Sunday, February 7, 2010

Poll: What makes a great Purim Seudah?

[Haveil Havalim is here]

I have strong feelings about certain aspects of the Purim Seudah (the meal we are instructed to eat on Purim, to celebrate the miracle of our survival).

In particular, as I've written elsewhere, I believe that adults must not drink alcohol to excess [meaning, drinking more than a normal person drinks at a normal meal] with children present, even if those adults are entirely self-controlled.

I define "children" as:
(a) human beings who will not understand why mitzvah-drinking is any different from other drinking and might be inspired to follow suit at inappropriate times, or
(b) human beings who will not understand the health risks involved in drinking and might be inspired to follow suit in an unhealthy manner.

But once we are past that point, what makes for a good Purim Seudah?

By which I mean: What do you find creates an atmosphere in which people feel the meaning of Purim most, while also enjoying the experience?

* Is family better than community? Or how about family at a community Seudah?

* Should people Seudah-hop?

* Should people be in costume? And does this include rabbis?

* Should kids be involved, or is it better to give them something else to do?

* Should the divrei torah be central or part of a longer program of shpiels, games and contests, etc?

* For those who can drink - Wine, Beer, Vodka or Scotch? Or something else entirely?

* Should it be earlier or later in the afternoon? (Especially in a year like this, when non-Shushan Purim is Sunday)

* Should the food be fancy or simple, elaborately prepared or quick-and-easy?

I ask these questions for a few reasons:

1. I would love to hear your answers;

2. This is the first year that I can actually create a Purim Seudah, or attend one elsewhere as a civilian, instead of being Shul Rabbi;

3. I think that we often rush into the Purim Seudah with little preparation, and I'd like to see this more as a planned experience with a cultivated atmosphere, to optimize the mitzvah.

And, of course, please add any questions I've missed...


  1. Since you asked:
    Guests: My ideal Purim Seudah is a mix of family and friends. Our family is. IMHO, a lot of fun by ourselves, but 'panim chadashot' definitely kick it up a notch. The best is one or two other like-minded families, so that the kids are nicely assorted by age. They should be allowed to stay at the table or leave, as their mood dictates. (Usually, it means they come back when it seems like the grown-ups are having more fun than they are.)

    Entertainment: Singing of course,and Purim Torah, which is funny without being totally pointless. Also spoofs on Torah topics. Shabbos Zemirot sung according to the English translations. Tanach jokes, brachos jokes. (Remember, if you heard the joke in 3rd grade, your 2nd grader probably hasn't heard it yet!)Original material or ripped off of the Internet is fine with me. Just nothing too personal or mean-spirited. Also, this is a Seudat Yom Tov, so nothing inappropriate for that.

    Food:It's not really about the food. Something fleshig, tasty, and easy. Crock-pot stuff, or something that gets put in the oven and ignored for a few hours. Or something I can make in advance to reheat. Deli food is also okay, especially if the time is uncertain. Chinese or other take out is nice, if it is a treat for your family. BBQ or anything else requiring tight timing is probably a mistake. Purim is a crazy busy day, so the fewer things that need my attention the better Don't bother planning a dessert. The house (and kids) are full of sweets anyways.

    Drink: I don't drink. Hubby has a bit more wine or Scotch than he would on Shabbat. Probably too much to drive, but not too much to be able to wash dishes.

    Timing: After Mincha! I hate starting something and having half the family leave in the middle. I don't care whether we start at 1, 3or 5 pm, just don't run out in the middle.

    Seudah-hopping: Socially, fine (though rare). Fundraising, I won't be insulted if you skip my house. Drunk bochurim sent around to do fundraising, please skip my house and don't barf on my driveway.

    Costumes: optional. People not in costume should wear something Shabbosdik, as I said above, it is Yom Tov.

    So, shall I call the Rebbetzin and invite your family over?

  2. For us the answer is all of the above/some of the above. The exception for us as hosts is that we don't go seudah hopping--too much to do before and after our own seudah. Some of our younger married guests will end up seudah hopping in the sense that they go to one side of the family and then to the other side. Also, house rule that NO hard liquor is served, period. And any alcohol served is served early--no alcohol served in the last hour of the seudah before guests have to travel home. Costumes? Some of our guests come in costumes, some don't. For those who don't I always have some hats or crowns or fake noses if they want to put them on. Not have kids at the seudah? I don't get that one at all.Unless the adult males are getting plastered, something I wouldn't want my kids to see, why wouldn't they be part of the seudah? Food? Use the common sense approach--feed your guests what you know they are likely to eat. Can be a combination of fancy and plain, easy to make and requiring some work. Not really the time to grab all the cookbooks and experiment with sweet and sour cream of Cantaloupe soup. Divrei Torah and Purim spiel? We do it between courses for the most part.

    Key rule? Be a welcoming host and hostess. Guests can always add salt in to something that needs it but the host and hostess have to bring their smiles and happiness at having guests all on their own.

  3. i actually have a whole speech on what makes a great purim seudah, ill try to write it up later for you. some of it might not be appropriate for you, but you can pick and choose.

  4. Laya, ProfK-
    Thanks for these in-depth answers; these are great!
    Laya - Why not?
    ProfK - "Last hour?" Just how long does it go?

    I'd love to see it.

  5. Rabbi,
    We've never had a seudah last less than two hours and most are longer. One memorable Purim a monsoon type storm started after the guests all arrived. It really wasn't safe to travel during the storm so everyone stayed until it let up--a good 6 hours after seudah started. A few of the guests ended up staying overnight.

  6. We have two days of Purim here in Shiloh.

    There are neighbors known for their Purim drinking, but we don't believe in drunkeness.

  7. Divrei Torah can be a highlight of the Purim seudah, if they are recited by someone who knows how to recite them, and if the reciter worked hard to prepare them in advance, and if the audience at the Purim table has an appreciation of Divrei Torah in general.

    Within a small circle of friends, I am known for reciting Purim Divrei Torah at the Purim seudah. I worked for a long time on this, and my Purim Divrei Torah are very organized and accurate. On a slightly different topic:

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