Eating before reading the Megillah



To the Rabbi:
I live in a small Jewish community with one Bet Knesset in the area.  On Purim, we have one reading at night and one in the morning for everyone.  Small as it is, our community makes the reading very exciting and the kids really get into banging for Haman and it’s a lot of fun. The issue I have, I am a little bit older and with all the fun the reading takes a long time and it is hard for me to fast until the end of the reading. May I eat something before the Kriah so I can pay attention the whole way through?



If one is weak (or will be weak) you are allowed to break your fast on some fruit or less than an “egg” size of bread or cookies or cake etc.  If you feel very week and need to eat a meal, then ask form someone else who is not fasting to remind you to go to hear the Megillah and it is fine.

The Gemara in Brachot 4b: attempts to explain the Chachamim opinion that one may only say Kriat Shema until midnight. It quotes a Beraita, “The Chachamim created an extra boundary so a person won’t come home late for the filed and say, first I’ll go home eat a little drink a little and take  a nap and then I will get up and say Shema and Arvit (he has the whole night after all) and fall asleep for the whole night (and miss saying Shema).”
Tosfot there (DH V’Koreh) comments, “it seems from here that from when the time for Kriat Shema comes he is not allowed to eat a meal until he says Shema and prays Arvit.”

Tosfot is very clear that it is only forbidden from the time the obligation to say Shema starts. The Rabbeinu Yonah and the Rashba understood that even before the time comes it is forbidden to eat. Meaning it is forbidden a half hour before the time of the mitzvah starts.
The Shulchan Aruch 235:2 rules like the Rashba and Rabbeinu Yonah by Kriat Shema, that it is forbidden a half hour before rot eat a meal. So too by MItzvat Lulav (652:2) that it is forbidden to eat before performing the mitzvah. Also, by Bedikat Chametz (431:2) is forbidden to eat. So, too by Kriat Hamegillah, it is forbidden to eat until one reads the megillah.

There is a couple of solutions though. The Terumat HaDeshen discusses a person who was unable to attend the reading of the megillah in the Bet Knesset. He then would have to wait until they finished Kriah in the Bet Knesset and the Baal Koreh comes to his house. Only then he allowed to eat. The Terumat Hadeshen writes that if the fasting is too hard for him, he can hear the megillah at Pelag HaMincha (1 ¼ hours before sundown) before the Bet Knesset hears it. Since Pelag HaMincha is considered night, in that one may in case of need say Arvit at that time then he can read Megillah as well. So too in Shulchan Aruch 692:4 that one may read from Pelag.

The Pri Chadash argues though, so it is better not to use the is leniency. In any case, it wouldn’t apply in your case.
The Magen Avraham 692 says even though eating is forbidden but tasting food, taking a bite to eat, is OK. Therefore, in your situation, it is a good idea to eat a little fruit and drink a little enough to get you through or to eat less than an egg of bread or cake.  The Mishna Berura agrees as well.

R’ Ovadiah Yosef also agrees (Chazon Ovadia Purim Kriat HaMegillah 17)He adds one may eat a full meal and just ask someone to remind him to go to hear the Megillah. In that case, there is no worry he will forget. We use the solution by Kriat Shema itself, if one plans to eat before Arvit. It must be someone who is not eating because then he might come to forget as well.