י״ח בתמוז ה׳תשע״ד (July 16, 2014)

Megilla 5a-b: A City With a Wall of Water

As we have learned, the holiday of Purim is celebrated on two separate days. People living in cities without walls keep Purim on the 14th day of Adar, while Jews living in walled cities celebrate on the 15th day of the month. What if we are not sure whether a given city had walls around it going back to the days when Yehoshua entered the land of Israel with the Jewish people?

The Gemara relates that Hizkiya was unsure whether Teverya (Tiberias) was considered a walled city or not, so he read the Megilla on both the 14th and the 15th. The Gemara explains that he was certain that walls surrounded the city; his dilemma was whether a city which was surrounded on three sides by a wall and on the fourth side by the sea (Tiberias is built on the shores of the Kinneret) should be considered a walled city or not.

Can Hizkiya’s ruling with regard to Tiberias be applied to other situations where we are unsure as to the status of a given city? Based on his decision, it would appear that we should also read the Megilla twice in other cities whose history is not clear, a position that appears to negate the usual rules that we apply in situations of uncertainty:

  1. We usually rule that we follow the rov or majority of cases. Most cities did not have walls, so we should assume that the city in question did not have them either.
  2. When faced with cases of uncertainty on a Rabbinic level, we are inclined to choose the lenient position.

Both of these rules would seem to indicate that the Megilla should be read only once – on the 14th.

The Ge’onim, in fact, argue that we cannot apply Hizkiya’s rule to other cases, since it was a unique case where he knew that the city had been walled on three sides, and his question was how the fourth side – protected by the sea – should be viewed. The Ramban argues that Hizkiya’s behavior was a middat hasidut – a pious practice – that was not meant to be applied by others or in other cases.

In fact, there are a number of cities where it was common practice to read on both days of Purim (and perform the other commandments, as well) although blessings were made only on the 14th. Such communities included Baghdad and Damascus, as well as cities in Israel, like Hevron and Tzefat.

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