Purim in Walled Cities

March 25, 2016

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, March 25, 2016.

Purim in Walled Cities

Today (Friday) is the 15thof Adar which is normally Shushan Purim, a Purim celebration that is celebrated only in walled cities! HOWEVER, since the afternoon of Shushan Purim leads into the Shabbat, it makes the whole holiday/Shabbat enterprise incredibly complicated. Let me explain. The Holiday of Purim this year is celebrated this Wednesday night and Thursday, the 14thof the Hebrew month of Adar. The holiday commemorates how, in the ancient kingdom of Persia, Esther and her Uncle/Cousin/Foster Father (take your pick) Mordecai thwarted the evil Haman in his plot to destroy the Jews and annihilate them completely. The main aspects of this celebration are reading the “megilah” (the scroll of Esther), having a “Se’uda” (feast) in the afternoon, and giving gifts. The actual date is the day after the Jews fought physically against their enemies and won. A great day for a celebration, no? The Biblical Book of Esther, however, as the story continues, tells us:

But the Jews in Shushan mustered on both the 13th and 14th days and so rested on the 15th and made it a day of feasting and merrymaking. That is why village Jews who live in unwalled towns observe the 14th day of the month Adar and make it a day merrymaking and feasting and as a holiday and an occasion for sending gifts to one another.

So... in the walled city of Shushan, the fighting lasted an extra day, and the holiday of Purim was celebrated the following day, on the 15th of Adar INSTEAD of on the 14th. Consequently, the rabbis felt that it was appropriate to delay celebrations in walled cities to the 15th. But wait – it’s even more complicated. According to the Rabbis, however, the only appropriate walled cities to celebrate Purim a day later are Shushan and any walled cities that were in existence when Joshua defeated the Amalekites (the ancestors of the evil Haman) in the walled city of Jericho. Therefore, Purim is celebrated a day late in Jerusalem, Acre, Jaffa, and Tiberius, as well as Shushan.

Many Jews, however, in European walled cities (Lucca, Rhodes, Mainz, Rothenberg) also celebrated Purim a day later…  although most Rabbis disapprove of this practice since none of these cities were around during the time of Joshua. There’s even a dispute about Acre, Jaffa and Tiberius about what are the rules for those cities during Purim.

Because Shabbat is the most important holiday, however, when Purim comes close to Shabbat, it complicates the celebrations. If Purim is on a Thursday night & Friday, Shushan Purim is actually on Sunday (Adar 16) for purposes of the Se’uda, although the Megilah is read on Thursday night and Friday in walled cities and open cities alike. This year, because Purim is on a Wednesday night and Thursday, and Shushan Purim is on a Thursday night and Friday, the only complication is the Purim feast. The best advice is to have the banquet in the morning rather than in the afternoon so it doesn’t ruin your appetite for Shabbat Dinner! However, another option is to have the Se’uda in the late afternoon, take a break to do the prayers welcoming the Sabbath at sunset, then say the blessings for Shabbat and continue with Shabbat Dinner which is actually part II of the Purim feast. Phew! Complicated. Confusing. Difficult. And you thought Purim was only a time to get dressed up in costumes and drink! Shabbat Shalom, and Chag Sameach.