Purim of Padua

Friday, March 6, 2020

Purim is almost here! In anticipation of the holiday, we are looking this week at lesser-known celebrations of a similar nature, known as “local Purims.”

Around the pre-Modern Jewish world, communities who faced tragedies or persecution that ended in redemption or rescue would instate a local “Purim” for the event. This practice is derived from the Talmud in Berakhot 54a, which requires a blessing to be recited for miracles that occur to the masses. Over 100 special Purims are known and cataloged in the Encyclopedia Judaica, with their inceptions ranging from the 11th century to the 20th. The observance of these local Purims often involves the recitation of piyyutim, liturgical poems, which tell the story of miraculous rescue from danger.

At the Klau library, we are proud to have a megillah for the Purim of Buda, written in the early half of the 18th century. Scroll 21 – Purim di Buda, is an ornate and decorative scroll with bold and artistic lettering. It tells the story of the Jews of Padua, who in 1684 were caught in a religious and political schism when the Christians of their native lands became incensed by reports of Jews in Buda fighting alongside Turkish forces to repel the Christian armies seeking claim the Ottoman city.

The Jews were subject to physical harassment and then mortal danger even while local city authorities stated that Jews were wholly innocent. The enraged mobs nevertheless took up stones and weapons and proceeded to siege and pillage the city’s Jewish ghetto, invoking the age-old blood libel when the original fervor for the siege and riot waned.

The scroll begins with symbols of strength, particularly a lion with the caption, “be strong as a lion.”

Below is the introductory portion of the scroll, with translation:

שיר למנצח על מגנות לבני פאדובה שיר מזמור להזכיר

:לך יי חסד אשר הרחבת לנו בצר: שפתי כזב קשרו שקרים לאסור אסר עלי נפש: עלילות קמים והגיונים נצבו לבלענו חיים: הבודאים לנו לִדְאָבוֹן. והאובדים חשבו לאבד: בימי מצור למצוק היינו והקרב אלינו נקרב: נפשנו תמיד תדם תזכור ואלול היה אללי: בעשירי בו רעש אחזנו סמר שערת בשרנו: פשטו גדודים ברגש רב סביביות המחנה נגשו: שעריו רעשו מדחי וידו אבן במו: דלתי ארזים התפוצצו ובריחי ברזל גדעו

A song for the leader, on the defense of the citizens of Padua; a song of remembrance.

Grace is Yours, oh Lord, for you have expanded our strength. Deceitful mouths wove lies to fetter our souls. Libels were invented and plots devised to devour us alive. The people of Buda were an anguish to us, the ones lost were intended to perish. In the days of the siege we were pushed to the edge, as battle drew near. Our souls shall ever keep silent and remember – Elul was a misery. On the tenth day a din gripped us and our hair bristled. Battalions, arrayed about our camp with great excitement, approached. The gates rattled with destruction and stones were hurled upon it. Doors of cedar wood burst open and latches of iron fell.

The officials and rulers of the city saw that the Jewish population was being persecuted for reasons unfounded, and sent guards to protect the Jews, many of whom had taken to fleeing the city or hiding with sympathetic Christians. Soon, the authorities of the city declared that anyone who attacked a Jew would face death as their punishment, and word came from Venice demanding an end to the violence.

With their safety secured, the Jews of Padua declared celebratory holiday to recognize their salvation, and in the coming years the scholar, rabbi, physician, and poet Isaac Hayyim Cantarini (who witnessed these events) composed the piyyut for Purim di-Buda. Cantarini and his student, Rabbi Isaaac Lampronti (who would have been a young child during the siege), recorded the tale of Padua and the piyyut in their most ambitious work – the Talmudic encyclopedia Pahad Yitzhak.

The full scroll is available for viewing here: https://mss.huc.edu/manuscripts/scroll-for-local-purim-of-padua-purim-di…

And you can see many more manuscripts at https://mss.huc.edu/

Happy Purim!

חג פורים שמח!

Contributed by Jason Schapera, Digitizing Specialist

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