I. Let us begin with that canon concerning reading the Book of Esther in the feast of Purim. "Towns that were begirt with walls from the days of Joshua read it on the fifteenth day" of the month Adar: "Villages and great cities read it the fourteenth day": "Unless that the villages anticipate it, to the day of the congregation."
You see a threefold distinction of cities and towns:
1. Fortifications, or towns girt with walls from the days of Joshua. But whence shall we know them? They are those which are mentioned in the Book of Joshua; "which, however in after-times they were not begirt with walls, are nevertheless reckoned under the catalogue of them, as to the reading of that book."
2. Great cities. That was called a great city in which was a synagogue. So it is defined by the Piske Tosaphoth, "That is a great city, in which are ten men at leisure to pray and read the law." See what we say concerning these things on Matthew 4:23, when we speak of synagogues.
3. Villages. That is, such where there was not a synagogue. Yea, saith the Piske Harosh, "a fortified town, wherein are not ten men of leisure" (or such as 'ceased from the things of the world'; and these made up a synagogue), "is reputed as a village," &c.
That which is added in the text of the Misna, "Unless the villages do anticipate it to the day of the congregation," is thus explained by the Glossers: "When towns, girt with walls, read the Book of Esther on the fifteenth day, and those that were not walled, on the fourteenth (see Esther 9:21): and yet it is said before" (in the same text of the Misna), "that that book is read the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth days; the wise men granted liberty to the villages to preoccupate the reading, namely, on that day wherein they resorted to the synagogue: that is, either the second day of the week, that went before the fourteenth day of the month, or the fifth day of the week: which were days of assembly, in which the villages resorted into the cities to judgment. For the second and fifth days of the week, the judiciary consistories sat in the cities by the appointment of Ezra. Now the villagers were not skillful in reading; therefore it was needful that they should have some reader in the city."
II. Let the canons and cautions of the spaces and places next joining to the city or town be observed:
1. "A dovecote was not built within fifty cubits from the city": and that, lest the pigeons might do injury to the gardens that were sown.
2. "They permitted not a tree within five-and-twenty cubits from the city." "And this (as the Gloss speaks) for the grace of the city."
3. "They allowed not a barn-floor within fifty cubits from the city": that, when they fanned their corn, their chaff might not offend the citizens.
4. "They permitted not dead carcases, or burying-places, nor a tanner's shop, to be within fifty cubits from the city" (because of the stink). "Nor did they allow a tanner's workshop at all, but on the east side of the city. R. Akiba saith, On any side, except the west, but at the distance of fifty cubits."
III. From the cities let us walk forth into their ploughed grounds and fields.
Here you might see, in some places, certain tokens hung upon some fig-trees, to show of what year the fruit that grew there was. See what we say on Matthew 21:19. In other places, you might see barren trees stigmatized with some mark of infamy. "A tree which shook off its fruits before they were ripe, they mark with red, and load it with stones."
You might see the ploughing and mowing of their fields, the dressing of their vines, and their vintage, to be done by the rules of the scribes, as well as by the art of the husbandman, or the vine-dresser. For such was the care and diligence of the Fathers of the Traditions, concerning tithing corn and fruits, concerning leaving a corner for the poor, concerning the avoiding of sowing different seeds, and of not transgressing the law concerning the seventh year; that they might not plough, nor sow, nor reap, but according to the traditional rule. Hence are those infinite disputes in the books Peah, Demai, Kilaim, Sheviith, of the corner of the field to be left, what and how much the portion of it was, and of what things such corners ought to consist? Of those that divide the field so that a double corner of it is due to the poor: Whether a corner is due from beds of corn that grow among olive trees? Whether from a field whose sowing and reaping is various? What are the trees whose fruits are Demai? Of what things is the tithing of the Demai? How long the same plot of ground may be sown with different seeds, so as not to offend against the law? Of sowing different seeds:--How many vines make a vineyard? Of their rows, of the beds of the vineyard, of sowing within the press, &c. and innumerable decisions of that nature, which did so keep the countryman within bounds, that he could not plough nor mow his land according to his own will, but according to the rule of tradition.
"The inhabitants of Beth-Namer measured out a corner for the poor with a line, and they gave a corner out of every row. Abba Saul saith, They make mention of them to their praise, and to their dispraise: to their dispraise, because they gave one part out of a hundred; to their praise, because, measuring with a line, they collected and gave a corner out of every row": that is, meeting with a measuring line, they yielded the hundredth part of the field to the poor, and that out of every row of sheaves.