Friday, January 8, 2010

Purim of the Curtains

In just about two months, Purim, the holiday that marks the defeat of Haman, will be celebrated. The name “Purim,” however, has been borrowed throughout Jewish history by smaller Jewish communities to celebrate their own escape from catastrophe.

One interesting example of a local Purim is known as "Purim of the Curtains" (Purim F├╝rhang):

In the winter of 1623, it was discovered that the heavy, gold-brocaded curtains in the governor’s palace, which were both expensive and cherished by the crown, had been stolen from their storage chest.

In the ghetto of Prague, word of the crime spread quickly. Enoch Altschul was the sexton of the Meisel Synagogue, where the missing curtains were found. While it was never suspected that Altschul himself committed the robbery, he was taken into custody after refusing to disclose who had brought the curtains to the synagogue. (Congregational statutes forbade identifying the receivers of stolen goods who voluntarily had given them up.)

Threatened with death, Altschul received permission from the congregation to reveal the name of the man who had given him the curtains, Joseph Thein, who was sentenced to death. All efforts to free him by the most influential Jews of Prague were useless. Surprisingly, when all hope seemed lost, Thein was released and the community was fined 10,000 florins, which were delivered to city hall in fine linen bags carried by ten prominent Jews escorted by soldiers (as ordered by the governor).

Grateful for his own life and the avoidance of a pogrom, Altschul recorded the event in Megillat Poore Ha’Ke'lah'im ("The Scroll of the Purim of the Curtains"). He enjoined all of his descendants to read the scroll and to make a feast of thanksgiving each year on the 22nd of Tevet. The entire community joined in the celebration.

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