How the Quintessential Exilic Holiday Spawned Local Jewish Variants

March 4 2020

The holiday of Purim, which falls next week, celebrates the rescue of Persian Jews from the genocidal viceroy Haman as recounted in the biblical book of Esther. Because of the story’s Diaspora setting and the absence of explicit prophetic involvement, it led to the proliferation of minor, local Purims observed for centuries by Jewish communities who had experienced salvation from danger. Often these communities created scrolls to commemorate the events. Michelle Chesner describes some instances:

On the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Kislev in the year 1512, a troop of armed men entered the walls of the Carpentras Jewish community. Carpentras was part of the Comtat Venaissin, a small group of Papal States in the south of France, and the only area in France with a continuous Jewish presence following the expulsion of the Jews in 1390. The Jews were protected at the whim of the popes (and, on one occasion, the king), and an occupation by armed forces was cause for great alarm, frightening enough for the community that escaping unscathed proved reason enough to create a local holiday.

In 1524, Ahmed Pasha, the Turkish governor of Egypt, ordered the Jews to pay a huge amount of money. If he did not receive the money by a certain day, he threatened, he would kill all of the Jews in Cairo. On the day that the payment was supposed to be delivered, however, Ahmed Pasha was killed in a rebellion. The Jews viewed the death of this feared authority as a miracle, and celebrated the day as Purim Mitsrayim (“Egyptian Purim”) into the 20th century.

Read more at Columbia University Libraries

More about: Diaspora, Egypt, French Jewry, Jewish history, Purim

How Israel Can Break the Cycle of Wars in Gaza

Last month saw yet another round of fighting between the Jewish state and Gaza-based terrorist groups. This time, it was Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that began the conflict; in other cases, it was Hamas, which rules the territory. Such outbreaks have been numerous in the years since 2009, and although the details have varied somewhat, Israel has not yet found a way to stop them, or to save the residents of the southwestern part of the country from the constant threat of rocket fire. Yossi Kuperwasser argues that a combination of military, economic, and diplomatic pressure might present an alternative solution:

In Gaza, Jerusalem plays a key role in developing the rules that determine what the parties can and cannot do. Such rules are designed to give the Israelis the ability to deter attacks, defend territory, maintain intelligence dominance, and win decisively. These rules assure Hamas that its rule over Gaza will not be challenged and that, in between the rounds of escalation, it will be allowed to continue its military buildup, as the Israelis seldom strike first, and the government’s responses to Hamas’s limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.

The flaws in such an approach are clear: it grants Hamas the ability to develop its offensive capabilities, increase its political power, and condemn Israelis—especially those living within range of the Gaza Strip—to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.

A far more effective [goal] would be to rid Israel of Hamas’s threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests. Achieving this goal will not be easy, but with proper preparation, it may be feasible at the appropriate time.

Revisiting the rule according to which Jerusalem remains tacitly committed to not ending Hamas rule in Gaza is key for changing the dynamics of this conflict. So long as Hamas knows that the Israelis will not attempt to uproot it from Gaza, it can continue arming itself and conducting periodic attacks knowing the price it will pay may be heavy—especially if Jerusalem changes the other rules mentioned—but not existential.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israeli Security, Palestinian Islamic Jihad