25 Feb Purim Kashruth Questions
Regarding the custom of Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel, I have a difficult time finding fifty cent coins. Can I give two quarters, or is there a different way to perform this mitzvah?
The Rama (OC 694:1) writes that before Purim one should give to charity a coin that is half the value of the standard currency of the time, as a remembrance of the half shekel that was collected every year for the communal sacrifices. It is proper to give three such coins, since in Parshas Shekalim the word teruma (donation) is repeated three times. This alludes to three separate collections that were made (see Rashi, Ki Sisa 30:15). The Maharsham (Daas Torah 694:1) writes that if one cannot find such coins, i.e. half dollars, then one should find a friend to pair up with and together to give three one dollar coins (based on the Mishna, Shekalim 1:6). However, Rabbi Yosef Greenwald, zt”l (Va’yaan Yosef OC 407) writes that strictly speaking, one can give 3 nickels for Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel, since a nickel is half of a dime. He maintains that a better solution is to give two quarters instead, since a dollar is a more primary currency than a dime. Although, altogether, one is giving six coins and not three, he writes that this too is acceptable, since it is merely a zecher (commemoration) of the original mitzvah.
When is the proper time to give the Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel?
The Gemara (Megilla 13b) teaches us that the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people in the time of Purim was in the merit of the mitzvah of Machtzis Hashekel (the half shekel given each year for the communal sacrifices). Although we can no longer bring the sacrifices, as a remembrance for this mitzvah and the salvation, there is a custom to give a Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel each year before we read about the evil decree of Haman. Maseches Sofrim (21:4) writes that the coins should be given before reading Parshas Zachor. However, the Rama (OC 694:1) writes that this is no longer the custom. Instead, the Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel should be given on Taanis Esther before davening Mincha. Some explain that we specifically give the Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel before Purim and not on Purim so as not to confuse these coins with Matanos L’evyonim. It is customary to give the coins as close to Purim as possible. When Purim is on Sunday, and the Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel cannot be given right before Purim (because it is Shabbos), one should give the Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel on Thursday (when Taanis Esther is observed). Sefer Divrei Yatziv (OC 293) writes that in such a case, it is best to give Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel twice, on Thursday and again on Purim day before reading the Megillah.
It is Taanis Esther. I have a headache. Am I permitted to break my fast?
The halachos regarding breaking one’s fast on Taanis Esther are more lenient than with regard to other fasts. This is because the Rama (OC 686:2) writes that fasting on Taanis Esther is not a complete obligation. Taanis Esther is not explicitly mentioned in the Nevi’im (Prophets) or in the Talmud as a fast day. However, since it has become customary to fast on this day, one may not separate themselves from the rest of the Jewish people. Because Taanis Esther is more lenient, the Mishnah Berurah (686:4) writes that the custom in many places is that expectant or nursing mothers may eat even if they do not feel any discomfort. The Piskei Teshuvos (686:3) quotes many sources that write that today, this is the prevailing custom. An additional leniency is that on most fasts, one who is ill need not fast, but a common headache does not constitute an illness. However, on Taanis Esther, even one who has a headache is permitted to break their fast. However, one who has a headache might want to consider whether they really want to break their fast, since they are required to make up the fast at a later date (Rama ibid).