Holding the Purim Feast at Night
The holiday of Purim is different than all other holidays we celebrate in that whereas regarding other holidays the Mitzvah of partaking of a joyous holiday meal applies during the day and night, regarding the holiday of Purim, there is only a Mitzvah to hold a feast during the day, not at night. Nevertheless, several Rishonim write that there is a Mitzvah to have a meal on the night of Purim as well as we find by all other holidays. This is indeed the opinion of the Geonim. Halachically speaking, however, the primary Purim feast must be held specifically during the day. If one holds his Purim feast only at night, one has not fulfilled one’s obligation, as the verse states, “Days of feasting and merriment,” which teaches us that the feast must be held during the day. When the meal is held during the day, it should be held in a well-lit area amid much joy and speaking words of Torah. One should indeed be glad with what Hashem has provided him, that he has separated us from those who have gone astray, and that He has given us His true and eternal Torah which provides us with good and just laws to follow in order to allow us entry into the World to Come.
The Proper Time for the Purim Feast
The proper time to hold the Purim feast every year is during the day, as we have mentioned. The Poskim point out that one should preferably not hold the Purim feast close to sunset, i.e. close to the end of Purim, for then, the primary joy would not be experienced during the day of Purim at all. Therefore, they write that one should try to begin the Purim feast as early as possible. There are several other reasons for this as well.
Many have the custom to pray Mincha Gedola, i.e. praying Mincha at an early hour, and to begin their Purim feast immediately thereafter. Those who are truly meticulous about their Mitzvah observance hold their Purim feast in the morning, before the time for Mincha prayers arrives. This is indeed the opinion of several Poskim, including the saintly Shelah, who write that one should hold one’s Purim meal early on in the day; the earlier one holds the feast, the more praiseworthy he is.
This was indeed the custom of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l who would partake of his Purim feast immediately following Shacharit prayers as he would on Shabbat day, in accordance with the opinion of the saintly Shelah. Nevertheless, according to the letter of the law, it is permissible to begin this feast later on in the day as is the prevalent custom.
The Proper Time for the Purim Feast This Year
This year, 5781, the holiday of Purim, which is on the 14th of Adar, falls this coming Thursday night and Friday. In walled-cities from the days of Yehoshua bin Nun, meaning in the holy city of Jerusalem, Purim will fall out on the 15th of Adar, namely this coming Shabbat, in which case a “three-day Purim” is celebrated, as we shall discuss in the following Halacha.
The Rama (Chapter 695, Section 2) writes that in this case, the Purim feast should be held at an early hour of the day in honor of Shabbat, so that one will be able to partake of the Shabbat meal heartily and not while one is still satisfied and tired from the Purim feast. Hagaon Mishnah Berura rules likewise that when Purim falls out on a Friday, one should hold the Purim feast in the morning before halachic midday (which is at approximately 12:10 PM).
The great Rishon Le’Zion, Hagaon Harav Yitzchak Yosef Shlit”a writes (in his Yalkut Yosef, Chapter 695) that according to the letter of the law, one may hold the Purim feast even later in the afternoon since this meal is considered a Mitzvah and a Seudat Mitzvah at its appropriate time may be held even on Friday afternoon.
Nevertheless, he quotes the Sefer Yosef Ometz who writes that when Purim falls out on a Friday, having the Purim feast after halachic midday detracts from the honor of Shabbat and thus, the “primary” part of the meal should be held in the morning. This means that the Purim feast should at least be started in the morning so that in the afternoon, one will only eat a small amount, all in honor of Shabbat. He writes that this is indeed the custom in Jerusalem where the Purim feast is held in the morning. The other Mitzvot of the day, namely Mishloach Manot and Matanot La’Evyonim should be performed before the feast.
If one did not have a chance to hold one’s Purim feast in the morning, one should do so as soon as possible; one should try to make it as early as possible in honor of Shabbat.
Summary: The Purim feast must be held during the day, not at night. It is preferable to hold the feast as early on in the day as possible in order to be able to partake of the Shabbat night meal with a hearty appetite. If one has not done so, the meal should be held as soon thereafter as possible.