How the Quintessential Exilic Holiday Spawned Local Jewish Variants

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.

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


Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy