Saturday, March 15, 2008

Purim on Friday

Seudat Purim on Friday: Level I

When Purim falls on a Friday, is it possible to schedule the seudah (festive meal) such that it is eaten very close to Shabbat, thus making it easier for people who work on Purim to fulfill the obligation of the seudah?

            The earliest rabbinic sources feature a debate over whether one can, on any week of the year, eat in the hours leading up to Shabbat, though formal legal consensus quickly forms around the lenient view.  There is also general consensus that one may begin eating before Shabbat and continue through the onset of Shabbat, provided that, by sunset, one pauses to make iddush and only then continues with one’s meal.  However, other sources frown on scheduling even an occasional major meal for Friday afternoon, for several possible reasons: 1) This deprives one of a proper appetite on Shabbat (possibly only a concern for a Friday afternoon meal that ends before Shabbat, as opposed to one that carried over into Shabbat); 2) This deprives one of time to prepare adequately for Shabbat.  These concerns led most Ashkenazi authorities to hold that the Purim seudah should be held in the morning when Purim fell on Friday.  But many hold that the above concerns do not apply in the context of a seudat mitzvah, where the meal has its own religious value (as in the case of a Purim seudah).  Indeed, many Jewish communities throughout history and until today had a regular practice, whenever Purim fell on Friday, to begin the meal in the late afternoon and have it continue into Shabbat.

            In brief: It is a well-attested and perfectly legitimate practice to begin the Purim seudah late in the afternoon and have it continue into Shabbat.  Even those who normally have the practice to have the seudah in the morning in these situations would be justified in changing their practice in order to accommodate people who would otherwise not fulfill this mitzvah.  One should make sure to have made all necessary preparations for Shabbat in advance and to be sure to remember to pray Minhah before the meal.  The meal should be begun early enough so that a significant portion of it can be eaten before sunset.  Once sunset arrives, one should temporarily stop eating and drinking.  The two loaves to be used for Shabbat should be brought out if they are not already on the table and be covered.  Kiddush should then be made over a full cup of wine.  If wine was already consumed earlier in the meal, בורא פרי הגפן should not be said as part of iddush and one begins directly with אשר קדשנו במצוותיו ורצה בנו.  Assuming bread was eaten earlier, hands need not be washed again.  The bread should be uncovered and then distributed to those present without saying המוציא.  [If bread was not eaten during the earlier meal, then hands should be washed and המוציא said.]  People can then resume eating.  At the conclusion of the meal, ברכת המזון is recited without על הנסים and with רצה.  [Some advocate the inclusion of על הנסים as well.]  Kabbalat Shabbat and Arvit then follow.

[Since this practice is today often advanced to aid those who work on Purim, it should be noted that it is preferable not to work on Purim, if at all possible.  The Megillah itself describes Purim as a Yom Tov and several early sources actually speak of a ban on doing work.  Over time, this more stringent take on Purim was stamped out by rabbinic leaders and popular practice, but voices still persisted frowning on those who treated Purim like a normal work day except for the practice of its distinctive mitzvot.  This tension has persisted until the modern day (and pressure to work only increased with the advent of the industrial revolution and its rigid work hours).  One can fairly say that the equilibrium point for most poskim is tolerance for those who work on Purim combined with a strong preference for a religious culture that devotes the entire day towards its distinctive mitzvot and more general joyfulness.]