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Purim of Florence

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The late 18th century was a time of great turmoil the world over. The founding of the United States was the first full expression of the desire for liberty and human rights that became an ever-stronger under-current around the world. And, while this popular movement exploded into the chaos of the French Revolution, different European rulers did implement reforms–often affecting the Jewish community.

Peter Leopold (1747-1792), the Grand Duke of Tuscany (and later, the Holy Roman Emperor), was in favor of limited reformation and even looked toward creating a constitution for his duchy. In 1778, Peter Leopold declared that Jews were permitted to participate in city councils. The following year he prevented the exclusion of Jews from literary and scientific academies.

Not all of Peter Leopold’s subjects supported his reforms, and when the Grand Duke returned to Austria to become emperor following the death of his older brother, riots broke out across Tuscany. As was quite often the case, when the populous seethed, they turned on the Jews. In the city of Florence, however, the angry mob was stopped before it reached the ghetto. The anger of the mob was subdued by their archbishop, Antonio Martini, perhaps because of his own friendship with Rabbi Daniel Terni (who assisted him in translating the Hebrew Bible).

Knowing the great danger from which they had been saved, the Jews of Florence declared the 27th day of Sivan as Purim Florence (borrowing the term from the holiday on which Jews around the world celebrate being saved from a massacre). It therefore became customary for Jews in Florence to fast on the 26th of Sivan and celebrate on the 27th.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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