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The Legend of the Window Purim and other Hebron Holiday Stories

Today, Hebron carries on its rich cultural tradition of celebrating Purim.

17.3.16, 11:35
Ever since Queen Esther rescued the Jewish people from Haman's wicked decree, the holiday of Purim has been celebrated. The theme of a hateful authority figure's plans being flipped at the last minute has become a familiar one in Jewish history. 
 
Here in Hebron, the community has expereinced several mini Purim miracles.
 
One is the "window Purim," a holiday originating during the Ottoman era that was celebrated every year. Legends of how it started have been passed down for generations. It is also referred to as Purim Taka. 
 
One of the most comprehensive sources for the history of the city of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs is Sefer Hebron, a 400-plus-page book edited by Oded Avisar and published in Hebrew in 1970. The following is the book's account of "Window Purim"
 
THE WINDOW PURIM
 
A cruel Pasha ruled over Hebron in 1824. One day he summoned the head of Hebron’s Jewish Community. The Pasha threw at him following ultimatum: In three days you will bring me 50,000 grushim. If you do not, half of your community will be burned and the others sold as slaves.
 
When the other Jews heard the decree, fear gripped them. Where would they find such a large sum of money? The rabbis declared a fast, and everyone gathered in the synagogue pouring their hearts out before the Lord. They fasted for three days -- night and day. They wrote a special prayer and a delegation brought it the Cave of the Machpela. There, they bribed the [non-Jewish] guard, asking him to drop it into the inner caves through a window in the floor (for they forbade the Jews to enter inside the Cave).
 
At midnight, before the third day began, the Pasha suddenly awoke to the sight of three awesome old men standing by his bed. They demanded of him 50,000 grushim. Refusal meant immediate death. The frightened Pasha was petrified. But he managed to get out of bed and gave them his purse full of gold coins. He added his wife's gold necklace, to complete the requested sum.
 
The next morning the Pasha sent soldiers to demand the tax he had decreed upon the Jews of Hebron. When they pounded on the gate of the Jewish quarter, a Jew ran to open it. But before he got to the gate, he stumbled over a bag lying on the ground and picked it up. The Jew noticed a small window by the side of the gate. He ran with the bag to the synagogue and returned to open the gate. Meanwhile, other Jews opened the bag and found it filled with gold coins. Counting it, they found that it was the exact amount the Pasha had demanded of them.
 
Joyously they ran to the Pasha's home to pay him the money he had demanded, in addition to the gold necklace that was in the bag.
 
The Pasha, seeing the money and the necklace was stunned. "The Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps." He turned to the Jews and said, "Be aware, the bag and its contents are mine. It was taken from me last night by the three Patriarchs, to save my soul from an evil sin. And now, knowing that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob awoke for fear of your lives, and for your sakes they rose from their graves, from this moment I have only the greatest respect for you. I cancel my decree. Take back this money. It belongs to you. Pray for me that I should be saved from misfortune all the days of my life."
 
The Jews of Hebron, in thanksgiving for the miracle accorded them, declared the fourth day of Kislev an annual holiday, calling it "the window Purim".
 
Longer versions of the story have been printed in Talks and Tales from Kehot Publications and in Folktales of the Jews, Volume 1: Tales from the Sephardic Dispersion by Dov Noy, Dan Ben-Amos and Ellen Frankel.
 
For the full story in Hebrew click here
 
THE PURIM OF IBRAHIM PASHA

Another Purim that took place in Hebron is called The Purim of Ibrahim Pasha. This tale, which was also printed in Sefer Hebron, was told by a member of the Meyuhas family, who lived in Hebron for generations. In Hebrew, a Pasha, or Ottoman governor, is referred to as a "feicha". This story possibly took place in 1831, before the Peasant's Revolt of 1834, according to the detailed entry on the Jewish Community of Hebron in Hebrew Wikipedia.
 
When Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt invaded the Land of Israel, he sought to take over Hebron. On his way to occupy the City of the Patriarchs, he saw that his troops were very tired and told them they should rest on Mount Etam, which is near Solomon's Pools. The Arab peasants of Hebron, when they heard of the coming of the Pasha, gathered a large battalion, went to where the Pasha's soldiers rested. They stormed them, and killed 3,000 of them. The Pasha was furious and swore to take over Hebron and exterminate every inhabitant down to the last person, both Jews, Arab peasants, and the feudal Arab landowners.
 
When the Jewish community heard about his furious oath, they gathered together and locked themselves in the chatzer [yard, or court] and called for a special day of fasting and prayers to G-d for salvation. But they were amazed to see that when Ibrahim Pasha came to Hebron, he put soldiers near the chatzer in order to defend them, while he committed terrible deeds to the peasants who revolted against him. 
 
When they sought to understand why he acted in this manner, it was announced that the ministers of the House of Farchi in Damascus who joined Ibrahim Pasha in his conquest, advised him to do so.
 
In remembrance of this event, a special commemorate was held every year for generations on the eve of Rosh Hodesh Av, the first of the month of Av and the tradition Tachanun prayer was not recited. This day is called the Purim of Ibrahim Pasha. 
 
This incident was recorded in the Avraham Avinu Synagogue in a list of miracles that occurred in the city. 
 
For the full story in Hebrew click here.
 

(Painting of Hebron by Scottish artist David Roberts, 1839. Pubic domain.)
 
UNIQUE PURIM CUSTOMS

The Jewish community had many unique celebrations for Purim. As the month of Adar began, various special foods were prepared, such as the traditional hamentashen, but also torts, honey cakes, a food called rikikim, a kind of latke and homemade liqueurs.
 
Purim was considered the most joyous of Jewish festivals and children felt free. One interesting children's activity, in addition to the familiar groggers, were a kind of piñata shaped like Haman. Another unique tradition was a rather quick recitation of the reading of the megillah which was done because people were partaking of the fast of Esther. Consideration for families was taken so that people could begin their holiday meal in a timely fashion. 

One colorful verse in Sefer Hebron reads:
 
"To life to life," called out the townspeople, who greeted the guests. The beadle led them to the synagogue of the Chief Rabbi, assigned rooms, distributed food and gift packages for Purim. The next morning they spread out through the city, drank with the residents, received "charity for the poor" and as the sun turned towards the west, headed back in the direction of Jerusalem, to continue the holiday with their families."
 
PURIM TODAY
 
Today Purim is celebrated in Hebron with a children's carnival. A parade takes place through the old city streets with people dressed in costumes. The traditional megillah reading takes place in the Tomb of Machpela, and the Avraham Avinu Synagogue. Many celebrate two days of Purim, as was done in previous generations, as there is a tradition that Hebron was once a walled city. 
 
 
To visit Hebron for Purim contact us:
 
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