A common question I’m asked about the celebration of the biblical festivals is, “Why do we celebrate them for a different number of days based on where we’re celebrating them?”
One simple example is the Feast of Unleavened Bread. If you’re in Israel, it’s celebrated for seven days and the first and seventh days have festival restrictions. It’s eight days outside the land; you don’t work on the first, second, seventh, or eighth day. Why? Let’s call it “doubling in the Diaspora!” There’s a very good and logical reason why many of the holidays are observed in this manner, but that’s a different blog (check out this great article from FFOZ’s own Aaron Eby for a great explanation on the subject.)
But just when you think you’ve got the holiday celebration schedule figured out, leave it to Jewish tradition to throw a curveball! This year’s celebration of Purim demonstrates another unique component of the Jewish calendar that you probably don’t know about.
Purim 5781/2021 will be celebrated in the United States this year, beginning the evening of February 25, Adar 14 on the Hebrew calendar. As many are aware, Purim remembers and celebrates with much vim and vigor the deliverance of the Jewish people from the evil Haman (boo!). His very unoriginal intention was to wipe us out (again), but God saved us (again), and we celebrate his faithfulness to us with a holiday of feasting and joy (again).
Mordechai, a hero of our Purim story, decrees to the Jewish people far and wide that cities, towns, and villages that have no surrounding wall should observe Purim on the fourteenth of Adar. But cities with walls should observe Purim on the fifteenth of Adar. (See Esther Chapter 9 for more.) The most important walled city is Jerusalem, which to this day celebrates Purim on the fifteenth of the month of Adar.
Would it surprise you to know that 2021’s Purim celebration in Israel will be a little out of the ordinary (par for the course these days, it seems!)? How is it different, you ask?
This year, the observance of Purim in “walled cities” (Jerusalem) is not one day; no, not two days either, but three days long! Not only will Purim be observed on the fifteenth of Adar in accordance with the book of Esther, but also on the fourteenth and the sixteenth. It’s called Purim Meshulash, which means “Tripled Purim.” Here’s why.
This year, Adar 15 coincides with Shabbat, which carries some unique challenges as far as Purim goes. For example, it is customary to read the Megillah (the scroll containing the book of Esther) on Purim. However, the sages worried that someone might violate the Torah’s prohibition of carrying on Shabbat and mistakenly carry the scroll to the synagogue. It’s the same reason the shofar is not blown on a Shabbat that coincides with Rosh HaShanah—one cannot carry the shofar on Shabbat.
So, what’s the Purim solution? The Mishnah (Megillah 2a) teaches that when Adar 15 falls on Shabbat, the walled cities read the Megillah on the same day as the unwalled cities, Friday the fourteenth. So, here is day one of your Purim celebration in Jerusalem.
What does that make the fifteenth, chopped liver? It’s still Purim, right? Yes, and therefore, it should be recognized as such. But how? Special additions to the daily prayers, Al Hanissim (“the miracles”), are added on Purim. In unwalled cities, that means Al Hanissim is added on the fourteenth, the same day the Megillah is read. But as we just learned, Jerusalem will also be reading the Megillah on the fourteenth. Will they also say Al Hanissim?
As you might suspect, no. Here is where Jerusalem gets creative during Purim Meshulash. Even though the Megillah will be read on Adar 14, Al Hanissim is not recited until Adar 15. This keeps the remembrance of Purim alive on the actual day it is designated to be celebrated. So in Jerusalem this year, the Megillah is read on the fourteenth, but prayers with the inclusion of the special addition of Al Hanissim are recited on the fifteenth, thus creating the second day of Purim observance.
Last but certainly not least, what is a festival without a festive meal?! We need to have a Purim seudah (“meal”). Again, Shabbat becomes an important consideration, and the Talmud Yerushalmi prohibits the Purim meal from happening on Shabbat. It’s delayed until Sunday, Adar 16.
But wait, why not have the meal on Friday when Jerusalem is already reading the Megillah? Well, technically, it’s not Purim in Jerusalem, and one is likely busy preparing for Shabbat, so Sunday was the logical choice. As a side note, in this case, since Sunday is the festive meal, it is also the day for rejoicing while wearing costumes and drinking wine. And there you have it—the third day of Purim partying in Jerusalem.
There are several additional details beyond the scope of this blog, but you get the picture. Purim Meshulash is the “Tripled Purim,” and now you know why. If your head is spinning, don’t worry about it. You’re supposed to feel that way on Purim. But just remember, if you’re celebrating in Jerusalem this year, Purim 5781 is three times the fun.
Whatever the day of your celebration, from all of us at FFOZ to you — Chag Purim Sameach!