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How will IDF soldiers celebrate Purim in Gaza?

The ongoing war in the Strip makes IDF soldiers raise questions regarding Purim's commandments and celebrations and how they should be carried out amid fighting
Yitzchak Tessler|
"We make sure to bring with us a kosher Megillah, and now we have to hope that the fighting will allow us to read from it," shared M., a soldier in the IDF’s Commando Brigade who has spent most of the past few months in the Gaza Strip and is expected to be there this Purim. "Naturally, fighting takes precedence over everything else, but over the past few weeks, there have been many pauses in fighting that allowed us to hold prayers and even read the Torah."
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What about the other mitzvot (commandments) and Jewish customs on Purim? "We’ll need to fulfill the mitzvah of giving gifts to the poor before the holiday. But there's no problem in fulfilling the mitzvah of Mishloach Manot (gift baskets); religious soldiers simply exchange sweets among themselves that were sent to us,” he said.
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כוחות צה"ל ושב"כ בלחימה ממוקדת בבית החולים שיפאא'; חוסלו עד כה עשרות רבות של מחבלים
כוחות צה"ל ושב"כ בלחימה ממוקדת בבית החולים שיפאא'; חוסלו עד כה עשרות רבות של מחבלים
IDF forces in Gaza
(Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
“As for the drinking - of course, it's forbidden to drink alcohol during operational activities, so we make do with grape juice. Regarding making merry on Purim – we’re to be fighting, but we don't forget the friends we have lost since the start of the war."
Even though it's unclear whether Gaza City was surrounded by walls in the days of Joshua bin Nun, IDF soldiers who are there during the holiday can suffice by reading the Megillah only on the 14th of the Jewish month of Adar.
This halachic ruling by Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon, head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, who served in the past in the IDF Armored Corps and authored a book on the Jewish law in the IDF, responds to one of many questions sent to him by IDF soldiers in recent days.
The questions dealt with difficulties in fulfilling the commandments of Purim in the military, including the reading of the Megillah, Mishloach Manot, gifts to the poor, as well as the festive meal that includes the drinking of alcohol. Below is a summary of the answers to the many questions that reached him by phone, email, and WhatsApp.
To the soldier who asked, "Do we observe the commandment of destroying the Amalek when fighting Hamas?" Rabbi Rimon replied: "When we mention Amalek in Purim, we remember all those who try to kill us in every generation. We remember the Egyptians and the Amalek, we remember Haman and the Nazis, and all those who try to destroy us."

Questions and answers

Megillah reading - what will soldiers do if they can’t read the Megillah during the evening and/or morning on Purim? Rabbi Rimon responded to several inquiries, relying on the rulings of many halachic authorities before him, that a soldier who can’t read the Megillah will read it on Thursday (March 21) or even the day before, but without a blessing said before and after the reading. If it's still possible to read on Purim, of course, one can participate in the Megillah reading.
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הרב יוסף צבי רימון
הרב יוסף צבי רימון
Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon
(Photo: Yaakov Segal)
For a soldier who can choose whether to attend the evening or morning Megillah reading, but not both, Rabbi Rimon recommends attending the evening reading due to halachic principles, and because unexpected operation during Purim may not allow time for reading the Megillah during the day.
Is Gaza to be treated like Jerusalem? - As is known, Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar, except in Jerusalem, which celebrates one day later, on the 15th of Adar, as the Jews in the capital city of Shushan did in the days of King Ahasuerus.
There are several ancient cities in Israel, including Tiberias, Hebron, and Acre, regarding which are disputed whether their law is like that of Jerusalem and should celebrate Purim one day later, or at the same time as the rest of the country.
Rabbi Rimon notes that in several ancient texts, it is written that the ancient Jewish community that resided in Gaza had a tradition of reading the Megillah on both days of Purim. Ultimately, Rabbi Rimon asserts that since it’s unclear whether Gaza was surrounded by a wall and its precise historical location, and since there is no longer a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip, soldiers in the city can suffice with reading the Megillah only on the 14th of Adar.
Mishloach Manot – In the Book of Esther, the mitzvah of sending food to one another is mentioned, and the Jewish sages explained that a person is obligated to give at least two food items to one friend on Purim.
Rabbi Rimon was asked what a soldier should do if he knows he won't be able to fulfill the mitzvah during Purim. His answer is that he can appoint a messenger to deliver the Mishloach Manot on his behalf, as long as it is done on Purim day and prior.
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נזקק פושט יד
נזקק פושט יד
(Phjoto: Shutterstock)
Originally, the custom was to give Mishloach Manot to a friend, but Rabbi Rimon recommends expanding the tradition, explaining that "the Importance of unity is greater than ever," during war.
Gifting the poor - This mitzvah is also mentioned in the Book of Esther. The sages determined that in order to fulfill the mitzvah, one must give food or enough money to buy food to at least two poor individuals during Purim.
Rabbi Rimon notes that one who gives gifts to the poor before Purim hasn’t fulfilled his obligation. Therefore, the soldier can appoint a messenger, meaning he can give money to a friend on Purim and ask him to give the money to those who need it on that same day.
Another option is to give the money to a friend before Purim and ask him to deliver the money to the poor during Purim. And what about someone who didn't have enough time to do so? "He should set aside money on Purim and keep it until he finds someone to give it to," Rabbi Rimon replied.
Drinking Ad D’lo Yada - In the Babylonian Talmud, it is written that on Purim, one should drink wine until they become intoxicated and cannot distinguish between Haman and Mordecai. However, the same book described a story in which drunkenness led to a tragedy.
Therefore, many halakhic authorities recommended drinking a small amount of alcohol in a way that doesn't lead to loss of control. Rabbi Rimon notes that this is the recommendation for the general public, but when it comes to a soldier on active duty, it’s forbidden to endanger himself and his comrades by drinking alcohol.
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ילדים מפונים במלון לייקהאוס בטבריה מחופשים לקראת פורים
ילדים מפונים במלון לייקהאוס בטבריה מחופשים לקראת פורים
Evacuated Israeli children dressed up in Purim costumes
(Photo: Efi Sarir)
How can we rejoice this year? – Being merry on Purim isn’t just a recommendation but a commandment, and many soldiers asked how they could be merry amid war with hostages, injured, and dead.
Rabbi Rimon quotes Rabbi Kook who explained that the essence of joy shouldn’t come out of a desire to escape the harsh reality, but out of love for the good and joy in life.
"On Purim, we try and gain strength. To rejoice in all the good things we have," said Rabbi Rimon, founder and chairman of the Sulamot association, who also serves as the chief rabbi of the Jerusalem College of Technology and was recently appointed as the president of the World Mizrahi Movement.
"We will remember the soldiers, the hostages, and the wounded. We will pray for them, but we will rejoice in all the good we have. We’ll try to see how wonderful our soldiers are and how great the people of Israel are," he added.
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