Taanit Esther and Zecher LeMachatzit HaShekel – Halacha According to the Sephardic Practice

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Taanit Esther

Reason for the fast

  1. The Fast of Esther is observed on the thirteenth of Adar. This fast commemorates the fast that Mordechai decreed for Bnei Yisrael so that they should repent and pray for salvation from Amalek, and Haman and Achashverosh’s evil decrees.[1]
  2. Even though Taanit Esther is not a biblical obligation, one who is healthy and able to fast must do so.[2]
  3. It is customary to recite chapter 22 of Tehillim on Taanit Esther, and after reading the chapter it is an auspicious time to pray to Hashem for anything that one needs.[3]

Listening to music

  1. It is permitted to listen to music on Taanit Esther.[4]

When the fast falls out on Shabbat

  1. When Taanit Esther is on Shabbat, the custom is to fast the Thursday beforehand.[5]

Who is exempt from fasting

  1. A pregnant or nursing woman,[6] a woman who miscarried, and a woman who is within thirty days of childbirth are not only exempt from fasting on Taanit Esther, but should not fast even if they want to.[7]
  2. One who is within the first seven days of marriage, a father on the day of his son’s brit milah, a sandak, and a mohel are exempt from fasting, and should not be stringent.[8]
  3. Someone who is making a pidyon haben on Taanit Esther must fast.[9]

Zecher LeMachatzit HaShekel

 The custom of giving money Zecher lemachatzit hashekel

  1. In the time of the Bet Hamikdash, every Jew had to donate a machatzit hashekel, “one half-shekel” for the daily, communal sacrifices brought up by the priests on the Altar on behalf of the whole nation (Shemot 30:13). This uniform annual rate was paid by rich and poor alike, during the month of Adar. In remembrance of this custom, it is customary to donate the monetary value of a silver half shekel to tzedakah.
  2. When giving the machatzit hashekel, one should say that he is only giving the money to charity zecher lemachatzit hashekel (in remembrance of the half shekel), which was given in the time of the Bet HaMikdash.[10]

When to give it

  1. It is customary to give money to charity before the Megillah reading or during Minchah of Taanit Esther, zecher lemachatzit hashekel, as a remembrance for the half-shekel.[11]
  2. One who forgot to give the zecher lemachatzit hashekel before Purim may give it until Rosh Chodesh Nissan.[12]

Value of money

  1. The machatzit hashekel is measured by the worth of 9 grams of pure silver, according to the value of silver at the time.[13]
  2. If possible, one should give the worth of the machatzit hashekel in three coins that are in circulation.[14] However, if one does not have three coins that total the worth of the machatzit hashekel, then paper money or another object with the same value may be used as the zecher lemachatzit hashekel.[15]
  3. One who cannot afford to give the value of 9 grams of silver may give a fraction of any currency instead, for example, a half-shekel coin[16]
  4. The zecher lemachatzit hashekel may not be given from money set aside for maaser.[17]

Who is obligated

  1. Anyone above the age of twenty is obligated to give the zecher lemachatzit hashekel. It is praiseworthy, though, for anyone above the age of bar mitzvah to give the zecher lemachatzit hashekel as well.[18]
  2. Women should also give the zecher lemachatzit hashekel. If possible, one should also give the zecher lemachatzit hashekel on behalf of his children who are under the age of bar or bat mitzvah. However, if one cannot afford to give so much, then he may give a half-shekel coin for each person in his family.[19]
  3. Kohanim and Levi’im are also obligated to give the zecher lemachatzit hashekel.[20]

To who the money should be given to

  1. Preferably, the money given for the zecher lemachatzit hashekel should be given to yeshivot or to talmidei chachamim.[21]

[1]. Rambam, Taanit 5:5; Shulchan Aruch 686:2; Mishnah Berurah 686:2. Chida (Chomat Anach, Bo 7) cites from the Roke’ach that the plague of Choshech (darkness) occurred on the 13th of Adar in Mitzrayim, and many Jews died on that day. Hagahot Maimoni cites the She’iltot who says that the custom of the fast is in remembrance of when the Jews gathered on the 13th of Adar to pray for their salvation from the Nations who were trying to kill them. This is also brought by Seder HaYom. Rosh, Megillah 1:1, explains that this is similar to the fast that Moshe Rabbenu established before the Bnei Yisrael fought with Amalek. Maran states in Magid Mesharim, Vayakhel, that since it is customary to drink wine on Purim, and people will become drunk, it is a time when the forces of Tumah try to cause Heavenly judgement upon Bnei Yisrael, thus, it is customary to fast a day before Purim in order to weaken the forces of Tumah. This is also similar to why Taanit Bechorot was established on erev Pesach. This reason is also cited in Moed LeChol Chai 31:54 and Kav HaYashar, ch. 97. Me’am Loez, Esther, explains that the reason for this fast is to show that through pain and suffering one merits redemption. Some say (cited by Purim BeTzion, p. 125, end of footnote 2) that this was the same day that Yehoshua fought with Amalek, and he established a fast day at that time thus meriting to defeat Amalek. See also Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 225, which brings thirteen other reasons for why we fast on Taanit Esther.

[2]. Rama 686:2; Divrei Yatziv, O.C. §290; Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 40.

[3] Kav HaYashar, ch. 97.

[4] Yalkut Yosef, Arba Taaniyot, p. 29 and 38; Igrot HaRishon LeTzion, vol. 2, p. 133.

[5]. Rama 686:2.

[6]. See Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 37, which explains that a woman who is at least three months pregnant is exempt from fasting. However, a woman who is not yet three months pregnant but is suffering from vomiting and nausea is also exempt from fasting. The definition of a nursing woman is a woman who within twenty-four months of childbirth and feels weak, regardless of whether she is nursing her baby. See also Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 240.

[7]. Mishnah Berurah 686:5; Kaf HaChayim 686:22; Yechaveh Daat 1:35; and Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 42 state that they also do not have to compensate for the fast on another day.

[8]. Ben Ish Chai, Shoftim 1:17; Yechaveh Daat 2:78; Yabia Omer, vol. 1, 34:10; ibid., vol. 5, 40:8; Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 43.

[9]. Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 262; Chashukei Chemed on Megillah 2a, in the name of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. See Piskei Teshuvot, p. 519.

[10]. Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 101 says that there is a concern that if someone says that it is real machatzit hashekel it could be considered as a donation to the Bet Hamikdash which would be problematic, as it would sanctify the funds and forbid its use.

[11]. Rama 694:1; Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 101. See Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 585, which lists several opinions regarding when the machatzit hashekel should be given.

[12]. Ashrei HaIsh, vol. 3, 42:3; Avnei Yoshfeh 1:133.

[13]. Kaf HaChayim 694:20; Yechaveh Daat 1:86; Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 102; Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 588. See Yaskil Avdi 1:19 & 2:11 and Minchat Yitzchak 9:69. This is unlike Tzitz Eliezer 13:72, which says that one only has to give an actual half-shekel coin, even though it is worth much less than a silver machatzit hashekel.

[14]. Rama 694:1; Moed LeChol Chai 31:51; Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 103.

[15]. See Yaskil Avdi, vol. 1, 19:16 & 2:11, which says that one must give actual money, and not something else with the same worth. However, Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 105 says that since the halachah of giving the machatzit hashekel is only a custom today, one does not have to be stringent, and may even give objects that have the same value of a machatzit hashekel. See also Kaf HaChayim 694:20.

[16]. Kaf HaChayim 694:23; Biur Halachah, “Yesh Omrim”; Tzitz Eliezer 13:72; Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 104; Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 591. Yalkut Yosef also says that if one cannot attain a half-shekel coin, he may even give a whole shekel and say that the other half should be given to charity, and not be used as a zecher lemachatzit hashekel.

[17]. Yechaveh Daat 1:87; Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 104; Yalkut Yosef, Purim, p. 594. However, one who generally gives maaser on condition of bli neder, without obligating oneself, may use maaser money if he cannot afford to give the full machatzit hashekel.

[18]. Yechaveh Daat 1:86; Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 104.

[19]. Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 105. See also Mishnah Berurah 694:5, Ohr LeTzion, vol. 4, 52:1, and Halichot Shlomo, Purim, p. 327, which state that if one’s wife is pregnant, one should even give an extra machatzit hashekel for the unborn child. See also Kaf HaChayim 694:24.

[20] Aruch HaShulchan 694:8.

[21]. Kaf HaChayim 694:22; Yechaveh Daat 1:86; Chazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 105. See also Ashrei HaIsh, vol. 3, 42:4.