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A Case for Shushan Purim in Beit Shemesh

The 14th of Adar is a joyous day that celebrates the Jews of the Persian empire defeating their enemies and turning around a murderous decree that would have seen the Jews annihilated (on second thought, if you don’t already know what Purim is, this article may not be for you!).

They fought on the 13th of Adar and had the next day to recuperate and celebrate their victory and the conclusion of all the harrowing events that had unfolded until then. The capital and most populated city, Shushan, had the most intense fighting that lasted one day more and spilled over into the 14th of Adar – so they didn’t proclaim victory until the 15th of that month. Mordechai decreed that Shushan celebrate Purim a day after the rest of the cities; so as to maintain the dignity of Jerusalem, which lay in ruins at the time of the Purim events, the chachomim decreed that any “walled cities from the days of Yehoshua bin Nun read [the megillah, and thus celebrate] on the fifteenth, and villages and large cities read on the fourteenth” (Megillah 2a). Thus, any city that has a mesorah of being walled at the time that Yehoshua ben Nun conquered Eretz Yisroel acquires the status of celebrating Shushan Purim instead of Purim on the 14th.

Not surprisingly, Jerusalem was far from being the only walled city that existed at the time that the Jews entered the Land of Israel. Among the somewhat long list of cities mentioned in Sefer Yehoshua was one that is especially relevant to this author and a growing number of religious Jews: Beit Shemesh. Archaeological digs at Tel [the ancient ruins of] Beit Shemesh show clear indicators of a surrounding wall, and it earns special mention as being a city that was passed through by those carrying the aron from Shiloh to Jerusalem.  There is another city, called Yarmut, that is also mentioned in Sefer Yehoshua and whose ancient ruins are found alongside parts of modern day Ramat Beit Shemesh as well.

Credit: David Kohelet, חומת בית שמש

As shown in this photograph, modern day Ramat Beit Shemesh is found to the south of Beit Shemesh, below Zanoach. As one can see, geographically it is much closer to Yarmut.

Interestingly, further proof that Yarmut was a walled city is found in the fact that no graves have been found in ancient Yarmut, despite its plethora of caves that would have been appropriate for burial. The Mishna states the Halacha that the dead not be buried within walled cities but rather outside the city. This would lend proof to the fact that Yarmut was a walled city – one that had a constant population from the days of the earliest settlement of Eretz Yisrael until about one hundred years ago. ּ In fact, Sefer Nechemia (11:25-29) notes that when the Jews returned from Bavel they returned to the same Yarmut that had been called thusly during the days of Yehoshua. Yarmut is so close to Ramat Beit Shemesh that Rabbi Moshe Bransdorfer, citing the GR”A, Chazon Ish, and the RITV”A, recently issued a ruling that the new neighborhood of Ramah Daled, in Ramat Beit Shemesh, is in near enough proximity to ancient walled Yarmut that its residents must celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar in addition to the 14th, including have a seudah and saying Al Hanisim both days. It may stand to follow that Ramah Gimmel, which is right next to Ramah Daled, would fall under the same ruling: there is an opinion that wherever there is a continuation of habitation connected to an ancient walled city, the inhabitants should keep two days of Purim. The Piskei Teshuvot (688:5) writes: “According to the Chazon Ish, one should conduct oneself stringently in all settlements in Eretz Yisrael that are adjacent to cities which [even if they only] might have had a wall around them during the days of Yehoshua Bin Nun, and read the Megilla on the 15th of Adar without a bracha…and perform [the mitzvot of Purim] on that day.”

In summary, whichever way you look at it – Ramat Beit Shemesh as a town today with continuous residency from Tel Beit Shemesh, or being part of ancient Yarmut – there is good argument to celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar, like our neighbors in Jerusalem. Whichever day you celebrate, may it be a joyous day and one where we no longer need to pay homage to a ruined Jerusalem – but one where we celebrate a rebuilt, whole Jerusalem, as the Jews would have davened for in Shushan all those years ago.

About the Author
Born in California, Rochel spent her formative years in Baltimore, MD. She grew up in an open home with as many varied guests as personalities and stories. After getting married, she moved to Brooklyn, NY, where she tried to learn as much from the busy city as she could while obtaining a Master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. Twelve years and four children later, she and her family took the leap and made aliyah in 2019. See her other work on aish.com, Nashim Magazine, and Hevria, as well as her blog about travel, aliyah, and other topics: https://livingonup.wordpress.com/
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