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Algerian Purims

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JewishTreats.org

Previously, Jewish Treats has presented the history of “Minor Purims,” days on which particular communities commemorate being saved from tragedy. (See Purim of Florence and Purim of The Curtains). Algiers has two such dates:

The small, ancient Algerian Jewish community flourished in the 14th century, when Jews fled the Christian “reconquista” of the Iberian peninsula. It is noted as home to two scholars of great renown: Rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet (aka Rivash, 1326 – 1408), and Rabbi Solomon ben Simon Duran (aka Rashbash, c. 1400 – 1467).

In the 16th century, the Algerian Jewish community, despite living within the Ottoman empire, was not beyond the reach of Christian Spain and its Inquisition. Continually looking to expand Spain’s potential international empire, in 1541, King Charles I of Spain (also known as Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor) led a Spanish fleet against Algiers. Bad weather plagued the expedition, and the day the troops began to disembark an exceptional storm sunk at least 30 ships, wrecked 15 or so more, and dispersed the remainder. The Spanish Fleet retreated. The Jewish community credited their salvation to the prayers of Rabbi Solomon Duran, the grandson of the Rashbash, and, in commemoration, celebrated the 4th of Cheshvan as Purim Edom (“Edom” being a euphemism for the belligerent Christianity of Spain).

Two hundred years later, the Spanish Fleet once again threatened Algeria. This time they were under the command of an Irish expatriate, General Alexander (Alejandro) O’Reilly. While history attributes the victory to the courageous defense led by Dey Mohammed Ibn Uman, the legend of the Jewish community has it that flames shot out of the graves of the Rivash and the Rashbash defeating the invaders. In celebration of having once again escaped Spanish rule (which was still supporting the Inquisition), a second Purim, Purim Tammuz, was declared for 11 Tammuz.

This Treat was last posted on July 13, 2011.


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