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

Reforms to Israel’s Judiciary Must Be Carefully Calibrated

The central topic of debate in Israel now is the new coalition government’s proposed reforms of the nation’s judiciary and unwritten constitution. Peter Berkowitz agrees that reform is necessary, but that “the proper scope and pace of reform, however, are open to debate and must be carefully calibrated.”

In particular, Berkowitz argues,

to preserve political cohesiveness, substantial changes to the structure of the Israeli regime must earn support that extends beyond these partisan divisions.

In a deft analysis of the conservative spirit in Israel, bestselling author Micah Goodman warns in the Hebrew language newspaper Makor Rishon that unintended consequences flowing from the constitutional counterrevolution are likely to intensify political instability. When a center-left coalition returns to power, Goodman points out, it may well repeal through a simple majority vote the major changes Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition seeks to enact. Or it may use the legislature’s expanded powers, say, to ram through laws that impair the religious liberty of the ultra-Orthodox. Either way, in a torn nation, constitutional counterrevolution amplifies division.

Conservatives make a compelling case that balance must be restored to the separation of powers in Israel. A prudent concern for the need to harmonize Israel’s free, democratic, and Jewish character counsels deliberation in the pursuit of necessary constitutional reform.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Judicial Reform