THE DAYS OF PURIM
The Days of Purim
by Yitzchak Etshalom
The first Mishna in Massechet Megillah states:
"The Megillah is read on the 11th (of Adar), the 12th, the 13th,
the 14th and the 15th - no earlier and no later. *Krakhin* which
have been walled since the times of Yehoshua bin-Nun read on the
15th. Villages and towns read on the 14th - except that the
villages read early, on the *Yom haK'nissah*. How so? If the 14th
fell on Monday, villages and towns read on that day and K'rakhin
read the next day. If it fell on Tuesday or Wednesday, villages
read early on Yom haK'nissah, towns read on that day and K'rakhin
read on the next day. If it fell on Thursday, villages and towns
read on that day and K'rakhin read on the next day. If it fell
on Erev Shabbat, villages read early on Yom haK'nissah, towns and
K'rakhin read on that day. If it fell on Shabbat, villages and
towns read early on the Yom haK'nissah and K'rakhin read the next
day. If it fell on Sunday, villages read early on Yom
HaK'nissah, towns read on that day and K'rakhin read on the next
Several questions about this Mishna:
Q1: Why did the Rabbis allow the villagers to read Megillah
Q2: Where did the villagers read?
Q3: Who read the Megillah for the villagers?
Q4: What happened to the Megillah reading at night for the
Q5: Why don't the villagers read on the 15th if it is a
Monday or Thursday? (this would also allow us to limit the scope
from 12-15, there being no need to read on the 11th).
Q6: Why was the distinction between cities for Megillah
reading set at Yeshoshua's time, rather than Ahashverosh's (or
contemporary - whatever is presently walled)?
Q7: Why is there more than one day for Purim at all?
This Shiur is presented in memory of the victims of the last two
Sundays of terror in our Holy City. May their memories all be
for a blessing and may we speedily see an end to the hatred and
violence from within and from without. Yehi Zikhram Barukh
Adar 14 and 15
In the Megillah itself, we find that the Jews throughout the
Persian Empire fought and defeated their enemies on the 13th of
Adar and celebrated the victory (that year) on the 14th (Esther
9:17); whereas the Jews in the city of Shushan needed an extra
day to defeat their enemies and, therefore, celebrated on the
15th of Adar (9:18). This, however, only points to the
celebrations as they happened that year, in direct response to
the relief and victory. In verse 19, the text tells us that
those Jews who lived in *Prazim* (unwalled cities) celebrate
every year on the 14th. No mention is made here of a yearly
celebration on the 15th...although in verse 21, the "days of
Purim...done...every year" are defined as the 14th and 15th of
Adar. In these sources, there are two significant lacunae:
(a) no explicit mention is made of Jews in other walled cities
(besides Shushan) fighting, although the text seems to include
all of them;
(b) no mention is made of a yearly celebration - even in Shushan
- in non-walled cities. This last question must be tempered a
bit; since the text indicates that both the 14th and 15th were to
be yearly days of celebration, and the text also states that the
Prazim celebrate on the 14th, it stands to reason that the 15th
was the yearly celebration in Shushan - but other walled cities
are ignored, at least in the explicit text.
In the Gemara (Megillah 2a), textual justification for allowing
the reading of the Megillah to take place on the 11th, 12th or
13th is demanded, for a reason based in legislative procedure.
The Mishnah in Eduyot (1:5) rules that no court may negate the
rulings of another court unless it is greater in both number
(members on the court) and wisdom. That being the case, the
Gemara reasons that the original enactment of Purim had to
include these early alternatives and at least a hint of this must
be found in the text of the Megillah.
Two possible sources are presented:
(a) "To fulfill these days of Purim in THEIR TIMES..." (9:31) -
indicating "many times" - or
(b) "LIKE THE DAYS in which the Jews found respite from their
enemies (9:22) - hinting to other "days -- like the [explicitly
Both exegeses result in two more days (either because the minimum
of any plural is two, and a plural of extra "times" or "days" is
found here) - which are then assigned to the 11th and 12th.
Why are they not assigned to the 16th and 17th? Because the verse
states: "The Jews accepted and took upon themselves and upon
their descendants and upon all who join them THAT IT SHALL NOT
PASS, to observe these two days..." (9:27). The exegetical
understanding of this phrase is that Purim may not be celebrated
later than the 15th.
Why, then, are the two days not assigned to the 12th and 13th?
The Gemara answers that the 13th is a "day of assembly for
everyone, and needs no extra verse to include it". Therefore, we
assign the two "extra" days to the 11th and 12th - and, by
logical inference, the 13th is already included. (Keep in mind
that these days are not obligatory days - rather they are
alternative options for part of the celebration, given certain
circumstances and for a select part of the population.)
ADAR 13 - "Z'MAN KEHILLAH LAKOL"
This understanding of the nature of the 13th raises two questions
(a) If the 13th is such an obvious day for Purim celebration,
that it needs no extra verse to include it, why do we not know
about it without the extra verse?
(b) What is the meaning of the "day of assembly"?
To answer the first question, we have to look back at the
exegesis which gives us the extra two days - these two days are
presented (according to either verse) as a pair - an equally
qualified pair of days. Since the thirteenth is a more obvious
day to include in the Purim celebration (see below), once we add
the 12th, the 13th becomes obvious by the inference of "Kal
vaHomer" (the less obvious implying the more obvious), as
follows: If the 12th, which has no obvious connection to Purim,
becomes an alternative day for celebration, certainly the 13th,
which has a strong tie to Purim, should be included - therefore,
no verse is needed. In other words, without the extra verse and
extra two days, I would have not known to include the 13th; but,
once I include any other days besides the 14th and 15th, the 13th
becomes obvious and needs no verse.
To the second question: Rashi explains that the 13th of Adar was
a day of assembly since that was the day when the Jews in Shushan
(and everywhere else) assembled to defend themselves and exact
vengeance from their enemies; i.e. Rashi relates the statement in
the Gemara as to the nature of the 13th to the events of the year
of Purim itself.
Rabbenu Tam (quoted in many Rishonim; see e.g. Rosh, Megillah
1:1, Ran on the Rif, 1b) explains the 13th differently: This is
the day of Ta'anit Esther, the commemorative fast of Esther, a
name which is misleading. First, some chronology:
All of the "central" events in the Megillah directly involving
Haman occured during the month of Nissan (the month of Pesach)
during the 12th year of Ahashverosh's reign (Esther 3:7). On the
day when Haman approached Ahashverosh with his request to destroy
the "scattered and dispersed people", Mordechai sent word to
Esther to approach the king and beg his mercy for her people. On
that same day, she finally consented and told Mordechai to
assemble the people for a three day fast (the original Ta'anit
Esther), at the end of which she would approach the king. The
same day that she approached him was the day of the first party,
to which Haman was invited, and where she invited the two of them
to another party on the morrow. That night, the king could not
sleep and "coincidentally" Haman was traipsing around the palace.
He wanted to approach the king to ask permission to hang
Mordechai, while the king invited him in for advice on how to
honor "the person in whom the king finds favor. (i.e. that
self-same Mordechai)". The next day, Haman led Mordechai through
the city in the king's clothes and on the king's horse - that
same day was the second party at which Haman was exposed and
It was nearly 11months later, when the first set of letters, sent
out by Haman (sealed with the royal signet ring), were set to be
opened, that the Jews actually fought - supported by the second
set of letters, sent out by Mordechai and Esther (again, sealed
with the royal signet ring).
Therefore, referring to the 13th of Adar as "The Fast of Esther"
must be interpreted in one of two ways. Either it is a
commemoration of the 3 fast days decreed by Esther which actually
took place in Nissan - or it refers to fasting which actually
took place on the 13th of Adar while the warriors among the Jews
Rabbenu Tam cites a Gemara in Ta'anit which indicates that when
Moshe, Aharon and Hur went to the top of the mountain to lead the
prayers during the war against Amalek (Shemot [Exodus] 17), that
they were engaged in a public fast. Hence the notion that when we
are at war, those Jews who cannot fight are engaged in both
prayer and fasting (as part of the "war effort").
WALLED CITIES FROM THE TIME OF YEHOSHUA BIN-NUN
Using the era of Yehoshua bin-Nun (i.s. the conquest of Eretz
Yisrael) to determine which cities are considered "walled" for
Purim is hard to understand - and the Gemara questions this
demarcation. Although, as we asked, using contemporary standards
(what's a walled city today) might have been a reasonable
measuring stick, this option is not raised in the Gemara.
However, the Gemara does cite opinions (see Tosefta Megilla 1:1)
that favor cities which were walled at the time of Ahashverosh.
In explaining the position of our Mishna (which is the Halakha),
the Babylonian Talmud (Megillah 2b) infers the rule from the
similar word "Prazi" used to refer to unwalled cities in the
Megillah and unwalled cities during the time of the conquest
(Devarim [Deuteronomy] 3:5). This leaves Shushan itself in limbo
(on the assumption that Shushan was not yet built during
Yehoshua's time) - so the Gemara answers that Shushan is excluded
from the rule (and celebrates on the 15th) because that is where
the miracle took place. This seems to indicate one of two
possibilities: that the inference from "Prazi" is not a strong
one (hence, we can "sneak" Shushan in), or that it only applies
to cities within Israel (see the Rishonim here, who cite opinions
that only walled cities inside Israel - plus Shushan - read on
Some of the Rishonim offer an interesting alternative answer:
Since Yehoshua was the first to do battle against Amalek (Shemot
17), we celebrate our victory over Amalek (=Haman) by associating
some of the laws to Yehoshua (or, at least, his conquest and his
era). (see Ritba on Megillah 2a).
The most well-known answer is that provided by the Yerushalmi
(Megillah 1:1): "To give honor to Eretz Yisrael which was
destroyed at the time." We will look at several explanations of
The Ran (in his commentary on the Rif, 1a) offers two
explanations to this statement, preference of one over the other
being predicated on the resolution of another, much more basic
and far-reaching issue.
The Gemara in several places (e.g. Megillah 10a, Arakhin 32b)
debates whether the original sanctity bestowed upon Eretz Yisrael
during the conquest of Yehoshua was eternal - or was nullified
when that conquest was reversed under the Assyrians and, later,
under the Babylonians. (A parallel discussion exists about the
sanctity of Yerushalayim from the time of Shlomo's dedication of
the Temple - see MT Beit HaBechira 6:14-16 and RABD there).
If we accept the position that the original sanctity of the Land
is irreversible, then the sanctity of walled cities (see Mishna
Kelim 1:7; MT Beit HaBechira 7:13) from that time is still in
force (even if the walls are no longer there). That being the
case, it would be "shameful" for those cities to celebrate Purim
like unwalled cities - sort of a denigration of the sanctity.
This is one way of understanding the honor of Eretz Yisrael which
is protected by using the time of Yehoshua bin-Nun.
If we do not accept that position and rule that these formerly
walled cities no longer have any special sanctity, then the
result is that nearly all the walled cities which celebrate on
the more significant day - the 15th - will be outside of Israel.
That would be a general denigration of the sanctity and special
position of Eretz Yisrael.
Ramban (novellae on Megillah, first comment) addresses the "Days
of Yehoshua bin-Nun" issue with a more basic question - why is
there more than one day of Purim at all? Why did the Sages who
enacted this holiday see fit to create separate days for walled
cities and for unwalled cities (and, by extension, alternative
days for villagers)?
He begins with an analysis of the text of the Megillah along with
(debatable) historical points from the period of the Purim story.
As pointed out above, the Megillah does not record any
celebration being established (yearly) on the 15th; nor does it
record what the walled cities did (except for Shushan) during the
actual events. Ramban explains that at that time, most of the
Jews [who were going to return to Israel] (this is the only way
to explain his words and have them make any historic sense) had
already returned - although they were, of course, still under the
rule of the Persian Empire. In addition, Ramban understands from
a discussion in the Gemara about the definition of a walled city
(what if it is walled by the sea, like Tiberias?) that the issue
at hand is one of defensibility. He goes on to posit that all of
the Jews in unwalled cities were, of course, in danger - as well
as the Jews in Shushan. However, those Jews who lived in other
(segregated) walled cities were in no danger and did not have to
fight - and, therefore, did not celebrate Purim that first
year...nor did they establish on their own a day of celebration.
Only later, when Mordechai and Esther sent out the second set of
letters to the Jews, establishing Purim as a national holiday,
did they join in - and were given the "secondary day" of the
fifteenth. However, in order to ensure that those Jews in Israel
would not feel that their cities - of former glory but present
ruin - were less important than Shushan, the Sages established
that any city that had been walled during the glory days of Eretz
Yisrael (Yehoshua's time) qualified as a "Shushan-equal".
Thus, Ramban explains the reason for separate days (reflecting
the eager acceptance of the Jews in unwalled cities and the later
acceptance of all the other Jews) and why the separation is
marked by cities walled at the time of Yehoshua bin-Nun, rather
than Ahashverosh. (see the Rishonim ad loc. who challenge Ramban
on historic grounds). There is still something missing from his
argument - he never really explains why there isn't just one day
of Purim, or, as he himself asks "one Torah and one law."
In our Mishnah, we read that the villagers were allowed to read
the Megillah early - back to the Monday or Thursday before the
14th. The Gemara (Megillah 4b) explains that this was a reward
for the villagers, who provided food and drink for their brethren
in the big cities. This "reward" is a bit difficult to
understand: Where and when would the villagers read and how did
that serve as a reward?
Rashi (Megillah 2a s.v. ela) explains that the villagers would
enter the cities on Mondays and Thursdays to do business. This
was why Ezra ordained that the courts be in session on those days
- and why he established that the Torah be read on those days
(Bava Kamma 82a). He goes on to explain that the villagers did
not know how to read the Megillah and they needed a city-person
to read it for them - and the Sages did not trouble them to
return to the cities on another day for Purim; rather, they
allowed them to hear the Megillah on the Monday or Thursday
before the 14th.
Rashi's approach answers one question - if the 14th was on a
Wednesday or a Sunday, why didn't the Sages allow the villagers
to read it on the next day, a market day, which is the 15th?
Since the villagers were entering the cities (but not the walled
metropolises) - and they needed a city-person to read for them,
it wouldn't help to allow them to read on the 15th, for on the
15th, the city people are already "past" Purim.
However, his approach leaves us with several problems:
(a) What happens to the nighttime reading?
(b) How can we permit two different days to be celebrated in one
town? What of the prohibition of *Lo Titgodedu* - which is
Halakhically translated to "do not make yourselves into separate
groups" - at least within one town (see Yevamot 14a)?
(c) How can a city-person read on behalf of the villagers on the
11th, 12th or 13th? He is not obligated to read on that day and
should not be able to read on behalf of another?
The Ran answers that the Sages exempted the villagers from the
night reading, which is less significant than the daytime reading
(this issue itself is subject to debate among the Rishonim).
He goes on to respond to the second question, that since the
villagers are assembling separately (in the town) and holding
their own reading, it is like two courts in two separate towns,
so there is no issue of "separate groups."
However, that means that he must explain that one of the
villagers reads on behalf of his fellows, and not a city-person -
which also solves the third question. However, if at least some
of the villagers are knowledgeable to read, why allow them to
read early at all? Why not let them read on time?
The Rambam (MT Megillah 1:6) has an entirely different approach
which avoids these pitfalls. He maintains that the villagers
would enter the villages on Monday and Thursday; i.e. they lived
on farms and only came in to the villages twice a week and that
that was where the courts sat. They also had a Beit-K'nesset
(synagogue) there, where they would assemble to hear the Torah
read on those days. Therefore, as a reward for their service on
other days of providing food to the cities, the Sages allowed
them to use the market-day before the 14th for Megillah reading.
There was clearly no problem of "separate groups" and, since at
least some of them were capable of reading, they would perform
the nighttime reading of the Megillah in their homes - and, since
one of them would read for the rest during the day, there was no
issue of a non-obligated person reading for on their behalf.
We can also understand (according to either approach) why the
Sages did not allow them to read on a Monday or Thursday that was
the 15th. Since they were basically obligated on the 14th (since
their farms were certainly unwalled), and since the Megillah
stipulates "it shall not pass" which is Halakhically interpreted
as "do not read later than the given date", we cannot allow them
to read on the 15th. In addition, there is the possibility that
would mistakenly think that the 15th was their "real" day and not
just a leniency since, in that self-same reading, they would hear
about the celebration in Shushan on the 15th; that concern does
not apply to the earlier days.
THE BIGGER QUESTIONS
Now that we are armed with the basic information about the days
of Purim, let's turn our attention to a more basic problem.
Ramban asks why there are separate days...I'd like to add to that
question: why any days at all? Every celebration we have is
either a Zekher liY'tzi'at Mitzrayim (a commemoration of the
Exodus - the three festivals in the Torah) or Hannukah. In both
cases, the result of the event we are celebrating was a
significant step up in our status. In Egypt, we were slaves; the
Exodus was our national freedom, our march to Sinai to become
God's holy nation and our subsequent march home to Israel.
Hannuka is a bit tamer, yet it is also a story which ends on a
much happier and victorious note than it begins. Yet, for all
the rejoicing, drinking and partying of Purim - what did we
really accomplish? As Rava points out (Megilla 14a), it is
inappropriate to recite Hallel on Purim because, with all the
miracles and salvation - we were still enslaved to Ahashverosh.
At the end of the story, we were back at square one - still under
the foreign rule, still spread throughout the nations. The
entire accomplishment of the Purim story was - that we weren't
There is a well-known Midrash, quoted by Rambam at the end of
Hilkhot Megillah (2:18) that states that even though all other
holidays will be annulled in the future (with the coming of
Mashiach), the days of Purim will never disappear (Midrash
Mishlei 9:2). What is the meaning of this Midrash?
PURIM - THE CELEBRATION OF JEWISH CONTINUITY
The Tosefta in Berakhot (1:14), building on a passage in Yirmiyah
(23:7-8), states that in the future (when Mashiach comes), the
remembrance of the Exodus will take a back seat (this is how the
Gemara explains it) to the more recent redemption. The
remembrance of glories past will be overshadowed by recent
success and salvation. This is true so long as we are dealing
with celebrations of Jewish glory...
...but Purim is a celebration of a different stripe altogether.
Whereas on Pesach we celebrate an event that took place several
thousand years ago (which, of course, shaped our very identity to
this day) - on Purim we celebrate our continued existence in
spite of the long and terrible exile which we continue to endure.
On Purim we are as much rejoicing about today as we are about the
days of Shushan. It is a celebration of Jewish existence - in
spite of exile. The nature of our existence in exile is, as
Haman put it, to be spread out among the nations. We celebrate
on different days because we realize that we are not together
-but we fast on the same day because that is, more than anything
else, what binds us. We can be happy in our own towns, but we
fast as a nation; it is Jewish tragedy and the threat to our
people which binds us.
Indeed, much was accomplished in the Purim story - we made it! We
weathered another madman, another despot, another tyrant. He was
hanged and we remain. And this will never be forgotten; even
when we are ultimately redeemed and all ancient glories become
overshadowed by the more recent miracles of the Messianic era,
the essential miracle of Jewish existence which will have made
Messianic redemption possible will never be forgotten.