When is Purim Observed?

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29 Jun 2006

Purim is different from all other Jewish holidays in at least one very interesting aspect. Purim is observed in some places exclusively on the 14th of Adar and in others, exclusively on the 15th (Shushan Purim).

The observance of Purim was thus originally ordained by the Sages: “To observe these days of Purim in their times. ‘In their times:’ In the specific time of each.”

Calendar with pushpinsThe reason for the different dates designated for the observance of Purim is that the Jews of Shushan originally observed the festival on a different day than the Jews who lived elsewhere. Whereas Jews in Shushan waged war on both the 13th and the 14th of the month, and observed the 15th as a day of festivity and rejoicing, in all other provinces the Jews waged war on the 13th and observed only the 14th as a day of festivity and rejoicing.

Therefore our Sages chose to distinguish between Shushan and all other places in accordance with the original event.

Wishing however, to accord honor to the Land of Israel which then was desolate, they determined as follows: The capital city of Shushan, in which the miracle occurred enjoys special preeminence and the festival is to be observed there on the 15th. This is despite the fact that in the days of Yehoshua, under whose leadership the Jewish People first entered and conquered the Land of Israel, Shushan was not yet surrounded by a wall, and hence enjoyed only minor status as a city.

All other cities which were already settled and were surrounded by walls in the days of Yehoshua, are to be accorded the preeminence of Shushan – although they might presently lack surrounding walls and might be in a state of ruin – and they are to observe Purim the 15th. Cities which were not surrounded by walls in the days of Yehoshua though they may have surrounding walls presently – are not to be accorded the status of Shushan, and they are to observe the festival on the 14th.

What then is the criterion for judging the status of a city?

The condition of the city during the days of Yehoshua. That is to say, walled cities either found by Yehoshua in the Land of Israel, or built with walls in his time, are assured of eternal existence. Their present destruction is viewed as passing. Cities outside the Land of Israel – though they later acquired the status of walled cities – are not regarded as assured of permanent existence.

Therefore the Purim which is observed on the 14th is called ‘Purim-of-the-open-cities;’ (Purim De’Prazot) and the Purim observed on the 15th is named the ‘Purim-of-the-walled-cities’ (Purim De’Mukafot).

In our times, the only city besides Shushan in which Purim is observed the 15th of Adar is Jerusalem, “Yerushalayim.”

In a number of other places, the Megillah is also read the 15th – but only because of doubt. In these communities, the essential observance of Purim is fixed for the 14th, and though the Reading of the Megillah is repeated in them the 15th as well, the required brachah which precedes the Megilah-Reading, is not recited.

PURIM KATAN – Little Purim

On a leap year when, according to the Hebrew calendar there are two months of Adar, I and II, Purim is observed for two days in Adar II, which is followed by Nissan. However, the 14th and 15th of Adar A on a leap year are traditionally called “Little Purim”. On these days also one is supposed to celebrate, is forbidden to mourn or fast and omits certain prayers.


Sometimes Purim falls on a Friday, therefore making the next day, Shabbat, Shushan Purim. However, it is forbidden to read the Megilla on Shabbat, and of course, Shabbat cannot be postponed because of Purim.

For Jerusalem and other walled cities, the procedure is as follows:

“Mikra Megillah” is done on Thursday night and Friday morning, as in the “open” cities; “Matanot La-Evyonim” are given on Friday.

The reading of “Parashat Amalek” and the insertion of “Al HaNisim” into the “Shemoneh Esray” and the “Birchat HaMazon” are done on Shabbat, their regular Purim in ordinary years.

“Seudat Purim” is served and “Mishloach Manot” are exchanged on Sunday, the sixteenth of Adar.

Thus, the holiday is felt and marked in Jerusalem for three days, and therefore Purim in such a year is called “Purim MeShulash,” Triple Purim.


Learning from the Purim experience, a custom has evolved for Jewish communities to celebrate the anniversary of their escape from destruction. These special communal Purims are also called ‘Purim Katan.’

This is a day of rejoicing, feasting and the distribution of gifts which Jewish communities, families, or even individuals set aside in commemoration of a miraculous event through which they were rescued from catastrophe or destruction or from evil and oppressive edicts.

There are such festivities which are established for a definite period of years and others which are to continue through all the generations. These were called “Second Purim” and an effort was made to celebrate them like the first Purim following the pattern which Mordecai and Esther established for all the generations.

In honour of the Second Purim special megillot were written and read in the synagogue on that day in the cantillation of the Book of Esther (the megillot of the Purim of Castile, of Saragossa and of the Casablanca Hitler). Poets composed special poems on the pattern of “On account of the miracles” to be said during the “Amidah” (Shmona Esreh) and as part of the grace after meals (Purim of Candea, of Carpentras, France, and others). In other places they would recite the Hallel during the morning prayers as is done on Hanuka and the first day of the month even though the Hallel is not said on Purim.

The number, both in the Diaspora and in the Land of Israel during foreign rule, comes to hundreds. Many have been forgotten or have disappeared in the course of time, and others are recalled only in community annals and in history books.

Sometimes such a Second Purim was even established on a day of national mourning if the redemption occurred on that day; thus Purim of Candea falls on the 18th of Tammuz (1538) even though Tammuz is a month of mourning according to Jewish tradition. The Purim of Ibrahim Pasha on the first day of Av (when festivities are reduced to a minimum) commemorates the miracle by which the Jews of Hebron were rescued from the army of Ibrahim Pasha. And there are others.

Sometimes a Second Purim is established on a holiday without qualms about mixing celebrations: For example, the Purim of Ancona (Italy, 1740), on the second day of Succoth, the Second Purim of the community of Carpentras (France, 1651) on the eighth day of Pesach, when the community was rescued from a blood libel.

At times a Second Purim was established for a family as happened in Vilna where the 16th of Kislev (1803) is called “the Purim of Abraham Danzig”. In a nearby military camp there occurred a heavy explosion. Many houses were destroyed and there were many killed and wounded. The house of Rabbi Abraham Danzig, scholar and poet, was in the area of the catastrophe but was undamaged and its occupants unharmed.

In 1629 Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller, the Rabbi of Prague and the author of the famous commentary on the Mishnah, “Tosefet Yom Tov”, proclaimed as a Second Purim for his descendants the second day of Rosh Hodesh Adar to commemorate his deliverance from death.

A famous Second Purim is that of Frankfurt-am-Main on the 20th of Adar (1614-15). The baker, Vincent Fettmilch, who called himself the “New Haman”, organized attacks on the Jews, who defended themselves. However, after a battle which lasted a full day and night they were forced to surrender and were expelled from the city, despoiled of all their belongings.

After several months the king of Germany learned that a flagrant injustice had been done to the Jews. He commanded that the baker be killed, his house destroyed, his body beheaded, quartered, and hung on the gates of the city.

The story of Vincent Fettmilch’s crimes and of his punishment were inscribed in German and Latin on a column erected on the site of his house. The king called upon the Jews of Frankfurt to return to their homes with full honours, accompanied by a military band and with a reception by the local authorities. This Purim the Jews called “Vincent Purim” and they also proclaimed a special fast and penitence. Rabbi Elhanan Ha’elen composed a “Vincent Megillah” in Hebrew and Yiddish.

A “Hitler Purim” was proclaimed by the Jewish community of Casablanca (North Africa) on the 20th of Kislev (1942) because on that day it was saved from the Nazi invaders and their followers. A special Megillah, the “Hitler Megillah”, was composed (“…and the month which was turned for us from sorrow to rejoicing and the making of holiday and the giving of gifts to the poor. Cursed be Hitler, cursed be Mussolini… etc….” From the Hitler Megillah).