Megillah, Chapter One, Mishnah Three
This mishnah continues to deal with the topic of the various days upon which the Megillah might be read.
1) What is considered a large town? One which has in it ten idle men.
a) One that has fewer is considered a village.
2) In respect of these they said that they should be moved up but not postponed.
3) But with regard to the bringing the wood for the priests, the [fast of] Tisha BAv, the hagigah, and assembling the people they postpone [until after Shabbat] and they do not move them up.
4) Although they said that they should be moved up but not postponed, it is permissible to mourn, to fast, and to distribute gifts to the poor [on these earlier days].
5) Rabbi Judah said: When is this so? In a place where people gather on Mondays and Thursdays, but in places where people do not gather on Mondays and Thursdays, the Megillah is read only on its proper day.
Section one: A large town is one that is considered wealthy enough to support ten men who do not work but rather sit in the synagogue or study house and study all day. Put another way, a large town is one that can support a small leisurely class. In Greece and Rome this meant philosophers and in Israel this meant rabbis. Anything smaller is considered a village and moves the reading of the Megillah up to the day of the gathering, Monday or Thursday.
Section two: There are other holidays and semi-holidays during the year that are not observed on the day upon which they fall if they fall on Shabbat. The reading of the Megillah is the only holiday that is moved upall the rest are postponed. The Talmud provides a midrashic explanation for this. Esther 9:27 states, the Jews accepted upon themselves and their descendants and all those who might join them, that these days should not pass without observing them as it is written and in their time, year after year. My translation is intentionally slightly awkward so that we can note the midrash. The words should not pass are understood by the rabbis to mean that one cannot observe Purim after the fourteenth/fifteenth of Adar has already passed.
Section three: I will briefly explain these holidays here. The bringing of the wood for the priests occurred nine times a year. Certain families would bring wood to the Temple to be used on the altar. This was discussed in Taanit 4:5. It would not be done on Shabbat. The hagigah is a sacrifice brought on Yom Tov, the first day of the festival. If Yom Tov falls on Shabbat it is postponed until the next day. The assembling of the people or Hakhel in Hebrew occurs during the sabbatical year on Sukkot, when they would gather all the people together to read the Torah. This would not be done on Shabbat.
Section four: On both the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar, one is not allowed to fast or to mourn, because these are the two days of Purim. However, even though the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth are also days on which one might read the Megillah, it is still permitted to mourn or fast on those days. The mishnah says that it is also permitted to give gifts to the poor on those days. Giving gifts to the poor is one of the central obligations of Purim. Some commentators explain the mishnah to mean that one who gives gifts to the poor on one of these days has fulfilled his obligation. However, others say that the mishnah means that one is exempt from giving gifts to the poor on these days.
Section five: Rabbi Judah points out that the system of moving the reading up to the 11th-13th was done only when it made realistic senseat a time when Mondays and Thursdays were the days of gathering. It seems quite certain that by Rabbi Judahs time this system of gathering on Monday and Thursday was already defunct and hence everyone would read at the proper time.