On Friday March 25, while Jews in the rest of the country (and the world) will be getting ready for Shabbat, the Jews of Jerusalem will be celebrating Purim—complete with Megilah reading in the morning, sending baskets of food items to neighbors (“mishloach manot”), and sitting down to a festive Purim meal.
The reason for Jerusalem’s Purim stems from the end of Megilat Esther, where we learn that the Jews of Shushan were given an extra day to slay their foes, and so, they celebrated Purim on the 15th day of the month of Adar. In Jewish tradition, this day became known as Shushan Purim, a day for Jews living in walled cities (like Shushan) to celebrate the holiday. As an acknowledgment to the centrality of the Land of Israel, which lay in ruins at the purported time of the Purim story (fifth century BCE), the rabbis determined that all walled cities from the time of Joshua would celebrate on that special extra day. Today, because of this decision, Jerusalem is the only city to exclusively observe Purim on the 15th day of Adar.
I asked a few of my Jerusalem friends if there is anything special about celebrating Shushan Purim. Jonathan Duitch says that the day “reminds me how special the city is—our Sages changed the parameters of the holiday [by backdating “walled cities” to Joshua’s time] to give honor to Jerusalem.” Jonathan also notes a major advantage in celebrating Purim on the night of the 15th: celebrants are not concluding a day-long fast. For the rest of the Jewish world, which begins celebrating Purim on the night of the 14th (which this year is Wednesday night March 23), the reading of the Megilah is incorporated into the evening service that concludes the Fast of Esther. During the Megilah reading, you sort of can tell who is fasting—they are the ones looking at the noisemakers with murder in their eyes.
Most of my respondents wrote that they do not find anything unique per se to the celebration of Shushan Purim. Madeleine Lavine and Frances Oppenheimer in fact point to the down side in celebrating a day late. Madeleine says: “I think the Purim experience in Jerusalem is just a longer one!” And Frances explains: “I think the biggest problem with Purim in Jerusalem is that when it finally happens I am already sick of it—school parties, maybe a grown-up party and then finally it’s Purim in Jerusalem.”
Many people who live in communities close to Jerusalem have friends who invite them for the Shushan Purim festive meal. For me, that friend is Shira Twersky-Cassel, a Jerusalem resident for approximately half a century and my mother’s dearest friend. I am happy to close here with Shira’s comment: “If our Sages’ intention in having Shushan Purim be observed separately in walled cities, specifically Jerusalem, was to insure the rebirth of life in Jerusalem for future times, they succeeded tenfold.”
Teddy Weinberger, Ph.D., is Director of Development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.