As the saying goes, “Mishenichas Adar, Marbim B’simcha” (“When the month of Adar arrives, we increase our joy). Why? Because Purim is coming on the 14th of Adar, or as we will call it this year, the evening of March 6. It’s time to prepare your costumes, graggers, and hamantaschen recipes, and get ready to have a good time.
That is, unless you’ll be celebrating it on March 7 (the 15th of Adar). Or on March 3 (the 11th of Adar). Or March 4 (the 12th of Adar). Or March 5 (the 13th of Adar).
As the Mishna tells us, right from the jump in Megilla 1:1: “The Megilla is read on the eleventh, on the twelfth, on the thirteenth, on the fourteenth, or on the fifteenth of the month of Adar, not earlier and not later.”
How can one holiday have five potential dates? So glad you asked.
The 11th, 12th, and 13th of Adar
In ancient Israel, the Megillah reading was allowed to be advanced to either the Monday or Thursday before Purim to coincide with the public reading of the Torah so that the people would not have to shlep into the villages on an additional day. Ergo, the Mishnaic allowance to read on the 11th, 12th, and 13th of Adar. For obvious reasons, this doesn’t really happen anymore.
The 14th of Adar
Now, the normal part for most of us: We read the Megillat Esther on the 14th of Adar just about everywhere else. It’s fun, have a good time, enjoy it responsibly.
The 15th of Adar: Shushan Purim
On the 15th, however, we have what’s referred to as Sushan Purim, the commemoration of the festival that takes place exclusively in walled cities. This tradition began in Shushan, the Persian walled city where the story took place. On the 13th and 14th of Adar, the Jews were busy killing off Haman and his minions, so the festival was celebrated a day later. Makes sense.
This exception was also granted to Jerusalem, which was/is also a walled city, as well as to any other city in the Land of Israel that was enclosed by walls at the time of Joshua (circa 1300 BCE). Are there a lot of those cities? Well, maybe. The Mishna elaborates several names in Arakhin 9:6: the ancient fort of Tzippori, the fortress of Gush Chalav, ancient Yodfat, Gamla, Gedod, Ḥadid, Ono, and Jerusalem. Others allege there may have been as many as 60 walled settlements at the time. Your guess is as good as mine.
But in a serious case of FOMOSP (Fear Of Missing Out on Shushan Purim), some uncertainty has arisen about the extent of the walledness in other towns from the days of Joshua, so in cities like Hebron, Tzfat, Tiberias, Acco, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beer Sheva, Haifa, Jaffa, Ramla (and others), some people like to celebrate Purim on the 14th and hold an additional Megillah reading on the 15th with no blessings. In the Diaspora, some (not all) Jews in Baghdad, Damascus, Istanbul, and Prague do the same thing.
Complicating the matter even further, the Talmud (Megilla 3b) tells us that: “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: A walled city, and all settlements adjacent to it, and all settlements that can be seen with it, i.e., that can be seen from the walled city, are considered like the walled city, and the Megilla is read on the fifteenth.” So, if you’re renting a place in Mevasseret, and you see Jerusalem, do you read on the 15th? Do you have to? We could do this all day. I won’t.
The 16th of Adar: Purim Meshulash
And wait, there’s more; we can even go as late as the 16th of Adar in Jerusalem, Shushan, and the other walled or dubiously-walled cities. When Shushan Purim (Adar 15) occurs on Shabbat, the holiday is actually celebrated for three days. The Megillah reading and distribution place on Friday (Adar 14), the Al ha-Nissim prayer is recited on Sabbath (Adar 15), which is Purim itself, and on Sunday (Adar 16), which we call Purim Meshulash, mishloach manot are sent out and the festive Purim meal is held. This happened when I was living in Jerusalem in 2001, and my, oh my… scenes.
Not content with all of this, the rabbinic literature also goes down some rabbit holes on what you do if you are a resident of a walled city but are in a non-walled city during Purim (you celebrate on the 14th), or if you can celebrate Purim twice if you come from an unwalled city on the 14th to a walled city on the 15th (yes, as long as you are in the gates from the evening of the 15th until dawn). Generally, the rule basically holds that a person’s obligation is determined by his location on the day of Purim, not by his permanent residence. I guess the scenario in which you land in Israel in the predawn hours and arrive in Jerusalem after the sun rises on Shushan Purim would create some issues for whether or not you are allowed to read the Megillah there, but I am far, far, far away from being a strict constructionist on this one.
There is no end to the matter
Shocking no one, you can read up on other halakhic points of contention from now until the festival and still feel unprepared. My advice: Eat, drink, and stick with the 14th, unless you’re in an ancient city with questionably-defined architectural history. In that case, all bets are off—do what you love.
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