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Shabbat Parashat Vayikra 5776

Ask the Rabbi: Early Reading of Megillat Esther

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I am working on a Megilla reading program to attract families with children (not consistent shul-goers) for Purim evening (the children attend public school in the morning). Due to daylight savings time and our geographic position, tzeit hakochavim will not be until around 8 PM, a time that would discourage families from coming. May we read the Megilla from plag hamincha (11/4 hours before sunset)?


Answer: The gemara (Berachot 27a) says that one may accept the opinion that Ma’ariv can be prayed after plag hamincha. Rabbeinu Tam (Berachot 2a) says that the same is true of Kri’at Shema of the evening. Based on these opinions, the Terumat Hadeshen (109), accepted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 692:4), says that in a case of need, one may read Megillat Esther from plag hamincha. Since you describe a case of significant need, this seemingly gives you permission to make the reading from plag hamincha.

However, not everyone accepts the Terumat Hadeshen/Shulchan Aruch. The Pri Chadash (ad loc.) strongly disagrees. He argues that we do not accept Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion about reading Kri’at Shema from plag haminchan (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 235:1). Also, the gemara (Megilla 4a) derives the night reading from, “I will call out to You in the day … and at night” (Tehillim 22:3). The Pri Chadash says that since night is needed, plag hamincha, which is only close to night, is insufficient, and the time begins with tzeit hakochavim. The Gra (to Shulchan Aruch ibid.) cites the Pri Chadash, and the Chayei Adam (155:5) and the Aruch Hashulcan (692:8) rule like him.

The Mishna Berura (692:14 and Be’ur Halacha) does not clearly decide between the opinions but says that in a case of great need (not the moderate need the Shulchan Aruch refers to), one can read before nightfall. Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer I, OC 42) ruled to rely on the lenient opinion, under the following fascinating circumstances – the British placed a strict dusk-to-dawn curfew in Yerushalayim on Purim of 1947, making reading Megilla from plag hamincha the most feasible option. One of the factors he weighed was that according to prominent (although far from unanimous) opinions, the main reading, as mandated by the Megilla itself, is in the daytime, with the night reading being only Rabbinic and thus more lenient.

From a purist halachic perspective, it is hard to quantify what number of extra people coming for early Megilla reading (with more pirsumei nisa) over at the classic time justifies the change. However, your community has a strong kiruv element, which is an overriding consideration, certainly when the lenient position you want to rely upon is accepted by no less than the Shulchan Aruch. You should consider such things as the extent to which, if at all, this leniency affects the community in other ways (e.g., will it dampen the resolve to continue keeping mitzvot carefully if practices that were not previously practiced locally are now accepted?).

Is reading after sunset (a little after 7:30) preferable to plag hamincha? From a purist perspective, it is unclear, as the Pri Chadash’s approach requires tzeit hakochavim. However, we, to a certain extent, treat bein hashemashot, starting with sunset, as a safek of night. There may also be significant communal/educational advantages to changing in the least noticeable way. So you should consider whether that is early enough.

From a purist perspective, there is ample halachic basis to do an early reading without a beracha, as the fulfillment of the mitzva at that time is uncertain. However, the correct desire to have the reading carry its full spirit and impact presumably includes the berachot (see Rav Ovadia’s formulation, ibid.), and the lenient opinions include making them. It is appropriate for you to reread the Megilla at the normal time, without a berachot. Subjective communal/educational factors, which you know better than we, should determine if and whom you should invite to join you.

May you continue to bring “ora v’simcha sason viy’kar to your community.

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