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A
FUN
HOLIDAY

Purim, our most fun filled holiday, occurs on the 14th day of Adar This year, 5774 (2013-2014), Purim begins sundown Shabbat, Mar. 15, 2014, and goes to Sunday evening, Mar. 16, 2014.

In certain walled cities like Yerushalayim, Purim is celebrated on the 15th day of Adar, called "Shushan Purim," but more about that later.

We celebrate Purim by:

  • Reading Megillat Esther, (Scroll of Esther),
  • Mishloach Manot - Sending food to friends,
  • Matanot L'evyonim - Giving gifts to the poor, and
  • Enjoying a Purim Seuda (meal).

We also celebrate Purim by poking fun at ourselves and our Jewish institutions, throwing synagogue decorum out the window and dressing in costumes. The entire month of Adar, and not just Purim itself, is a time for silliness and humor - "....Mishenichnat Adar Marbim Besimcha" - "....When Adar arrives, we increase our happiness." (Ta'anit 29a). Purim, a wild and crazy holiday, is the holiday that proves Judaism has a sense of humor. Cross-dressing, prohibited in the Torah, is practiced by some on Purim. Many will be borrowing their spouse's clothes on Purim.

Purim is an important holiday. Jews throughout the world, surrounded by anti-semitism, take great joy in a holiday that reminds them, that even though throughout the course of Jewish History there have been too many real-life "Hamans," in the end Hashem never lets the anti-semites win.



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THE
STORY
(short version)

The events that led to the holiday of Purim can be found in Megillat Esther.

Megillat Esther is the only book in the Scriptures that never mentions Hashem's name even once. The miracle of Purim is a hidden one, (with the hand of Hashem only revealed through the incredible events). But when you 'read between the lines' you see the Hand of Hashem. There are no coincidences in the story.

Grab the wav sound file of the gragger right now, and it will be ready for you to play each time your mouse goes over Haman's name in the story.

The story relates the downfall of the vicious anti-semite Haman, a descendent of Amalek, the traditional enemy of the Jews. As Prime Minister of ancient Persia, around 2300 years ago, he sought to murder all the Jews of that land.

Events happen such that Haman himself plays a crucial role in the coronation of Queen Esther, after the beheading of former Queen Vashti. No one realizes that Esther is Jewish.

Haman who has become a powerful man in the kingdom, is upset that Mordechai does not bow down to him. He succeeds in getting the King to authorize a royal decree to annihilate an unspecified nation he claims is an enemy of the King. Initially, he does not identify the nation so that the King can later claim that he did not know that the decree was against the Jews.

Haman casts lots (called PUR) to determine the day this was to happen. Mordechai and Esther lead the Jews in a return to Hashem, through Prayer and Fasting.

Esther invites the King and Haman to join her for dinner, and in response to the king's offer of "half my kingdom for your wishes," all she asks is they come again tomorrow to another dinner "and I'll tell you then." (she'll reveal the reason for her invitation). We then find Haman working through the night to construct a gallows upon which to hang Mordechai. At daybreak, he will appear before the King to denounce Mordechai.

Unknown to Haman, the King had not slept the night before, suspecting a coup led by Haman. In desperation to get some sleep, he had asked his servants to read from the Royal Chronicles. The Book opens to a long forgotten story of how Mordechai discovered an assassination plot by two royal servants against the King.

At the exact moment the King is inquiring whether Mordechai was rewarded for his loyalty, who should appear, but Haman. Before getting a chance to make his request to hang Mordechai, Haman is ordered by the King to parade Mordechai through the capital city in royal garments on a royal horse while proclaiming "This is what is done to the man the King wishes to honor."

Immediately afterwards, a crestfallen Haman is whisked to the second Royal dinner, hosted by Esther. At the dinner she reveals to the King that she is Jewish and that Haman is an enemy of the King because he seeks to destroy the Jewish people.

The embarrassed and angry King storms out of the room. Haman pleads to Esther for his life. He "somehow" loses his balance and falls on the couch where Esther is reclining. (The Malach (Angel) Gavriel pushed him.) The King comes back at just this moment. He is very upset and blows up.

On the spot, Charvona, a royal minister tells the King about the gallows Haman constructed for Mordechai, who saved the King's life. The King orders Haman to be hanged on the gallows intended for Mordechai.

The King elevates Mordechai to Haman's recently vacated position. Mordechai issues orders, with the King's pemission, allowing the Jews to fight against their enemies. On the thirteenth and fourteenth days of Adar the Jews won tremendous victories and were saved from the threat of total annihilation.

Since that time, we celebrate Purim.



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HOW
WE
CELEBRATE

READING THE MEGILLAH

The service for Purim is most unusual. Dressing in silly costumes is encouraged. At no time of the Jewish year is the synagogue as "wild" as during the Megillah reading.

Interrupting the reading with noise-making devices at the mention of Haman's name is encouraged. Fifty-four times Haman's name is read in the Megillah, and fifty-four times the congregation erupts in a deafening chorus of "graggers," clanging pots, cap-guns and sirens.

Some write Haman's name on the soles of their shoes; the congregants then stamp their feet at every mention of Haman. Others write his name in wax and melt it!

The gragger (Yiddish for rattle), is more widely used than the custom of feet stamping. (The Hebrew word for this noisemaker is ra'ashan, from the word ra'ash, meaning noise.) The custom of the Purim "gragger," was obviously introduced to amuse the children, and so keep up their interest in the reading, as children (over 6) are also required to hear the Megillah.

So that Haman's ten sons should not feel left out, the congregation again interrupts the Megillah reading with resounding noise, when the ten names are read.

Decorum is out, inanity is in. During the service, (once on Purim evening and a second time at the morning service on the day following), the entire Megillat Esther is read from a handwritten scroll called a "megillah." (Could this be where the expression "the whole megillah" comes from?)

"The Megillah," is read in a special tune to suit the narration of the Purim story. When the verse on the hanging of Haman's ten sons is recited, the passage is read in one breath, "because," the Talmud says, "their ghosts were given up all together." It has also been suggested that the custom is due to the desire of avoiding the appearance of gloating over their deserved fate - a characteristic expression of Judaism's attitude to the fall of an enemy.

The scroll is unrolled completely and the Megillah is so folded as to give it the form of a letter or dispatch. The reading of the Megillah is considered by our sages of such importance that even women are obligated to hear it, especially as they played an important part in the miraculous delivery. Women must also perform the other Purim mitzvot, - sending food to friends, giving gifts to the poor, and eating the Purim meal…(besides preparing it. - My wife made me add this..ed.). As mentioned above, children (over 6) are also required to hear the Megillah. A whole tractate of the Talmud, called Megillah, (what else?) is devoted to the laws of Purim.

MISHLOACH MANOT -
SENDING FOODS TO FRIENDS

The tradition of sending gifts consisting of two types of food to our friends on Purim is called Mishloach Manot and is prescribed in Megillat Esther (9:22). On Purim day, (and only during the day), men and women, young people and children, many "in disguise," scurry thru the streets, bearing plates, baskets and trays filled with the choicest Purim goodies such as fruits, wine and baked goods.

The obligation is to send a friend at least one food parcel containing two kinds of food or drink which are ready to eat without further preparation. Anything beyond that is extra-credit (or extra-expense, depending on how you look at it). It is customary, however, to encourage joy and friendship by sending parcels to many friends. Nevertheless, it is of greater merit to distribute gifts generously to the poor than to distribute food to friends.

It is also customary to send Mishloach Manot through a third person messenger, since the word Mishloach is related to the word for messenger, Sh'liach.

MATANOT L'EVYONIM -
GIVING GIFTS TO THE POOR

The practice of men and women giving gifts to the poor on Purim - Matanot L'evyonim is also prescribed in Megillat Esther (ibid). The gifts must be given to the poor on Purim day, usually after the reading of the Megillah. The minimum requirement is to give two gifts, which may be food, to at least two poor persons. (One gift to each). Even a poor person who gets charity is required to perform this mitzvah.

Of course, Judaism demands doing tzedakah [charity] year-round, but we make a particular point of doing so on Purim with the special mitzvah of Matanot L'evyonim, which should NOT be included in the amount of money a person sets aside for charity during the rest of the year.

Rambam (Maimonides) said in relation to Purim: "It is better for a man to increase gifts to the poor than to enlarge his feast and to increase gifts to his friends. For there is no greater and more wonderful joy than to make happy the hearts of the poor..." (Hilchot Megillah Chap. 2). By the way, the money collected and distributed on Purim to the poor is often used to fund Passover, a VERY expensive holiday, which is right around the corner.


ENJOYING A PURIM SEUDA (Meal).

There is an old joke about summing up a Jewish Holiday: "They tried to kill us, we won, let's eat."

Like all Jewish Holidays, (except Yom Kippur of course), it is a mitzvah to have a great big meal on Purim, including meat and wine. The Purim feast must be held during the day, usually after Mincha (Afternoon prayers).

If the meal extends into the evening, as it usually does, Al Hanisim, a special prayer recounting the miracle of the day, is still added to the Birchat Hamazon, the "Grace after meals."

This Purim meal is different, in that not only do we eat, and eat and eat… But we also drink and drink and drink ...(and drunk?).

Because the miracle of Purim came thru wine, - Vashti's downfall and Haman's downfall came as a result of a wine feast, the Rabbis of the Talmud, usually a quite sober group, said:
"On Purim, one should drink - Ahd D'lo Yoda Bain Arur Haman L'Boruch Mordechai" - "Until he can no longer tell the difference between 'Cursed be Haman' and 'Blessed be Mordechai.' " (Tractate Megilah 7b).
What they were trying to suggest is a high level of inane behavior on Purim. As long as it is not abusive or destructive, Purim is a time when almost anything is permitted.

A person who can't or won't drink may fulfill the "Ahd D'lo Yoda " requirement by sleeping, because one who sleeps also doesn't know the difference between a curse and a blessing.



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OTHER
LAWS

Machatzit Hashekel (The Half-Shekel)

On Purim night, it is customary to give Machatzit Hashekel, (half a shekel) - three half-dollar coins (or their equivalent in local currency), as charity to the poor, before the reading of the Megillah. This symbolizes the half-shekel which every Jew used to give as dues to the Bait Hamikdash in Yerushalayim (Shmot Parshat Ki Sisa 30:11-16). The reason we give three half-shekels is because the term terumah (contribution) is mentioned three times in the account of the mitzvah of the half-shekel.

But why does the Torah specify a half-shekel instead of a whole? The half shekel is a reminder to all of us (you and me) that "kol Yisroel areivim zeh lazeh" - "All of Bnei Yisroel are responsible for one another." No one person is a whole. Each of us is like half a body, which is completed when we take responsibility for the actions of one another.

Al Hanisim

A special prayer, Al Hanisim, recounting the miracle of the day, is recited in the Amidah - Shemoneh Esreh and in Birchat Hamazon, the "Grace after meals."

During the morning service we read a special portion of the Torah referring to the war with Israel's archenemy, Amalek.

Pesach / Passover

Pesach? Yep. One should start studying the laws of Pesach / Passover on Purim.



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There are two other days of note before and after Purim. TA'ANIT ESTHER and SHUSHAN PURIM.


TA'ANIT
(the fast of)
ESTHER

Ta'anit Esther (the Fast of Esther) precedes Purim, usually on the 13th of Adar.

This year, (5774 - 2014), the 13th of Adar is a Shabbat, we don't fast that day, in honor of the Shabbat. We also don't fast on Friday, since this would adversely affect Shabbat preparations. Rather, we observe the fast on Thursday, the 11th of Adar [Mar. 13, 2014]).

The Megillah (4:16), relates how Queen Esther agrees to approach King Achashverosh uninvited on behalf of the Jewish people. She asks the Jewish People to fast for three days beforehand. Queen Esther, Mordechai, and the Jewish people, fast and pray, asking Hashem to be merciful and save them from Haman and the King's decree.

The 13th of Adar is also the anniversary of the day the fighting against the anti-semitic forces occurred; Purim is the day the victorious Jews rested and celebrated. The 13th of Adar was then established as an annual fast day for every generation, known as "The Fast of Esther." (Esther 9:31).

The Fast of Esther gives us a different perspective on fasting. Sure, it commemorates a terrible day in Jewish history, but it is not a sad day in of itself. In fact, it is a day that leads up to the happiest holiday of the year! In this case, the fast adds to the joy of Purim and makes us even more aware of Hashem's hand in the destruction of Haman.

All the general regulations and customs associated with public fast days are observed, including the recitation of special selichot on the particular theme of the day.

- Ta'anit Esther only starts from the break of dawn and ends at nightfall. One may eat breakfast if one arises before sunrise for the specific purpose of doing so. (Consult a reliable Jewish calendar for the times in your area.)

- It is customary to extend the fast until after the Megillah is read. (Except of course, in walled cities, where the Megillah is read on the night of the 15th.)

- One who is ill need not fast at all. Pregnant and nursing mothers can observe the fast with lenience. One should consult with a Rabbi whether they are permitted to fast.

- Children below the age of bar or bat mitzva - 13 for boys and 12 for girls, do not fast. (In some communities, it is customary for children to begin fasting a short time before they become bar/bat mitzva.)

- Those permitted to eat should still refrain from eating meat, luxurious food and drink.

- Special additions to the prayers, (Selichot and Aneinu), and Torah readings (the Passages of Vayechal - Shmot 32: 11-14 and 34: 1-10), are added during the day.



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SHUSHAN
PURIM

The day after Purim, the 15th day of Adar, is "Shushan Purim." This year 5774 (2014), Monday, Mar. 17th. According to Megillat Esther, the fight against the anti-semites in the walled capital city of Shushan, the city in which King Achashverosh lived, took a day longer than in the rural areas. The Jews in Shushan didn't get to rest and celebrate until the day after those in rural areas.

In commemoration of this, Megillat Esther says that Purim is celebrated a day later in cities, on the day now known as "Shushan Purim." Our Sages decided that a "city" in this case means a city that had walls (whether they are still standing or not) at the time of Yehoshua (Joshua - Moses' successor). Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) celebrates Purim on Shushan Purim.



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PURIM
MESHULASH
(triple Purim)

In 5768 (2008), Yerushalayim had what is known as a Purim Meshulash. Purim was celebrated on three consecutive days, with different Purim laws and customs observed on each day.

Since the 15th of Adar fell on Shabbat, the Megillah was read on Friday, the 14th, Al Hanissim was recited on Shabbat, the 15th, and the Purim Seudah was eaten on Sunday, the 16th, since the Shabbat meals must not be mixed with the Purim Seudah. The next occurance of Purim Meshulash will be in 2021.



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HAMAN
TASCHEN

No discourse on Purim could be considered complete without mentioning THE Purim delicacy, the hamantash or hamantaschen. The hamantash is a triangular cookie, with a poppy seed or fruit filling. At some point, someone got the idea of altering the German name of these cookies, "mohn taschen" ["poppy-seed pockets"], to "haman taschen," and invented the story that it represents Haman's hat. (Of course, three-pointed hats were all the rage in ancient Persia.) Another view is that Hamantaschen means that Haman's force was exhausted ("tash Cocho") when he came to harm the Jews, and it is inferred that this will be the fate of all those who try to do us harm.

With regard to the source of the name H----taschen.

Here is an email I received in Feb. 2000.

It is that time of the year again, when every kosher bakery and Jewish home is filled with that great Purim delicacy called the h----tasch. As I pointed out last year, it is so absurd that we name a Purim gastronomic centerpiece after the arch villain who wanted to destroy the Jews, and for whom the obligation "timheh et zekher Amalek..." (obliterate the memory of Amalek) surely applies.

We got to this via an unfortunate error. A tasch is a pocket. The Purim pocket symbolized the essence of the Purim miracle as being of the camouflaged variety. It was a miracle cased in an unusual, intriguing, but nevertheless non-miraculous story. In Purim, what you get is much more than what you see.

In the tasch, you likewise get more than what you see. Since seeds, or "mann," were involved in the fateful meal, filling the pockets with "mann" was not an unusual way to celebrate on Purim. These pockets were called mantaschen. In Hebrew, when referring to "the mantasch," the word used would be "ha-mantasch."

From this derived the mistaken reference to all taschen as hamantashen. It is a serious error, because every time we refer to this delicacy, we give undeserved, even if unintended honor to an evil person.

There is no precedent for us doing this with any other villain in Jewish history. It is a mistake that we would be well served to correct. Our bakery in Ottawa does not sell h----taschen. But they do sell prune-taschen, man-taschen, blueberry-taschen, etc.

Admittedly, Judaism will not rise or fall on this issue, and there are obviously more pressing items on the Jewish agenda. But it strikes at the very core of all that we represent that we reject evil, that we give it no quarter, no honor, and certainly no posterity, as we do every time we wrongly refer to that great delicacy.

So, please do your bit to correct this error, in your local bakeries, congregations, homes, and consciousness.

A very happy and taschen-laden Purim to you all.

Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka,
Congregation Machzikei Hadas,Ottawa,
Ontario, Canada



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OTHER
PURIM
FOODS

Now that we've discussed those triangle H___tashen filled with _____ (you fill in your favorite filling), there are some other goodies that also have a connection to Purim:

Kreplach

Kreplach is ground meat wrapped in dough, also folded into a triangle. (What's this obsession with triangular food?)

"Kreplach" is Yiddish and is derived from the Hebrew names of holidays on which this food is eaten: Yom Kippur (K), (not on, silly, but before and after, of course), Hoshana Raba (R), and Purim (P). These three holidays are also connected to each other because they involve some sort of beating or striking:

Yom Kippur - we beat our heart during prayer;

Hoshana Raba - we strike the Aravot (willow branches); and

Purim - we beat (and blast and cream and clobber) Haman during the reading of the Megillah.

Another reason (and this is not PURIM TORAH), is based on the verse in the book of Devarim, Parshat Re'eh (13:16): "Hakeh takeh et yoshvei ha-ir" (you will surely smite the inhabitants of that city"), again we're beating and striking:

HAKEH - The letters "Hay, Kaf, Hay" in the first word represent Hoshana Rabba, Kippur, Haman -

TAKEH - The second set of letters "Taf, Kaf, Hay" represent "Tochlu Kreplach Harbeh" (You will eat a lot of Kreplach!!!).

Purim Challah - A special, very large challah with raisins is baked for the Purim meal. Cakes are also baked, that have been kneaded with oil and butter, smeared with egg yolk and decorated with chocolate and sweets.

Purim fish - Fish are not prepared on Purim in the same way as for the other festivals. They are usually cooked in vinegar, raisins and spices.

Seeds, Beans, Legumes - Some have the custom of eating different kinds of seeds -- pumpkin, sunflower, nuts, etc. This is in memory of Esther, who ate no forbidden foods while she lived in king Achashverosh's palace. All she ate was seeds. Others eat beans, legumes or cereals for the same reason. Esther adopted this vegetarian lifestyle while she was queen in order to ensure her observance of the kashrut laws. This is also another source of the custom of filling the H____tashen with poppy seeds. Additionally, beans symbolize sadness, as they are traditionally eaten after a funeral. We eat them on Purim, amongst all the merriment, to remind us that we are still in Golut (exile).

Turkey - It is customary to eat turkey ("tarnegol hodu" or "Indian chicken") on Purim. This is in "honor" of Achashverosh who ruled from India ("Hodu") to Ethiopia. How is this an honor? Well, it is well-known that turkey is considered a symbol of foolishness among the peoples of Europe, and especially among the Jews. So we remember Achashverosh as the "stupid" king (as mentioned in Midrash Megilla XII).



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CURIOSITIES OF PURIM

-Megillat Esther is the only book in the scriptures which does not mention Hashem's name.

-Megillat Esther is unique in that it contains words which appear nowhere else in the Bible.
These include:

Tevet: the tenth Hebrew month.
Kasher: fit.
Patshegen: a copy of the (written) text
Ahashdarpenim: Persian word for the King's officers Pur: Persian word meaning "lot."
Karpas: Persian word for cotton.

- All the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are found in Megillat Esther, ch. 3, v. 13.

- The Hebrew word Mishteh, meaning banquet, occurs 20 times in Megillat Esther (which is equal to the total of ALL the other times it is found in the rest of the Bible).

- The longest verse in the Bible appears in Megillat Esther. It has 43 words in Hebrew (and approximately 90 words in the English translation). It appears in ch. 8, v. 9.

"Then were the king's scribes called at that time, in the third month, that is the month Sivan, on the three and twentieth day thereof; and it was written according to all that Mordechai commanded unto the Jews, and to the lieutenants, and the deputies and rulers of the provinces, which are from India unto Ethiopia, a hundred and twenty seven provinces, unto every province according to the writing thereof, and unto every people after their language, and to the Jews according to their writing and according to their language."

- The Talmud instructs that on Purim one should drink until he knows not the difference between "Blessed be Mordecai" and "Cursed be Haman." Interestingly, the numerical value of the Hebrew letters in each of the phrases ( and ) amounts in each case to a total of 502.

- In Missouri and Louisiana there are towns called Esther.

- There is a "Queen Esther" Street in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv, Israel.

- On January 30th, 1944, Hitler said: If the Nazis are vanquished, the Jews will be able to celebrate a special Purim.

- "Hadassah" was founded on Purim, in 1912. Hadassah is Esther's Hebrew name.



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4 PARSHIOT-
4 SHABBATOT

In the weeks surrounding Purim, Our Sages instituted four different Shabbatot with four special messages. Special Maftir's (additional Torah readings) are read in the Synagogue after the regular Torah readings replacing the regular Shabbat Maftir readings.

1. PARSHAT SHEKALIM

The Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Adar (or Adar II in a leap year) is Parshat Shekalim. If Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbat itself, then that Shabbat is Parshat Shekalim. The Maftir, (additional reading), from Shmot, Parshat Ki Sisa, (30:11-16), describes the census or counting of every Jew and the obligation to give a Half-Shekel terumah (contribution) during the month of Adar to pay for the public Korbanot (sacrifices) in the Bait Hamikdash in Yerushalayim.

2. PARSHAT ZACHOR

The Shabbat immediately before Purim is called Shabbat Zachor. The Maftir, from Devarim, Parshat Ki-Teitze, (25:17-19), deals with the commandment to "Remember what Amalek did to you on the way, upon your departure from Mitzrayim (Egypt).... ... how they perpetrated a cowardly and unprovoked attack... You shall erase the memory of Amalek from the heavens, you shall not forget."

This commandment, to remember Amalek, is one of the 613 commandments. It is incumbent, therefore, upon every person to attend services on Shabbat Zachor in order to hear this special reading and remember its message.

What is the connection between erasing the memory of Amalek and Purim? The wicked Haman, who intended to destroy all the Jews in one day and claim their spoils, was the descendant of Agag who was the king of Amalek in the time of King Shaul. Thus we know that Haman was an Amalekite. This is why our sages ordained carrying out the commandment of remembering to erase the memory of Amalek before Purim. Zachor means remember - "Remember... do not forget!"

3. PARSHAT PARAH

The Shabbat immediately following Purim is designated as Shabbat Parshat Parah. The Maftir, from Bamidbar, Parshat Chukat, (19:1-22), describes the preparation of the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer), whose ashes were used in the spiritual purification process during the time of the Bait Hamikdash. This purification was carried out at this time of the year to ensure that everyone would be able to partake in the Korban Pesach (Pascal Lamb) to be offered on the 14th day of Nisan.

4. SHABBAT HACHODESH

Finally, the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Nisan is called Shabbat HaChodesh. The Maftir, from Shmot, Parshat Bo, (12:1-20), starts with the first Mitzva given to the Bnei Yisroel, while they were still in Mitzrayim, even before the Mitzvot of the Yom Tov Pesach (Passover festival) - the Mitzva of Kiddush Hachodesh (the sanctification of the new moon). The reading begins with the declaration that the Hebrew month of Nisan, and not Tishrei, is to be considered the first month of the year. The passage then continues with some of the mitzvot of Pesach / Passover, which are certainly appropriate to be read and studied as the holiday approaches.



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