Friday, March 13, 2009

Purim of Saragossa

Now that we've all celebrated Purim, I want to share with you the story of another Purim, known to few, which is celebrated by the descendants of the Jewish Comunity of Saragossa (also spelled Zaragoza, Siracuse or Syracuse). Since this story is about a Sefer Torah, it's connected and relevant to this blog.

Before the story, a brief Halachic briefing. Everyone must give the proper "kavod" to a Sefer Torah or any other holy scroll and many customs we have today are a reflection of this Halacha. That's why we keep the Torah in a special cabinet, the Aron Hakodesh, and also why we all stand when the Chazzan carries the Torah to the Bimah for the Parshat Hashavua reading. Most rabbis say that one shouldn't take out a Sefer Torah from the Aron just to show it to visitors, another related Halacha.

Specifically pertaining to the holiness of a Mezuza, I've seen a discussion about a case where the gentile king or ruler requested a Mezuza for his house or palace. Some rabbis were very much against it since we fear for the Mezuza's "kavod", while others like the Rema permit it on the grounds that sometimes we make exceptions for the fear that turning down a royal request will create unnecesary tensions ("Eiva" in Hebrew). That's exactly what happened in Zaragoza, in the 15th century.

I quote a better story-teller:
"Scholars still debate the location of the story. Many favor Siracusa (Syracuse, on the island of Sicily) as the location of our story some 600 (1421) years ago. Others refer to Saragossa, Spain as the location. In any event, The Jewish main street of the city contained 12 synagogues. At the annual royal visit three Torahs dressed in gold and silver were taken from each synagouge to welcome and parade the King through the town. One day the leaders of the community decided that the practice violates the sanctity of the Torah and that henceforth the Torah containers would be marched dressed as before but empty without the Torahs. The practice went well for 22 years.

One day an apostate by the name of Marcus at a royal meeting revealed the secret. The King in a fury ordered a surprise inspection the next day and the slaughter of all Jews if Marcus is indeed correct. That night the Prophet Elijah appeared in the dreams of each of the 12 sextons and ordered them to insert the Torah in the empty cases. The next day, upon finding the scrolls in the containers the King ordered Marcus executed and relieved the Jews of taxes for a period. As a result of the miracle, the scroll was written and the 17th of Shevat celebrated as the Purim of Saragossa or Siracusa, still observed in many Sephardi families to this day."

You can read a longer version of this story on the Chabad site.
And the best part, we have some great pics from this rare Megilla! (credit goes to the Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture. Be sure to check the stories of other less known Purims here and here)


Lion of Zion said...

this is a great blog. i will have to find time and go back to read the older posts and i look forward to new ones.

in particular i learned a lot from the post about different minhagim for writing megillat ester. i've been asking around for information about minhagim concerning non-Ester megillot, but have not found anything. (keset ha-sofer is silent.) maybe you could do some posts on this?

YK said...

dear lion

tks so much for the compliment. I started this blog not so long ago so you will not have trouble catching up the older posts.

About the Megillat Esther post, I've only seen this debate regarding this Megilla indeed. The other Megillot are more rare and few people actually have them in klaf, so there's much less debate going on.

But I will soon write a very interesting post about this topic - not exactly about the lines but about the various different versions of the actual text and layout of the other Megillot. That will explain why the keset hasofer never spoke about the other megillot.

Stay tuned and of course, spread the word!


YK said...

Well, I checked you blog and i see you're very knowledgeable on these things, so I will be more specific.

There's no Mesorah on the Na"ch (which includes the other megillot) for the Ashkenazim. In fact, there's little use for Nach parchement scrolls. Most shuls just read it from a regular Chumash, so the main Minhaguim concern Megillat Esther only, since this one has always been a top seller (a result of the Miztva of reading it on Purim).

For this reason, Rabbi Breuer said that he saw ten manuscripts of the Nach in Jerusalem area and all of them were different, specially when it came to Setumot and Petuchot. So it's not a surprise that the Keset doesn't talks about this - no one used to have Nach scrolls nor non-Esther Megillot.

While we do read the other Megillot in Shavuot, Tisha Beav etc, most communities do not read it from parchement nor recite a Bracha before the reading, unlike Megillat Esther.

So basically, no one really paid attention to the other Megillot or more generally, to the Nach.

I hope this helps you,


Lion of Zion said...

but rav breuer was confident that he had replicated the massoretically-correct petuhot/setumot for nach (final tweaking in the hebrew u. edition)

i myself have only seen a nach klaf used once (last year for shir ha-shirim), but there a are people who use them. i've been told by numerous people that this is not uncommon in yeshivish shuls (as well as in YU).

according to one poster to the Yahoo mahpach group, the gra was responsible for reintroducing leining nach from klaf. (the poster also wrote that according to the gra, berakhot on megillot are to be recited even if not reading from klaf.)

anyway, i'm interested in different minhagim (if they exist) for writing megillot, such the number of lines, etc. (someone at a local judaica store told me that rut and shir ha-shirim are always written in 4 columns, but the salespeople here didn't really seem to be knowdgeable.)

i will email you what i have regarding mordechai from a hotmail account

Anonymous said...

"final tweaking in the hebrew u. edition"

i meant horev ed.

YK said...

I now understand your question better.

It's true that the Gaon introduced the Nach in Klaf, I see that every Shabbos in the Gra Synagogue (founded by the Gra's followers a long time ago) in Rechavia, Jerusalem. Next time you come to Israel you can check it out, it's really cool and fun to read from (although it's much harder - no Taamim). If my memory serves me well it's written in 42 lines, but I'm not sure if all are written in the same way.

The Gaon had a different, less reliable Tikkun - not Aleppo nor Leningrad codices - and these scrolls are copied from it. I have with me this Tikkun and it includes Shir Hashirim, Kohelet, Kohelet and Eicha. I can email it to you if you want, I think it will partially answer your question about the Minhaguim. In this Tikkun, all the Megillot are written in 42 lines, like a Sefer Torah.


Andrea said...

I just found your blog, and love it, I have already learned so much. I am learning about art of Esther scrolls, and you are the best source.
You should consider a post about Arthur Szyk's Megillah, where Haman wears a swastika.

Andrea Rapp

Chicagoan said...

I am not sure I understand. Is the scroll shown here (Purim of Saragossa) a megillat Esther, or is it a scroll describing the events of the Purim of Saragossa?

YK said...


Thanks for stopping by and I'm happy you find the info here useful. This blog is quite recent and I keep my posts concise, so I think it will be easy for you to catch up.

I will research that Szyk Megilla, I'm not aware of it.


The Megilla featured in this post is a special account of the event that took place in Saragossa. Only the very first two words coincide with the first words of Megillat Esther but the rest is different.


Chicagoan said...

Re: the Saragossa Megillah you show, where does it reside now?
Also, is it known who purchased the $600k megillah at the Sotheby auction?

YK said...


My source is the website below and they might be able to tell you where is this Megilla now.

Regarding the Sotheby's Torah, I tried to find out but in their website you can only see the prices, but not the buyers. But you can try to contact them too.


Anonymous said...

About the city where the story takes place, it's undoubtely Zaragoza or Saragossa, s o z doesn't matter in old "judeoespaƱol" or ladino. That's becouse the adjetive for the king (Saragosano) and becouse Alfono V (first image down on the right) is an aragonese ruler.