The first mishnah of Megillah teaches that the Megillah might be read on different days, depending on the locality. Depending on which day of the week Purim falls on, the Megillah might be read on the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth or fifteenth. The central idea behind the mishnah is that small villages would not read alone in their own village, but rather would move up, if necessary, the day of the reading so that it would fall on the same day as “the day of gathering,” the market and court day in the larger towns. As we shall see, this can lead to their reading the Megillah on the eleventh, twelfth or thirteenth. The fourteenth and fifteenth are the days when the Megillah is normally read, depending on whether the city is a walled city.
Section one: This section provides all of the possible dates in Adar on which the Megillah might be read.
Section two: Esther 9:19 reads, “That is why village Jews, who live in unwalled towns, observe the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and make it a day of merrymaking and feasting, and as a holiday and an occasion for sending gifts to one another.” If Jews in unwalled towns celebrate Purim on the fourteenth, it implies that Jews in walled cities celebrate on another day. This day must be the fifteenth, since in verse 18 the Jews in Shushan rest from their fighting on the fifteenth.
The mishnah determines what is a walled city by reference to Joshua, even though Joshua lived hundreds of years before the events of Purim. The mishnah refers back to Joshua because the land of Israel was desolate in the time of Achashverosh and none of its cities were walled. In order to honor Israel, we therefore refer back to the original conquering.
Section three: Small villages move the reading up to the Monday or Thursday prior to the fourteenth of Adar. These were the market days, the days on which the court would convene and the days on which the Torah was read. The idea was that on these days the Jews would gather in the larger cities and it would be more possible to have a large celebration than if each individual village had celebrated separately on the fourteenth.
Section four: This is the simplest situation. Purim (the fourteenth of Adar) falls on the fourteenth, so everyone can read on that day except for those in walled cities who read on the fifteenth.
Section five: If it falls on Tuesday, the people of the villages read on Monday (the 13th), the day of the gathering, and if it falls on Wednesday then they also move it up to the 12th, which is Monday. Again, the people of the large towns read on the fourteenth and the people of the walled cities on the fifteenth.
Section six: If it falls on Thursday, again, everyone can read on that day except for those in walled cities who read on the fifteenth, on Friday.
Section seven: If it falls on Friday, the villagers read on the Thursday the thirteenth, those from the large towns and even those from walled cities read on Friday, because the Megillah is not read on Shabbat. The reason that the Megillah is not read on Shabbat is that it is possible to move it up to Friday, so there is no reason to disturb Shabbat. The Talmud also explains that if they were allowed to read on Friday, they might end up carrying the Megillah through the public domain in order to get to synagogue.
Section eight: If it falls on Shabbat, everyone moves the reading up to Thursday. Since it can’t be read on Shabbat and it will therefore have to be moved up in any case, they move it up for the large towns all the way to Thursday so that they end up reading it on the same day as the villagers.
Section nine: Finally, if it falls on Sunday, the villagers move the reading up to Thursday, the 11th of Adar, the people from the large towns read on Sunday and those from walled towns read on Tuesday, the 15th.
The Talmud begins by asking the source for reading the Megillah on the eleventh of the month. This question is very typical for the beginning of a sugya in the Bavli. However, the Talmud reflects upon in its own question, asking why we should even ask such a question. Later the mishnah answers this very question. According to the Talmud the sages of the Great Assembly, a religious/political group that operated during the Second Temple period, instituted a leniency on the people who live in the villages. These people were allowed to read on an earlier day on the month so that they could be free to provide water and food for the people in the larger cities, who would be reading on the fourteenth or fifteenth of the month. We shall deal at greater length with this reasoning later in this chapter.
The Talmud answers that the question really is as follows. Then Men of the Great Assembly must have made this enactment for if they had said that it was to be read only on the fourteenth or fifteenth, as the Megillah itself says, then it could not have been changed to the 11th-15th. So if the Men of the Great Assembly, who also according to the Talmud wrote the Book of Esther, made this enactment, they must have hinted at it in their book. Where, we ask, is such a hint?
As an aside, these types of reflexive questions, questions that ask why the Talmud asks certain questions, are often found in the beginning of Talmudic tractates. They are usually late additions to the Talmudic record. In my opinion, the earlier historical level of the Talmud probably began with the statement we shall examine now.
R. Shemen b. Abba uses Esther 9:31 which says “many times” to prove that there are multiple days on which Purim can fall, as the mishnah stated, not just the 14th or the 15th of Adar.
The Talmud clarifies that if the verse had meant to refer only to the two days specifically stated in the Megillah, it could have just said “at the appointed time.” The plural form indicates that even more than just the 14th and 15th are possible.
Still, the Talmud asks, the plural form might indicate that there are two dates for reading the Megillah—the 14th and the 15th. Had it stated “at the appointed time” we might have thought that people read either on the 14th or the 15th, but not that people outside of walled cities must read on the 14th and in walled cities on the 15th. So the plural form does not necessarily indicate that it can be read on other dates as well.
The answer is that the verse doesn’t just say “their time”; it says “their times.” This indicates both halakhot, including the halakhah that the Megillah can be read earlier than the 14th.
So why not say that there are many other days on which one could read the Megillah, not just the 11th, 12th and 13th.
The answer is that just as there are two days the Megillah specifically cites as the days of Purim, so too there are two additional days. The Talmud will below ask the obvious question—aren’t there three!
Two extra days would seem to imply the 12th and 13th. So where do we get the 11th? The answer is that the 13th of Adar was the day on which the Jews assembled to fight Haman’s forces. Therefore, no verse is really needed to teach us that we can read on that day. The two extra days are left over for the 11th and 12th.
If two days must be added, how do we know that those two days are not the 16th and 17th?
The answer is that the Megillah states that “these days should not pass.” Here, this is interpreted to mean that we cannot add on after the 15th has passed.
R. Shmuel b. Nahmani offers a different midrash for why the Megillah can be read on the 11th or 12th. The Megillah could have said “The days on which…” The extra letter kaf indicates that it can be read even on the 11th or 12th.
See explanation above.
See explanation above.
As it frequently does, the Talmud asks why each amora didn’t use the other amora’s midrash. R. Shmuel b. Nahmani simply did not like R. Shemen b. Abba’s midrash. I find it a bit difficult as well, but no one asked me.
R. Shemen b. Abba does not use the other midrash because he holds that the “kaf” in the phrase “as the days” is not superfluous, for it points to the future. In the future people will observe Purim “as the days” when the Jews rested from fighting their enemies in Shushan.
In today’s section an amora posits that the opinion in the Mishnah belongs to one sage, but that other sages disagree.
According to R. Yohanan, the opinion in the Mishnah that the Megillah may be read on the 11th, 12th or 13th belongs to R. Akiva. There are other sages who rule that it may only be recited only on the 14th or 15th. They don’t make a midrash out of the fact that the Megillah reads “at their times,” a midrash that served as the basis for the Mishnah (see yesterday’s section).
According to R. Judah, the Megillah may be read on the 11th, 12, or 13th, only when most of Israel resides in the land of Israel and the years and months are properly fixed by the observation of the new moon. But today (i.e in his time, when the Temple had been destroyed, and many of Israel were living elsewhere) people see when the Megillah is read and they reckon their calendar based on this day. Since people count on it being read on the proper date, it can be read only then.
The Talmud now notes that R. Judah cannot follow R. Akiva, for R. Akiva lived after the destruction and nevertheless continued to rule that the Megillah may be read on the 11th, 12th or 13th. Rather, he must rule like the other sages. These sages would then agree that when Israel resides on their own soil and the years are properly fixed, the Megillah can be read on other days. This is a refutation of R. Yohanan who said that these sages do not draw the midrashic distinction between “time,” “their time” and “their times.” These sages allow for the Megillah to be read on other days, at least in earlier times.
This is simply another version of the material from above. In this version, R. Yohanan basically says that the sages say the same thing that R. Judah said in a baraita. In today’s time, the Megillah can be read only on the 14th or 15th. This remains the practice till this day.