A halachic debate that most thought had been resolved long ago has been revived this year, as two of the country's top Sephardic rabbis – Israel Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yoseph, and Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, issued dissenting decisions of Jewish law to residents of the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem on when they should celebrate Purim.
The holiday of Purim is unique on the Jewish calendar in that there isn't just one Purim, but two – the holiday celebrated by Jews throughout most Israel and the world on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar; and Shushan Purim, which is celebrated the next day, and only cities like Jerusalem which were known to have been walled at the time the 12 Tribes of Israel entered what was then Canaan.
The difference in celebration dates stems back to the origins of the holiday as recorded in the Scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther), with Jewish residents of Shushan, the capital of Persia, receiving an extra day to defend themselves against the Persian empire's anti-Semites. In commemoration of that event Jerusalem, and the neighborhoods outside the Old City walls, celebrate Purim a day after everyone else.
According to Jewish law, “Jerusalem,” for purposes of Purim celebration, extends to where the city currently ends, and not necessarily to its municipal boundaries, which encompass many far-flung neighborhoods.
Among those neighborhoods – actually, a series of neighborhoods - is Ramot, construction on which began about 40 years ago, and is still ongoing, with the neighborhood getting bigger each year. When the neighborhood was first built, it was judged by then Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph to have been far enough away from the Old City, and from any adjacent neighborhoods, to not be considered contiguous to the rest of Jerusalem for Purim purposes – and he ruled that residents of the neighborhood should celebrate the holiday on the 14th of Adar, as do Jews in most other places.
That decision was defended this week by Rabbi Amar, who himself was Sephardic Chief Rabbi in the past and now serves as Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem.
Rabbi Amar was responding to a new ruling by Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yoseph – ironically, the son of the Chief Rabbi who originally placed Ramot “out of town” - that says that the neighborhood has grown geographically to the point where one could not realistically consider it as being outside of Jerusalem – and thus, Ramot residents could now join the rest of Jerusalem and celebrate Purim on the 15th.
The younger Rabbi Yoseph's ruling has been endorsed by rabbis in the Ramot synagogues, as well as other rabbis in the city, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, and the Chief Rabbinate. It should be noted that many congregations in Ramot have been reading Megillat Esther on the 15th of Adar for years now.
Rabbi Amar, on the other hand, said that those who have been following the ruling of the elder Rabbi Yoseph should continue to do so. Even though many new buildings have been constructed and many new roads laid down since that original ruling, “there are many technicalities involved in making a decision like this,” Rabbi Amar wrote in his decision.
Many of the buildings that “connect” Ramot to the rest of Jerusalem are not homes, but businesses and office buildings, “and because many of the structures were build in defiance of municipal laws on construction,” Rabbi Amar suggests reading Megillat Esther on Thursday.
The other obligations of Purim, including providing gifts to the poor, the Mishloach Manot (the portions of food that are exchanged) and the festive meal, can all be fulfilled on Friday, he ruled. If they wish, they can also read the Megillah on Friday - but without the accompanying blessings.