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Definition: Purim from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Jewish festival celebrated in February or March (the 14th of Adar in the Jewish calendar), commemorating Esther, who saved the Jews from extermination by the Persian king's vizier (executive officer) in 473 BC during the Persian occupation.

The festival includes a complete reading of the Book of Esther (the Megillah) in the synagogue, during which the listeners respond with stamping, whistling, and hissing to the names of the evil characters.

Summary Article: Cairene Purim the
from Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World

Cairene Purim is a local holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jews of Cairo in 1524 from Aḥmad Pasha, a tyrannical Ottoman governor. Aḥmad, the third vizier of Sulaymān I (Suleiman the Magnificent), arrived in Egypt in January 1524. Disappointed by the governorship, because he had hoped that Sulaymān would promote him to a higher post, he left no doubt as to his intention to establish his own sultanate in Egypt. Forming an alliance with the Mamluks, he ordered his name to be mentioned in Friday sermons at local mosques, instructed the head of the mint, a Jew named Abraham Castro, to strike coins in his name, and proclaimed himself sultan of Egypt.

Fearing the consequences, Castro fled to Istanbul to report to Sulaymān. When Aḥmad discovered that Castro had betrayed him, he took revenge on the Jews of Cairo, of whose wealth he was in need. On February 9, 1524, Aḥmad won a fierce battle against Sulaymān’s loyalists and established himself in the citadel of Cairo. He taxed the citizens heavily and gave over the ḥārat il-yahūd (Jewish quarter) to the Mamluks, who plundered and looted it, killing at least five Jews. However, opposition to the pasha grew and three Egyptian officers who were loyal to Sulaymān organized a force that attacked Aḥmad. He fled to the desert on February 22, 1524, assembling loyal Circassian and Bedouin troops. Back in Cairo, the three officers retook the citadel, and on March 4, they finally caught and killed Aḥmad Pasha. Ibrāhīm Pasha, Sultan Sulaymān’s first vizier, was sent to Cairo to reorganize the administration there.

Meanwhile, the Jews who had been imprisoned by Aḥmad Pasha were set free, and the threat to the Jewish quarter was removed. In celebration of their deliverance, the spiritual leader of the Jewish community in Cairo, Rabbi Samuel (or Solomon) Sidilio, composed a scroll entitled Megillat Pūrīm il-Miṣriyyīn (The Purim Scroll of the Cairene Jewish Community) to record these events, which were considered at the time to be a miracle. The community established the twenty-seventh of Adar as a day of fasting and the twenty-eighth as a festive holiday to be celebrated after the manner of Purim. Such celebrations are known in Jewish tradition as special Purims, minor Purims, or second Purims. They were instituted to commemorate a “miracle” comparable to the one in the Book of Esther that saved Jews in a given community or even in an extended family from natural or political catastrophe. The celebrations follow the paradigm of Purim; people refrain from work, prepare special meals, give gifts to the poor, pray in the synagogue, and read a special scroll (megilla) especially composed to record the supposed miracle.

There are two versions of the megilla of the Cairene Jewish community. The longer, more detailed version mentions names of people and places and exists in both Hebrew and Egyptian *Judeo-Arabic. The shorter, more general one has survived only in Hebrew. A critical edition of both versions using several manuscripts, with translation and linguistic analysis, was published by Hary in 1992.

  • Hary, Benjamin. Multiglossia in Judeo-Arabic, with an Edition, Translation, and Grammatical Study of the Cairene Purim Scroll (Brill Leiden, 1992).
  • Hassoun, Jacques. Juifs du Nil (Le Sycomore Paris, 1981).
  • Holt, Peter. Egypt and the Fertile Crescent 1516-1922: A Political History (Cornell University Press Ithaca N.Y. 1966).
  • Löwe, Louis. “Megillat Mitzrayim,” Ha-Maggid 7, no. 53 (February 14, 1866): 8; no. 61 (February 21, 1866): 9; no. 69 (February 28, 1866).
  • Malachi, Zvi. Studies in Medieval Hebrew Literature (Nofekh Tel Aviv 1971) [Hebrew].
  • Margoliouth, George. “Megillath Missraim; or, The Scroll of the Egyptian Purim,” Jewish Quarterly Review 8 (1896): 274-288.
  • Yehuda, Yitzhak. “Megillat Miṣrayim,” Rashumot 5 (1927): 385-402.
Benjamin Hary
© 2013 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands

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