Last Purim, the world was going into lockdown. In Los Angeles and other Jewish communities around the globe, some shuls canceled Purim celebrations while others stayed open. Later on, we discovered that many holiday parties became superspreader events, leading to people contract COVID-19 and even pass away from the illness.
“Last Purim we were still so clueless about COVID, that although we told people they had the option not to attend Purim services, we did not cancel our Purim carnival kids program on Purim night after Megillah,” said Senior Rabbi of Beverly Hills Synagogue Pini Dunner. “It was only a few days later, when the first stories of serious illness and even deaths began to surface in New York and New Jersey, that we decided to shut our doors and close the shul indefinitely. Even then, we imagined it would only be for a few weeks or perhaps a couple of months. We would never have believed that a year later, 450,000 people would be dead from COVID, and that we would still not be ready to open our doors.”
This year, ahead of Purim, local rabbis in Pico-Robertson have released guidelines on how the community can avoid spreading COVID-19 and safely celebrate the holiday. Rabbi Dunner, Rabbi Jason Weiner of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Knesset Israel Synagogue of Beverlywood, Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City, Rabbi Kalman Topp of Beth Jacob Congregation and Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea Congregation signed the letter.
“It is crucial to continue taking precautions so that we can avoid sickness and death in the community,” said Dunner. “Until the vaccinations are given out to a majority of our community and numbers overall are down, it is imperative that we do everything in our power to prevent any danger to our members and those they may come into contact with.”
The letter states that people should hear the Megillah in person with a minyan on both Purim night and day. But if they can’t leave their home due to COVID-19 concerns, they should read the Megillah from a Kosher Megillah, or follow the Megillah via a Zoom transmission. “In such a circumstance it is preferable to follow the reading with a Kosher Megillah and to recite the Megillah along with the Ba’al Kriah word for word,” it says. “If this is not possible, then you can simply listen to the reading via Zoom.”
The letter stresses that the ruling to hear the Megillah via Zoom is only for this year because of COVID-19, as it is not ideal.
It also states that it’s best to avoid social gatherings and being in close proximity to anyone outside of the immediate family when delivering Mishaloach Manot or having a Purim Seudah. Since many people are worried about getting food from outside their home, the letter says, “it is worth considering reducing the amount of Misholach Manot one distributes. Additionally, consider supporting your shul Mishloach Manot programs.”
“These guidelines offer direction in how to celebrate Purim in the halakhically correct fashion, even with COVID being the reality,” said Muskin. “It is certainly our prayer and hope that with the vaccines we will be able to celebrate Purim the way we did before COVID ever was part of our lives.”
“These guidelines offer direction in how to celebrate Purim in the halakhically correct fashion…”
Weiner agreed. “The main health concerns are the pandemic, particularly its rapid spread recently in our community and the variants of the virus… I am very hopeful that by next Purim things will be back to normal.”
The full letter is below.
Purim 5781 (2021)
With Purim just a few weeks away and the realization that COVID-19 has created unique circumstances, it is the purpose of this document to outline the special features that pertain uniquely to this year’s Purim holiday. We present this Halakhic guidance, which has been reviewed and approved by Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Kollel of Yeshiva University and a world respected Posek, as our united community policy.
Kriyat Parashat Zachor:
The practice to hear Parashat Zachor (which are the last three Pesukim in Parashat Ki Teitzei in Chumash Devarim) traditionally takes place on the Shabbat preceding Purim. If you are able to attend a Minyan and hear the Torah reading at that time, you should do so. If you are not able to attend a Minyan due to COVID-19 considerations:
a) If you have access to a Sefer Torah you should read Zachor from the Torah, but without Brakhot.
b) If you don’t have access to a Sefer Torah, you should read Zachor from a Chumash. In this case, during the coming summer, when Parashat
Ki-Teitzei is read (Shabbat August 21), you should have in mind that you are fulfilling the mitzvah of Zachor with that Torah reading.
Megillah on Purim Night and Day:
If you are able to hear the Megillah in person with a Minyan on both Purim night and day, you should absolutely do so. If due to COVID-19 concerns you are not able to leave your home to attend a Minyan and you are not able to read the Megillah on your own from a Kosher Megillah, then you should follow the Megillah via the Zoom transmission that will be arranged by your community Shul. In such a circumstance it is preferable to follow the reading with a Kosher Megillah and to recite the Megillah along with the Ba’al Kriah word for word. If this is not possible, then you can simply listen to the reading via Zoom.
A general note: If one is reading the Megillah without a Minyan, the concluding blessing of “Harav Et Reveynu” should not be said.
We would like to emphasize that under normal circumstances, hearing the Megillah via Zoom is not ideal and our Psak is only for this year due to the extenuating considerations that Covid-19 has created.
Purim Seudah, Mishloach Manot and Matanot L’Evyonim:
This year Purim falls … on Thursday night and Friday, creating a challenge of when to have the Purim Seudah (as one cannot fulfill the Mitzvah on Thursday night). One should have a Purim Seudah either for breakfast or lunch on Friday. The meal should be a festive one, similar to a regular year, preferably featuring meat and wine.
The Mitzvot of Mishloach Manot and Matanot L’Evyonim can only be fulfilled on Purim day. We would like to remind you that social distancing rules still apply, and we therefore urge you to avoid social gatherings or close proximity to those outside your immediate family when delivering Mishloach Manot or having your Purim Seudah.
Mishloach Manot only requires that you send two food items to one person. This year, because many people are concerned about receiving food from outside their home, it is worth considering reducing the amount of Misholach Manot one distributes. Additionally, consider supporting your shul Mishloach Manot programs.
Matanot L’evyonim requires that we give money to at least two people so they can celebrate Purim. By appointing your rabbi to distribute the money on Purim, you can accomplish this Mitzvah. You can give the money to your rabbi for Matanot L’evyonim even before Purim.
Wishing everyone a safe and wonderful Purim Sameach,
Rabbi Pini Dunner
Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky
Rabbi Elazar Muskin
Rabbi Kalman Topp
Rabbi Jason Weiner
Kylie Ora Lobell is a writer for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, The Forward, Tablet Magazine, Aish, and Chabad.org and the author of the first children’s book for the children of Jewish converts, “Jewish Just Like You.”