Shushan Purim is a unique observance within the Jewish tradition, celebrated on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, one day after the regular observance of Purim. The name “Shushan” refers to the ancient Persian capital of Susa, which plays a significant role in the Purim story. The distinction between Purim and Shushan Purim arises from the fact that the Jews in Shushan had an extra day to defend themselves against their enemies.
The origins of Shushan Purim can be traced back to the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible, also known as Megillat Esther or the Scroll of Esther. This biblical account is primarily found in Megilah, one of the tractates in the Mishnah, which is part of the Talmud. Megilah specifically addresses the laws and customs related to the reading of the Megillah (scroll) of Esther during the Purim festival.
In Megillah 1:1, the text establishes the obligation to read the Megillah on the 14th day of Adar, the standard observance of Purim. However, Megillah 1:3 introduces the concept of “Shushan Purim,” explaining that the residents of walled cities, such as Shushan, celebrate Purim on the 15th day of Adar. The distinction between open cities (which observe Purim on the 14th) and walled cities (which celebrate on the 15th) is derived from Esther 9:19, which states, “Therefore the Jews of the villages, that dwelt in the unwalled towns, made the 14th day of the month Adar a day of gladness and feasting, and a good day, and of sending portions one to another.”
The identification of walled cities mentioned in Megillah 1:1 includes Jerusalem, where Shushan Purim is observed universally. There is no clearly defined list of walled cities, but the text specifies only those walled before the days of Yehoshua bin Nun (Joshua). However, since there is a dispute about exactly which these are, some places like Hebron/Kiryat Arba observe on both days, and in other places like Tzfat, some people observe on each, depending on a given community’s understanding.
In terms of observance, the primary distinction between Purim and Shushan Purim lies in the reading of the Megillah and certain associated customs. While most cities celebrate Purim on the 14th of Adar, those in walled cities, such as Jerusalem, read the Megillah and fulfill other Purim-related obligations on the 15th. Additionally, the festive meal (Seudat Purim) and the giving of gifts to friends (Mishloach Manot) take place on Shushan Purim in these walled cities.
However, the day of fasting known as Ta’anit Esther (the Fast of Esther), which precedes Purim, is observed on the 13th of Adar regardless of whether one resides in an open or walled city. Therefore, the fast is not affected by the distinction between Purim and Shushan Purim.
In summary, Shushan Purim is a unique observance that stems from the events described in the Book of Esther, particularly in the walled city of Shushan. It is celebrated on the 15th day of Adar in certain walled cities, such as Jerusalem, and involves the reading of the Megillah, festive meals, and the exchange of gifts. The distinction between open and walled cities is crucial for understanding the timing of these observances during the Purim festival.