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From Cairo to Frankfurt, Part II

Purim Cairo and Purim Frankfurt

face maskIs there a halachic basis for the various local observances, such as Purim Frankfurt, Purim Cairo and Purim Ancona?

Answer: Local Purims

In the course of Jewish history, there have unfortunately been numerous occasions when communities suffered from major crises that threatened their survival. We began talking about this topic last week, and this article is a continuation of that discussion.

Other methods of celebration

Since the Pri Chodosh rejects the creation of new holidays as long as the Beis Hamikdash is destroyed, how should one thank Hashem for saving him? In the time of the Beis Hamikdash, an individual thanked Hashem by offering a korban todah (see Brachos 54b), but what does one do now that it is destroyed? Many authorities approve making a festive meal, called a seudas hodaah, instead, to commemorate the occasion, but the Pri Chodosh himself considers these meals seudos reshus and not seudos mitzvah, implying that he does not consider this the most appropriate way to acknowledge thanks to Hashem.

Another option is to bensch gomel as the fitting acknowledgment of thanks. However, bensching gomel is not always the appropriate approach, as the next discussion will indicate.

Should someone bensch gomel when saved from a situation where he was willing to give up his life al Kiddush Hashem?

The Chida, in his Machazik Brocha commentary to Shulchan Aruch (219:1-3), presents a lengthy correpondence that transpired between his father and another talmid chacham, Rav Eliezer Nachum. Rav Yitzchak Zerachyah Azulai, the Chida’s father, contended that only someone who was placed in a situation involuntarily, including one who traveled by sea or through the desert because circumstances compelled him to endanger himself, recites birkas hagomeil, but not someone who chose to give up his life to fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem. Even when someone in the latter situation is saved by an obvious miracle, he should not recite birkas hagomeil since, had he lost his life, he would immediately have been elevated above all that this world could possibly offer. Similarly, he rules that the kohen gadol does not recite birkas hagomeil upon leaving the kodesh hakodoshim on Yom Kippur, since his entering was to fulfill the mitzvah of Hashem. Furthermore, he adds, a kohen gadol worthy of his position was never in any danger to begin with – only an unworthy kohen gadol need be concerned of the dangers of entering the kodesh hakodoshim on Yom Kippur.

Rav Elazar Nachum disagreed strongly with Rav Azulai’s position. Rav Nachum notes several midrashic and Talmudic passages that mention the tremendous songs of praise that were sung by great tzadikim upon surviving these travails. Certainly, upon surviving these dangers one is required to recite birkas hagomeil to thank Hashem for his salvation.

Hallel?

The Pri Chodosh could accept the ruling of the Meiri that one may recite Hallel without a brocha, since this does not declare that the day is holy. However, any observances that imply giving sanctity to the day, such as prohibiting fasting and eulogies or banning people from working, are not binding, according to the Pri Chodosh.

Later authorities

Notwithstanding that the Pri Chodosh disputed the conclusion of the Maharam Alashkar, two highly respected later authorities, the Chasam Sofer and the Chayei Odom, both reject the Pri Chodosh’s analysis and rule according to the Maharam Alashkar. The Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Orach Chayim #191) demonstrates that a holiday created to thank Hashem for a miracle He performed has halachic significance and must be observed — unlike the special days recorded in Megillas Taanis. Nevertheless, the Chasam Sofer adds a qualification — a community can create a special festival only when they were saved from a life-threatening situation.

The Chasam Sofer concludes, like the Maharam Alashkar, that the takkanah to observe a holiday may be binding even on descendants of town residents who no longer live where the salvation occurred. He notes that his rebbe, Rav Nosson Adler, a Frankfurt native, observed Purim Frankfurt even when he did not live in Frankfurt. However, when living out of Frankfurt, Rav Nosson Adler did not fast on the day before Purim Frankfurt. The Chasam Sofer assumes that this was because Rav Adler held that observing the fast while in a different community may conflict with the customs of where he was currently living, and halachah prohibits acting in a manner different from local practice. The Chasam Sofer, who was always proud that he had been born in Frankfurt, lived the rabbinic years of his life outside of Germany. He records that, although he did not fast on the day before Purim Frankfurt, he conducted a siyum mesechta on that day in order to supersede any requirement to fast, similar to our practice on Erev Pesach.

Chayei Odom

Another later authority who rejected the Pri Chodosh’s criticism of the Maharam Alashkar’s ruling was the Chayei Odom (155:41). He concluded that an individual, and certainly a community, can establish a day to be their own festival. Based on the ruling of the Maharshal, which I will quote shortly, the Chayei Odom ruled that a meal observed because of a community’s thanksgiving has the halachic status of a seudas mitzvah. Futhermore, the Chayei Odom contended that had the Pri Chodosh seen what the Maharshal wrote (Yam shel Shelomoh, Bava Kama 7:37), which the Chayei Odom notes was not yet printed in the days of the Pri Chodosh, the Pri Chodosh himself would also have accepted that these thanksgiving seudos qualify as seudos mitzvah.

What did the Maharshal write that the Chayei Odom felt was so authoritative?

Seudas Hodaah

The Maharshal cites a different Gemara source and rationale for the practice of celebrating a festive meal in honor of salvation. The Gemara (Bava Kama 80a-b) mentions that Rav, Shmuel and Rav Assi all attended a seudas mitzvah, which, according to one version of the Gemara, was probably a pidyon haben. The Maharshal notes that the Gemara (Chullin 95b) states that Rav never ate from a festive meal unless it was a seudas mitzvah. Furthemore, we do not find that the Gemara characterizes pidyon haben as a seudas mitzvah.  Therefore, asks the Maharshal, why Rav would have participated in this seudah? The Maharshal answers that making a festive meal in order to bring attention to the observance of a mitzvah or to thank Hashem that a miracle happened is a seudas mitzvah. He then quotes an earlier authority who held that a pidyon haben qualifies as a seudas mitzvah (Terumas Hadeshen #269).

The Chayei Odom concludes halachically like the Maharshal that celebrating salvation by Hashem with a festive meal qualifies as a seudas mitzvah.

Private Purim

The Chayei Odom closes his remarks on this topic by noting that he actually established a Yom Tov for himself and his descendants because of a salvation that his family experienced. On the evening of the 16th of Kislev 5564 (1803), a gunpowder explosion blew up several buildings in the area where the Chayei Odom lived, killing thirty-one people. Every member of the Chayei Odom’s family suffered injuries, his wife most severely. The windows and door of the room imploded and the walls and sections of the roof crashed. The Chayei Odom thanked Hashem that, although he suffered major financial loss from the catastrophe, every member of his family survived.

To commemorate the event, the Chayei Odom instituted that the physically-able members of his family and his descendants should fast on the 16th of Kislev. The night after the fast they should gather immediately after maariv to kindle lights as one does on Yom Tov, recite the entire Shir Hayichud, slowly and with the accustomed melody, as is the custom after maariv on Yom Kippur night. The Chayei Odom’s observance continues: After reciting Shir Hayichud, they should recite Anim Zemiros with a festive tune, and then read slowly through sixteen selected chapters of Tehillim. After this ceremony, they should give as much tzedakah as they are able and those descendants who can financially afford it should sponsor a seudah for scholars who study Torah.

Festival of the Tosafos Yom Tov

Similar to the way the Chayei Odom observed his own family Purim was the observance of a much earlier gadol beyisrael, the Tosafos Yom Tov. In 5387 (1627), the Tosafos Yom Tov became the rav of the entire region of Bohemia (now an area in the Czech Republic). The Thirty Years War was escalating, and the government imposed a heavy tax on the Jewish community to help pay war costs. As rav, the Tosafos Yom Tov headed the committee charged with the responsibility of levying the share each individual was required to pay of the collective tax. Naturally, there were those who felt that they had been assessed too high, and some unscrupulous individuals were vicious enough to turn to the government with a list of defamatory accusations against the Tosafos Yom Tov. On the 5th of Tammuz 5389 (1629), he was summoned to the capital, Vienna, and there he was sentenced to a large fine and imprisonment as punishment for the slanderous canards. When he was freed from prison, he declared the 5th of Tammuz, the day on which his troubles began, as a fast for his descendants, but he did not have it followed by any celebration since he was still in trouble and had no reason to rejoice. For fifteen years, he experienced repeated sufferings. However, when on Rosh Chodesh Adar, 5404 (1644), he became the rav of Krakow, Poland, which was out of the range of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he felt that salvation was finally achieved and he proclaimed a family festival as a result. Unfortunately, there is a bitter ending to this celebration, because four years later the Chmielnitzki revolt and massacres began. I have written about this topic elsewhere (see RabbiKaganoff.com, The Twentieth of Sivan.)

Other commemorations

Other gedolei Yisrael chose to commemorate their salvation in other ways. The Pnei Yehoshua decided to write his sefer, which is one of the most basic works on Shas, because he survived a fire and explosion.

Halachic conclusion

The later halachic authorities did not accept the Pri Chodosh’s concern and ruled that one may observe special local festivals to thank Hashem for salvation. We have seen three different sources for observing local festivals:

  1. To recite Hallel to commemorate Hashem’s salvation.
  2. The authority of a community to establish a festival and regulations.
  3. A festive meal to thank Hashem qualifies as a seudas mitzvah.

Unusual local purims

Having discussed the halachic background for these festivals, let us note some curious aspects of some of these local celebrations.

Four Purims

To the best of my knowledge, the record for local Purims was held by the Jewish community of Ancona, Italy, which observed four different dates as special festivals, each in thanks to Hashem for being saved from a different catastrophe: revolutionary riots, an earthquake, and two fires. As was done with Purim Frankfurt and Taanis Esther, they observed a fast on the day before.

Double Purim

One of the unusual observances was Purim Rhodes, which was celebrated on the day of Purim itself! In 5600 (1840), a gentile child disappeared and the Jews were accused of the frightening blood libel — slaughtering the child to use his blood for matzohs. The local governor was behind the incitements against the Jews. As the Jews prepared for what they expected to be their last Purim, the child was found alive on a neighboring island. The sultan deposed the governor, and gave the Jews a firman declaring that the accusation of ritual murder was false. As a result, the Jews of Rhodes read special prayers and hymns on Purim to commemorate their communal miracle.

Kol Yisrael areivim

One very early observance serves as a reminder of how each Jew must assume responsibility for all his brethren. On the 21st of Adar, 1236, in Narbonne, France, the rash action of one Jew who struck a gentile in an argument, killing him, endangered the entire community. A mob rioted, threatening to kill everyone in the Jewish quarter. Fortunately, the local officer and his soldiers arrived just in time to avert calamity. This should serve as a powerful reminder of how one thoughtless Jew can endanger all.

Being locked in the ghetto

One of the oddest reasons for a local festival occurred on the 18th of Tammuz 5367 (1607) in Verona, Italy, the day after a fast day. The Jews there had been confined to sleeping overnight in a locked ghetto for the previous eight years. They requested that they be the holders of the keys to the gates of the ghetto, rather than being locked in. This plea was finally granted, and from then one the date the plea was granted was celebrated as a Purim!  Its observance continued until Napoleon abolished the ghetto. (We should note that according to the above-quoted Chasam Sofer, this would not have been sufficient reason to have created a local festival.)

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Tehillim 100:1) notes that the root of the word for thanks is the same as that for viduy, confession and admitting wrongdoing. All kinds of salvation should elicit in us deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done for us in the past and does in the present. This is why it can be both an acknowledgement of guilt and thanks.

We often cry out to Hashem in crisis, sigh in relief when the crisis passes, but fail to express our thanks adequately for the salvation. Our thanks to Hashem should match the intensity of our pleas. In our daily lives we hopefully do not encounter the types of dangers that we have described above, yet we should still fill our hearts with thanks, focus these thoughts during our recital of mizmor lesodah, az yashir, modim or at some other appropriate point in our prayers.




From Cairo to Frankfurt: Purim Cairo and Purim Frankfurt

face maskIs there a halachic basis for the various local observances, such as Purim Frankfurt, Purim Cairo and Purim Ancona?

Local Purims

In the course of Jewish history, there have unfortunately been numerous occasions when communities suffered from major crises that threatened their lives. Upon surviving these travails, many communities chose to commemorate the event by creating a Yom Tov with special observances to thank Hashem for His salvation. Many of these observances were called “Purim,” and in the course of the last several hundred years there were dozens of recorded local Purims, some that were celebrated by the Jewish community of a town or city, and others that were observed by families. Some of these commemorations included that the festival was preceded by a fast day, similar to Taanis Esther preceding Purim.

As the events of the last seventy years have emptied many of these communities of their Jews, most of these celebrations and the miracles they commemorate have become forgotten. This article will be concerned primarily with the halachic sources and controversies concerning these celebrations. But first, let me share some of the background events of a few of these local observances.

Purim Cairo

One of the earliest recorded local holidays is a festival that was celebrated in Cairo on the 28th of Adar, which bears a strong similarity to the original Purim. In 5284 (1524), the Governor of Egypt, Ahmed Pasha, became a very powerful ruler, although he was officially responsible to the Ottoman Empire and Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Pasha craved the wealth of many of the Egyptian Jews and, in order to seize their possessions, he arrested twelve prominent leaders of the Jewish community, including the community’s rav, the Radbaz. Pasha demanded an exorbitant ransom, far more than the community could ever raise, to be paid by the 28th of Adar, or he would execute the captives and exile the rest of the community.

On the day set for the ransom deadline, Pasha was assassinated by some of his servants who knew that he was plotting to overthrow the sultan. The 28th of Adar was joyously proclaimed a local festival and was observed for as long as a sizable Jewish community existed in Cairo.

Purim Frankfurt
The rogue of the Purim Frankfurt story (5374/1614), Vincent Fettmilch, actually called himself the “new Haman of the Jews.” He was a fiery agitator whose hordes attacked the Jewish quarter of Frankfurt. After two years of anti-Semitic disturbance, he angered the Holy Roman Emperor, who had Fettmilch hanged. The Jewish community commemorated these events by creating a fast day, similar to Taanis Esther, on the 19th of Adar, and a festival on the 20th, which was called Purim Frankfurt. A special megillah was written, known as Megillas Vinz (for Vincent), to commemorate the occasion.

Tunis

Purim Kidebuni was a festival observed in parts of North Africa. In 5465 (1705), the governor of Tunis, warlord of one faction of the barbary pirates, laid siege to Tripoli, threatening to decimate the population should he conquer the city. Fortunately, disease broke out suddenly among his followers, and the siege failed. A festival was declared for the 24th of Teiveis.

Another North African Purim

On the 4th of Marcheshvan, 5302 (1541), Charles V of Spain attempted to seize Algiers, where many Jews had taken refuge fifty years earlier when fleeing during the Spanish expulsion. The Spaniards landed, but their fleet and army were destroyed by a storm because of the prayers of Rav Shelomoh Duran, a descendant of the Tashbeitz. Thus the Jews were spared facing expulsion a second time and the inquisition that the Spaniards would have brought with them. For obvious reasons, they called the holiday they established Purim Edom.

Shiraz

On the 2nd day of Marcheshvan, the Jews of Shiraz (Iran) celebrate a festival called “Moed Katan.” According to an old manuscript written in the Jewish-Persian language (similar to what Yiddish is to German, and Ladino to Spanish), a Jew who was supposed to have been both a shocheit and a kosher retail butcher was caught selling non-kosher meat. The criminal converted to Islam, changed his name to Abu al-chasan, and then became a moseir, accusing the Jews of many crimes. The Shiite rulers gave the Jews of Shiraz the choice between death and conversion to Islam. Suddenly and mysteriously, Abu al-chasan died on the 2nd of Marcheshvan, leaving behind a retraction that all his accusations were false. The evil decree against the Jews was rescinded. The incident was commemorated via a local festival called “Moed Katan.”

These are a few examples of the kinds of local festivals that were established to thank Hashem for His kindness. The first question we have is whether we can find a halachic source for a community establishing its own local festival.

Who introduced Hallel?

One source for the observance of local festivals is based on the following passage of Gemara (Pesachim 117a, as explained by Rashbam; cf. Rashi ad locum).  The Gemara asks: “Who originally declared the Hallel?” The Gemara proceeds to mention several instances in Jewish history when Hallel was recited spontaneously to thank Hashem for His salvation (Rashi ad loc.). Among the specific situations mentioned are:

— In addition to singing Az Yashir upon surviving keriyas yam suf, Moshe and the Bnei Yisrael also sang Hallel (Rashbam).

— Yehoshua and the Bnei Yisrael sang Hallel after their victory over the 31 kings.

— In addition to the song of Devorah, she and Barak recited Hallel after their victory over Sisra.

— Chizkiyah sang Hallel when he survived Sancheiriv.

— Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah sang Hallel when Hashem saved them from the fiery furnace.

— Mordechai and Esther recited Hallel when they were in control of the city of Shushan.

Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah

The reason for the reciting of Hallel by Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah is somewhat different from the other events recorded in the Gemara. In all the other instances, the entire Jewish nation was imperiled and saved, whereas, in their situation, Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah were saved as individuals. One may have thought that Hallel should be recited only to thank Hashem for the saving of the entire nation. However, we see from Chananyah, Misha’el and Azaryah that reciting Hallel is an appropriate way of thanking Hashem even for a salvation that affected only individuals.

In his halachic commentary on this Gemara, the Meiri (Pesachim 117a) rules that an individual or community may establish a practice of reciting Hallel every subsequent year as a commemorative way to celebrate their salvation, provided that they do not recite a brocha prior to reciting the Hallel. To quote the Meiri: “Any individual who was redeemed from a potential calamity may institute that he recite Hallel that day every year, albeit without reciting a brocha beforehand. The same is true for every community. In fact, a practice of the prophets was to recite Hallel whenever one was redeemed from trouble.” Thus, a community or an individual may establish the annual recital of Hallel on a specific date to commemorate an event of salvation.

After they move

Are individuals who have relocated from a community required to continue observing the local Purim? I found this question discussed about five hundred years ago by Rav Moshe ben Yitzchak Alashkar, known as the Maharam Alashkar, a gadol of his generation, who received halachic inquiries from the greatest gedolim of his era, including the Mahari Beirav, Rav Eliyahu Mizrahi, and the Maharalnach. It is interesting to note the difficulties and wanderings of the Maharam Alashkar himself. Born about 5226 (1466) in Spain, he was expelled in 1492 with all the other Jews, and in his escape from Spain was captured by pirates who threatened to execute him. Eventually, he escaped from the pirates and found refuge in Tunis, but the Jews of this community were then expelled. The Maharam Alashkar wandered onward to Greece, then later Cairo, and eventually succeeded in settling in Yerushalayim, where he passed on in 5302 (1542). In addition to probably being the posek hador in the Mediterranian basin, he was  also the source of many teshuvos of the geonim that would otherwise have been lost, and he translated responsa of the Rambam from Arabic into Hebrew.

The following question that the Maharam Alashkar discusses is germane to our discussion: A local takkanah (based on other evidence, I believe it was Sepanto, Italy) had established the 11th of Teiveis as a local festival, for the Jews of that town and their descendants wherever they would reside, in commemoration of some deliverance that had transpired on that date. The question was: The community is now destroyed. Must they continue to observe this takkanah?

The Maharam Alashkar first quotes the Talmudic sources that a community has the ability to establish regulations that are binding on its members. He writes that although regulations and customs of a community are, in general, not obligatory upon someone once he relocates, when the community accepted upon its members and their descendants to follow a certain practice regardless of whether they reside in the original location, they must continue observing the practice even after they relocate (Shu”t Maharam Alashkar #49). His conclusion is quoted by many prominent halachic authorities as definitive (Magen Avraham, 686:5, Elyah Rabbah, 686:5, Mishnah Berurah, 686:8; also see the Chayei Odom and the Chasam Sofer that I will quote later in this article).

Celebrating on the Tenth of Av

Our next discussion is the extent to which we go to celebrate a personal Purim.

Sena’ah was the name of one of the large Jewish family clans that returned from Bavel together with Ezra (Ezra 2:35; Nechemiah 7:38). According to the Mishnah (Taanis 26a), they were descended from the tribe of Binyamin (see Tosafos, Eruvin 41a s.v. Mivnei) and they brought wood to the Beis Hamikdash on the tenth of Av, which was then observed as a day of celebration. The Gemara (Eruvin 41a; Taanis 12a) records that the Tanna Rabbi Elazar ben Tzadok, continued to observe this date even after the churban (Tosafos, Taanis 12a s,v, Hasam), although the cause for the celebration no longer existed. This is even more surprising since Rabbi Elazar ben Tzadok himself was a kohen (see Bechoros 36a), and therefore not descended on his father’s side from Sena’ah and the tribe of Binyamin. As Tosafos (Eruvin 41a s.v. Mivnei) notes, his observance of this date as a family festival was either because his membership in this family clan was from his mother’s side or because his wife was a descendant of the tribe of Binyamin and a member of this family.

Tisha B’Av on the tenth

As we know, when Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbos, the fast day is observed on Sunday, which is the tenth of Av. Since we now know that the Sena’ah family observed the tenth of Av as a festival even after the churban, what did they do when Tisha B’Av fell on Shabbos, causing the national day of mourning to coincide with their personal festival? The Gemara quotes Rabbi Elazar ben Tzadok as saying that they began the fast together with the rest of klal Yisrael, but did not complete its observance to the end of the day since it was a family festival. This means that they ate on the day that the rest of klal Yisrael was still observing all the laws of Tisha B’Av! We see the extent to which the observance of the family festival was kept. Based on this Gemara, the Maharam Alashkar ruled that a local festival must continue to be observed.

[There is a curious halachah that results from this Gemara. Several rishonim record the following practice from the baal Tosafos, Rabbeinu Yaakov ben Rabbeinu Yitzchak Halevi, who is also called Yaavetz. (He should not be confused with much later gedolim, such as Rav Yaakov Emden, who are also called Yaavetz.) Yaavetz once celebrated a bris on the tenth of Av which was a Sunday and therefore a postponed Tisha B’Av. Several rishonim record that after davening mincha, Yaavetz bathed and broke the fast because it was his own personal Yom Tov (Mordechai, Taanis #630; Hagahos Maimoniyos, Taanis 5:8; Tur Orach Chayim, Chapter 559). This practice is recorded as normative halachah – that the baalei simcha, meaning the mohel, the sandek and the parents of a bris that falls on a postponed Tisha B’Av do not complete the fast because it is their own personal Yom Tov.]

Controversial custom

However, the Maharam Alashkar’s position on this question was not universally accepted. The Pri Chodosh (Orach Chayim 496:14) expressly disputes what the Maharam Alashkar writes, concluding that even a local resident does not need to observe the custom of local festivals and celebrations. The Pri Chodosh contends that the practice is not binding even while the original inhabitants continue to reside in the same city in which the miracle happened, and it is certainly not incumbent upon their descendants or anyone who relocated from the city.

Explaining the Pri Chodosh’s objection to the Maharam Alashkar’s ruling requires an introduction regarding an ancient manuscript called Megillas Taanis, which the Gemara (Shabbos 13b) teaches us was written by the Tanna Chananyah ben Chizkiyah, who lived at the end of the second Beis Hamikdash period (Rambam, Introduction to Peirush Hamishnah, towards the end). Megillas Taanis is a list of dates on which miraculous events occurred. To commemorate these celebrations, Chazal prohibited fasting and conducting eulogies on these dates. After the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, a dispute (Rosh Hashanah 18b-19b) developed as to whether these dates remained minor festivals prohibiting hespedim and fasts, or whether, in light of the churban, these festive days are no longer significant, a position that the Gemara calls: batlah Megillas Taanis, Megillas Taanis is no longer in effect.” The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 19b) concludes that, with the exception of Chanukah and Purim, batlah Megillas Taanis. It is also important to note the Gemara’s comment that if batlah Megillas Taanis, certainly no new days can be added as holidays (Rosh Hashanah (18b, 19a).

The Pri Chodosh contends that the creation of any of these local festivals runs counter to the Gemara’s conclusion that batlah Megillas Taanis. He, therefore, concludes that the community declaring specific practices on these days has no halachic legitimacy and that one is not required to observe them.

We will continue this topic next week…