There are several Purim halachos that I feel are underestimated in their significance that I’d like to quickly run through here.
Taanis Esther, the day before Purim is a Rabbinic fast day. It is however considered by most to be the least stringent of all fast days and therefore even one who isn’t feeling well is usually permitted to break his fast. [Every situation is different and one should ask their Rav for a personal psak].
After the fast is over, one is still not allowed to eat according to the Magen Avrohom before hearing the Megilla. In fact if one examines the exemptions granted to this Halacha vis a vis the exemptions granted to fasting on Taanis Esther, it would seem that if one isn’t feeling well on the fast he is better off eating then then eating after the fast before the Megilla reading. In fact I have heard that Rav Rubin of Eretz Yisroel recommended eating on Taanis Esther in the above scenario.
However Rav Dovid Feinstein told me that it is permitted to eat before the Megilla as long as he doesn’t have a meal including bread.
The universally accepted custom is to give three half dollar coins of the local currency in remembrance of the Machtzis HaShekel, the half Shekel that was given in the desert to the Mishkan. The Torah writes “Terumah” three times so we give three half dollars.
This is generally carried out on Taanis Esther. (even when Taanis Esther is not the day before Purim).
Generally the Shul provides three half dollar coins. The individual should lift up the coins 11 inches and then returns them to he plate. He should donate to charity the equivalent of the three half dollars.
There are various minhagim as to who should give the Machtzis HaShekel:
• Every male 20 and older
• Every male 13 and older
• Every man, woman, and child (including a pregnant woman for her unborn child)
The Machtizs HaShekel can be given by someone else on their behalf.
Once one began to give Machatzis HaShekel on behalf of his children he shouldn’t stop. If however he started this practice because he thought it was obligatory to give for small children, and later became aware that it wasn’t obligatory, rather it was just a minhag, he may cease giving on their behalf.
The Biur Halacha is unsure as to whether a poor person is obligated in Machatzis HaShekel, Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled they are obligated.
Seudah at Night
It is proper to have a small festive meal on the night of Purim as well, although one would not fulfill their obligation for Seudas Purim with this.
Many people like to give their Matanos Leavyonim money to unfortunate Israelis. While commendable, one is obligated to give Matanos Leavyonim on Purim day itself, and can run into problems with the time change, and especially for the poor of Jerusalem where Purim is on a different day altogether. Therefore one should also make sure to fulfill their obligation with local poor as well.
One should send as Mishloach Manos two types of food. They can be the same berachah, indeed even two different cuts of meat or a bottle of red wine with a bottle of white wine is sufficient to be considered ‘two types’.
There is a halachic advantage to sending the Mishloach Manos with a messenger, although one is not obligated to do so.
Other Miscellaneous Laws
One should wear Shabbos clothing on Purim, even at night. The Kaf Hachaim (695:7) stresses that one should be especially careful to wear Shabbos Clothes for the Megilla reading.
One may fulfill their obligation to become intoxicated with any alcoholic beverage, although there is a minority opinion that one must use wine.
I was asked after writing the Tzedakah blog, that if one is obligated to give every poor person who approaches him for tzedaka, then what is the addition of the famous “Kol haposhet yad nosnim lo” [all who approach one must give] halachah of Purim. Indeed the Bach (OC 694) asks this question and offers two answers:
1) One may not check to see if the poor person is a worthy recipient on Purim
2) One should give non Jewish poor as well
If one is in the unusual situation of not being able to hear the Megilla he should say Hallel. The reasoning behind this is that one of the reasons the Gemara (Megilla 14a) gives for not saying Hallel on Purim is that reading the Megilla is a form of saying Hallel. Ergo, if one does not hear the Megilla he should say Hallel. (probably without a beracha).