As joyous as the holiday is, it is also a time for serious reflection on the duties of a Jew toward their community, particularly in a post-Holocaust world. The day before the holiday is a minor fast day, the Fast of Esther, timed to coincide with Esther’s own fast on the day during which she decided to tell Ahashverosh that she is a Jew and to avert the massacre of her people.
One of the primary obligations of Purim, beyond the revelry, is matanot l'evyonim (gifts to the poor) — gifts given at this season to those in need so that they, too, can celebrate Purim with a special meal. Many families have committed to participating in this important social justice aspect of the holiday. One should give money to at least two needy people or good causes, and send gifts of food or drink, called mishloach manot, to friends. And, finally, one should have a Purim s’udah (festive meal), with family and friends sharing in the joy of the holiday.
George Robinson is the author of the critically acclaimed Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals (revised edition, Atria Books, 2016) and Essential Torah: A Complete Guide to the Five Books of Moses (Schocken Books, 2006). Mr. Robinson is the film critic for The Jewish Week, the largest Jewish newspaper in North America, and a frequent contributor to Hadassah Magazine. He is adjunct assistant professor of media studies at Borough of Manhattan Community College, and has been critic-in-residence at several Jewish film festivals around the country. Robinson was a contributor to the recent edition of Encyclopedia Judaica and has written frequently for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsday, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly. Mr. Robinson lives in New York City with his wife Margalit Fox, a reporter for the New York Times and an author in her own right.