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The Purim Meal

Rav David Brofsky
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We read toward the end of the Megilla (9:20-22) that Mordekhai sent letters to the Jews of the provinces of Achashverosh, announcing the establishment of the Purim festival. In his letters, Mordekhai wrote:
… that they should keep yearly the fourteenth day of the month Adar, and the fifteenth day of the same, the days wherein the Jews had rest from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning into a good day; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.
Mordekhai enacted three components to the Purim celebration: “feasting and gladness,” “sending portions one to another” (mishlo’ach manot), and “gifts to the poor” (matanot la-evyonim).
In this shiur, we will discuss the details and parameters of the festive meal of Purim, known as the se’udat purim. This is one of the central components of the Purim holiday, both experientially and halakhically, as the Megilla itself characterizes the days of Purim as "days of feasting and gladness."  
When should one conduct this festive meal? The Gemara records:
Rava said: one who eats the festive Purim meal at night has not fulfilled his obligation. What is the reason? It says: "days of feasting and gladness."
Rav Ashi was sitting in front of Rav Kahana; it became dark, and the Rabbis didn’t come. He said to him: Why didn’t the Rabbis come? Maybe they were busy with the festive Purim meal.
He (Rav Kahana) said: Was it not possible for them to eat [their Purim meal] the previous night?
He (Rav Ashi) responded: Didn’t [you] hear that which Mar said in the name of Rava: one who eats the festive Purim meal at night has not fulfilled his obligation? … (Megilla 7b)
Rava clearly rules that the festive meal must be eaten during the day of Purim, and not the previous night. The Rambam (Hilkhot Megilla 2:14), the Rashba and Ritva (Megilla 4a) rule in accordance with this Gemara, as does the Shulchan Arukh (695:1).
The Mordekhai (Megilla 787), however, cites the Ra’avya (R. Eliezer ben Yoel Ha-levi, d. 1225) as arguing that just as the Megilla is read both at night and again during the day, similarly, one should hold a festive meal both at night and during the day. Apparently, he recognized an additional, albeit lower, level of the mitzva that requires holding a meal at night, as well. The Rema (ibid.) also writes that one should "rejoice at night as well, and slightly increase in one's meal."
The Rema records that it is customary to begin the Purim meal after praying the mincha service, in the afternoon. The Mishna Berura (8) explains that people are generally busy delivering mishlo’ach manot during the morning hours, and therefore the festive meal is commonly held in the afternoon.
In many communities, especially where people must work on Purim, it is customary to begin the festive meal very late in the afternoon. The Rema rules that the majority of the meal should be eaten during the day, and speaks very critically of those who begin late and eat most of their meal after dark.
Very often, the Purim meal is concluded only after nightfall, giving rise to the question of whether one should insert al ha-nissim in birkat ha-mazon. The Orchot Chayim (Hilkhot Purim, 35), cited by the Hagahot Maimoniyot (Hilkhot Megilla 2:14), rules that one inserts al ha-nissim even if the meal extended into the nighttime hours. The Tur (695), however, cites his father, the Rosh (see Teshuvot 22:6), as ruling that one should not insert al ha-nissim after dark. The Maharil (56) records that the custom in Ashkenaz followed the first opinion. The Shulchan Arukh (695:2) cites both views, and the Rema adds that it is customary to insert "al ha-nissim."
Interestingly, the Peri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 5) lauds the practice of those who eat the se’udat Purim in the morning. The Rema, citing the Sefer Ha-minhagim, rules that this should be done when Purim falls on Friday.
What should one eat at the festive Purim meal? The Magen Avraham (695:9) writes, "We haven't found [a source indicating] that one is obligated to eat bread on Purim." Accordingly, the Birkei Yosef (695) and Eliya Rabba (695:7) rule that one need not eat bread at the se’udat purim. Others, however, maintain that one must eat bread at the Purim meal, just as Halakha requires eating bread at Yom Tov meals (see Shulchan Arukh O.C. 529:1). This is the view accepted by the Arukh Ha-shulchan (695:7) and the Netziv (Ha-emek She'ela 67:1, attributing this view to R. Achai Gaon).
This question may impact upon another issue, namely, whether or not one who forgets to insert al ha-nissim must repeat birkat ha-mazon. The Mishna Berura (15) cites a debate surrounding this issue. The Magen Avraham (9) and Peri Megadim (ibid.) link this question to the issue of whether one is obligated to eat bread at the Purim meal. Those who require one to eat bread should also require one to repeat birkat ha-mazon if he forgot al ha-nissim, as the recitation of al ha-nissim was mandatory as a result of the obligation to eat bread.  Conversely, those who do not require eating bread should not demand that one repeat birkat ha-mazon in this case. The Aruch Ha-Shulkhan (12), however, contends that even those who require the consumption of bread would not demand that one who omits al ha-nissim repeat birkat ha-mazon, as birkat ha-mazon should be treated no more stringently than the amida prayer.  One who forgets to add al ha-nissim in the amida does not repeat the amida, despite the fact that the inclusion of al ha-nissim is clearly obligatory, and hence we would not require one to repeat birkat ha-mazon, either.
As for the final halakha, the Mishna Berura applies to this case the principle of "safek berkhot le-hakel," meaning, one never recites a berakha if there is some uncertainty as to whether it is warranted.  Hence, in light of the different views surrounding this issue, one who forgets to add al ha-nissim in birkat ha-mazon should not repeat birkat ha-mazon.
Must one eat meat at the Purim meal? The Rambam (Hilkhot Megilla 2:15) and Shulchan Arukh (696:6) strongly imply that one must eat meat at the Purim se’uda. Some even express uncertainty as to whether one fulfills the obligation by eating poultry (Yechaveh Da'at 6:33)! The Magen Avraham (696:15), however, questions whether one must actually eat meat. The Acharonim relate this issue to the question of whether one must eat meat on Yom Tov to fulfill the commandment of simchat yom tov.

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