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.

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

 

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter