large gift to one person and being unable to bring a smile to the others. Thus, the optimal way to perform the mitzvah is to make as many people happy as possible.

MAY MATANOS LA’EVYONIM COME FROM MAASER FUNDS?

The minimal amount that I am required to give may not be from maaser funds just as one may not spend maaser money on other mitzvos (Shu”t Maharil #56; Magen Avraham 694:1). The additional money that I give may be from maaser (Magen Avraham 694:1). However, since I concluded that one is not required to give more than one perutah to each of two poor people, two perutos are worth only a few cents. Therefore, once can assume that virtually all one’s matanos la’evyonim may come from maaser money.

DO I FULFILL THE MITZVAH WITH MONEY GIVEN BEFORE PURIM?

If the poor person receives the money on Purim, one is yotzei (Be’er Heiteiv 695:7; Aruch HaShulchan 694:2). Therefore, one can fulfill the mitzvah by mailing a contribution if one is certain that the poor person will receive it on Purim. If the poor person receives the money before Purim, one is not yotzei (Magen Avraham 694:1).

Similarly, one does not fulfill the mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim if the ani does not receive the money until after Purim.

DO I FULFILL MATANOS LA’EVYONIM BY DONATING MONEY TO AN ORGANIZATION?

If the organization distributes the money to the poor on Purim, I can perform my mitzvah this way.

DOES GETTING A TAX DEDUCTION PRECLUDE ME FROM FULFILLING MATANOS LA’EVYONIM?

If I donate the money through an institution that will distribute the money on Purim, I can fulfill the mitzvah and also deduct the donation from my tax liability.

CAN I FULFILL THE MITZVAH BY CHECK?

If the poor person can convert the check into cash or food on Purim, then I fulfill the mitzvah (Shvus Yitzchok pg. 99, quoting Rav Elyashiv).

DOES MY WIFE NEED TO GIVE HER OWN MATANOS LA’EVYONIM?

A woman is obligated in matanos la’evyonim (Shulchan Aruch 695:4). Magen Avraham states “I did not see that people are careful about this, possibly because this rule applies only to a widow or other woman who does not have a husband but that a married woman fulfills her obligation by having her husband distribute for her. However, one should be more machmir.” Thus according to the Magen Avraham, a woman should distribute her own money to the poor. It would be acceptable for a husband to tell his wife, “I am giving matanos la’evyonim specifically on your behalf,” but it is better if he gives her the money for her to distribute or gives the money to a shaliach to be zocheh for her, and then gives the money to the ani. Although most poskim follow the Magen Avraham’s ruling, some rule that a married woman fulfills the mitzvah when her husband gives, even without making any special arrangements (Aruch HaShulchan 694:2), and others contend that a married woman has no responsibility to give matanos la’evyonim (Pri Chodosh, quoting Maharikash).

MUST I GIVE MONEY?

No. One fulfills the mitzvah by giving the poor either food or money (Rambam). However, one should give the poor person something that he can use to enhance his celebration of Purim (see Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 694:1).

MUST THE POOR PERSON USE THE MONEY FOR PURIM?

No. The poor person may do whatever he wants with the money (see Gemara Bava Metzia 78b).

MAY ONE FULFILL THE MITZVAH AT NIGHT?

One does not fulfill the mitzvos of matanos la’evyonim, shalach manos, or the Purim meal if they are performed at night (see Machatzis HaShekel 694:1).

HOW POOR MUST A PERSON BE TO QUALIFY FOR MATANOS LA’EVYONIM?

The Mishnah (Peah 8:8) states that someone who owns less than 200 zuz qualifies to collect most of the Torah’s gifts to the poor, including maaser ani, the second tithe reserved for the poor, and peah, the corner of the field left for them. What is the modern equivalent of owning 200 zuz? Contemporary poskim rule that someone whose income is insufficient to pay for his family’s expenses qualifies as a poor person for all halachos including matanos la’evyonim. This is assuming that he does not have enough income or savings to support his family without selling basic essentials (Piskei Teshuvos 694:2).

DOES A POOR PERSON HAVE A MITZVAH OF GIVING TO THE POOR?

Does the mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim apply to the poor? Is there an easy way for him to perform it?

The Tur (694) states that “Chayov kol adam litein matanos la’aniyim,” “Every person is obligated to give matanos la’evyonim.” What is added by emphasizing “kol,” everyone? The Bach explains that this emphasizes that even a poor person, who is himself a tzedakah recipient, must also give.

Is there an inexpensive way for a poor person to give matanos la’evyonim?

Yes, he can give part of his seudas Purim to another poor person and the other poor person reciprocates. Thereby, they both fulfill matanos la’evyonim (Mishnah Berurah 694:2). Also, note that according to what I concluded above, a poor person can give a quarter to each of two other paupers and thereby fulfill the mitzvah.

MAY ONE USE MONEY COLLECTED FOR MATANOS LA’EVYONIM FOR A DIFFERENT PURPOSE?

One may not use money collected for matanos la’evyonim for a different tzedakah (Gemara Bava Metzia 78b). This is because the people who donated the money expect to fulfill two mitzvos with their donation: tzedakah and the special mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim. Thus, if one uses the money for a different tzedakah purpose, they fulfilled the mitzvah of tzedakah, but not the mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim.

If someone decided to give money for matanos la’evyonim, he is required to give it for this purpose even if he did not say so (Mishnah Berurah 694:6, quoting Hagahos Ashri).

PURIM VERSUS SHUSHAN PURIM

Do residents of Yerushalayim and other ancient walled cities who observe Purim on the fifteenth of Adar (often referred to as “Shushan Purim”) fulfill the mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim by giving to the poor who observed Purim the day before? Do people who observe Purim on the Fourteenth fulfill the mitzvah by giving to the poor of Yerushalayim when it is not yet Purim for them? These are good questions that are debated by contemporary poskim.

In the words of the Rambam (Hilchos Megillah 2:17), “It is more important to provide more gifts to the poor than to have a more lavish Purim seudah or send more shalach manos. This is because there is no greater and honored joy than bringing happiness to orphans, widows and the needy. Someone who makes the unfortunate happy is likened to Hashem’s Divine Presence, as the pasuk says: ‘He who revives the spirit of the lowly and brings to life the heart of the crushed,’” (Yeshayah 57:15).

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