Jan 18, 2009
The following is a document "The Cairo Purim", which dates to 1524. It tells the story of a period of significant oppression of the Jews in the then-Ottoman province of Egypt, by the local bey, until the governor's execution by order of the Ottoman Sultan for his rebellion. The author of this document is unknown, but the scroll is preserved in Egyptian Jewish tradition. This event, which is called the Cairo Purim, refers to the normal Jewish holiday of Purim, which celebrates a biblical failed attempt to massacre the Jewish people. Cairo Purim was celebrated as a holiday by Egyptian Jews until the last half-century, when most Egyptian Jews migrated to Israel, and conformed their practices to the standards of the Sephardim of Israel. Some Egyptian Jews and Jews of Egyptian descent still commemorate the event. The document was originally written in a form of Hebrew.
And it came to pass in the days of King Sulaiman (1) (this is King Sulaiman who reigned in Turkey, and the Levant, and Greece and in many military camps), that in those days, when King Sulaiman sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Konstantinofolit (2), the great city, he considered all the prrovinces of his kingdom, and he sent to each province a chief to judge its people in righteousness and equity.
After these things, King Sulaiman promoted one of his chiefs, whose name was Ahmed Shaitan (3), and he placed his seat above all the chiefs that were with him. And he sent him to be a ruler in the land of Egypt (4), and he commanded him, saying, "Egypt I have given to you, and in it shall you dwell, and according your word shall all my people be ruled; only in the throne will I be greater than you. Only be you strong and very courageous to judge in righteousness, and to discard unjust gain, and the coinage you shall issue in my name."
And Ahmed Shaitan came into the land of Egypt, and he went up to the citadel, and dwelt there. And he began to oppress, and to exact money, and he did that which was evil in the site of the Holy One. And the taxes increased in his days, and Ahmed Shaitan forsook the command of the King, and gathered together much substance; and his spirit was not satisfied, neither was his eye satisfied, for he was a man of very great greed. And his soul was greatly lifted up, and he was determined to rebel against the King (5). On that day, at the time when Ahmed Shaitan went up into the citadel, his whole force made him King over them. And at the time when they made him King over them, they proclaimed in the streets of Cairo, and in all the neighboring cities, that Ahmed Shaitan was made King (6).
And it came to pass, when he had been made king, that he laid a tax on all the inhabitants of Egypt, for he wanted to take away all their money. And Ahmed Shaitan's force came and said unto him: "You know, our lord the King, what your servants have done for you, and that we have made you King in Egypt. And now, if your servants have found favor in your eyes, and if it please the King, let a decree be given to destroy, to kill and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, and to take the spoils of them for a prey, and to take vengeance of them, for they are our enemies and adversaries."
And Ahmed Shaitan said unto them: "The Jews are given unto you, and do unto them as is pleasing in your eyes." (7)
And it came to pass when the Jews heard this thing, that they made a very grievous mourning, and they cried with a loud and bitter cry. And they proclaimed a fast, and they wept, and they put earth upon their heads, and they put on sackcloth, from the least among them unto the greatest, and the land mourned, and all the inhabitants thereof languished. And they continued fasting and crying every day until their weeping rose up to heaven. The couriers went out, being hastened by the commandment of Ahmed Shaitan, and the decree was given in the quarter of the Jews, and all the Jews were perplexed.
And it came to pass, when the force of Ahmed Shaitan heard the commandment of their King, that there assembled themselves together of them and of the people of the land about two thousand men. And they came upon the city securely, and they plundered all that belonged to them, and they took much spoil. And it was so that every one who found a Jew sought to kill him, and they killed five Jews. And the Jews fled, running in haste to save their lives, andthey said, "We are all dead." And a great cry arose in Cairo, and one Jew died from great fear. And the outcry of the children of Israel rose up to the Holy One in heaven, and he remembered his covenant which he had made with Avraham, Yitzchak,and Yaakov.
There ws a certain Jew in the citadel of the city (8), and G-d sent him to be my helper and my deliverer, and the supporter of my right hand (9). And it was soo that when the Jews were crying, the matter was reported to one of Ahmed Shaitan's chiefs, and he stood up before him, for he was an officer of his (10). And he said unto him: "If I have found favor in your sight, King, and if it please the King, let the Jews alone. FOr what is their transgression, and what is their sin, that you should deliver them into the hand of those who seek to do them evil. And if it be pleasing to the King, let their silver and their gold be given into the treasuries of the King; I will be surety for it, at my hands you may require it." And Ahmed Shaitan said to the officer: "Go and do as you desire, and do to the whole poeple as is good in your eyes, for you have found favor in my sight. (11)
And the officer came and proclaimed in the quarter of the Jews: "Thus said the King, 'Let no man stretch out his hand against the Jews.'" And my right hand said, "Shalom Aleichem; fear not, for the King has given orders concerning us." And it came to pass when the force of Ahmed Shaitan had plundered the Jews, that they took all the spoil, and carried it into the house of one of the chiefs.
After these things, Ahmed Shaitan desired of the Jews a hundred and fifty thousand great gold pieces (12), and he also said, "If you bring them not quickly, I shall kill you with the sword." And when the Jews heard this evil thing, they mourned and could not answer him, for they were terrified before him. And it came to pass, when the children of Israel saw that the hand of the Holy One had touched them, that they threw earth upon their heads and blew the shofar, and they convoked an assembly, and every one returned from his evil way, and they cried unto the Holy One with a loud voice and with weeping. And while they were weeping and making supplication before the Almighty, some men from among them went up, and fell down to the ground before Ahmed Shaitan, but he listened not to them. And Ahmed Shaitan imposed a tax upon the land, and upon the people of Egypt, and upon the merchants, and he said unto them: "Bring unto me silver and gold without number!" (13)
And Ahmed Shaitan took from the Jews of Cairo much money, and they were being seized by the hand of their enemies to smite them very sorely. And when the tribulation and the evil decree pressed heavily upon them, some of the Jews hid themselves; and the command was given to all the people of Cairo that they should hang every Jew who should hide himself, on the door of his house. And every day the taskmasters stretched out their hands against the Jews to smite them very sorely. And certain men of Ahmed Shaitan's force came, and seized the Jews, to take from them their silver and their gold and everything that belonged to them. And they cried to the Holy One in their trouble, and that He may save them out of their distresses. And they made supplication before the Holy One with a loud voice, and the Holy One heard their groaning, and there was not a house in Cairo in which there was not weeping, lamentation and sobbing.
And on the nineteenth day of the month of Adar (14), Ahmed Shaitan sought to destroy all the Jewsthat were in Cairo, both young and old, little children and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey. And on the eighteenth day of the month, the Jews assembled themselves to stand for their life in prayer and supplication, and great crying, and in fasting and weeping; and sackcloth and ashes were spread under many. And the cry of the children of Israel went up to the Holy One, and he heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant with them. And G-d saw their works, and their fasting, and their sackcloth, and he did not despise their humiliation, and he sent them help suddenly,, and he saved them from the hands of their enemies and of those who sought their hurt.
In that night our cry went up before G-d, and our prayers were written in the book of remembrances, and they were read before the King of Kings. And he said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows."
On that day was a council held by the chiefs who remained of King Sulaiman's force, and who had been addressing Ahmed Shaitan with a double heart. And they agreed to seize Ahmed Shaitan.
And on the very day on which the Jews were to be massacred, King Sulaiman's force pursued the force of Ahmed Shaitan, and tehy overtook them, as they were coming out of the city, and they destroyed the city, and they plundered it and burnt a part of it with fire. Now the Jews who wer in the city they plundered, but they did not kill one of them. And on the twenty-eighth day of the month of Adar, King Sulaiman's force pursued hmed Shaitan, and they overtook him, seized him, and cut off his head. And King Sulaiman's force brough Ahmed Shaitan's head fixed upon a spear, and they hung it up on the gate of Zuwailah before the eyes of all the people. And it came to pass when King Sulaiman's force entered Cairo, carrying with them the head of Ahmed Shaitan, that the people of Cairo rejoiced with a great rejoicing.And on the very day on which the Jews were to be massacred, King Sulaiman's force pursued the force of Ahmed Shaitan, and tehy overtook them, as they were coming out of the city, and they destroyed the city, and they plundered it and burnt a part of it with fire. Now the Jews who wer in the city they plundered, but they did not kill one of them. And on the twenty-eighth day of the month of Adar, King Sulaiman's force pursued hmed Shaitan, and they overtook him, seized him, and cut off his head. And King Sulaiman's force brough Ahmed Shaitan's head fixed upon a spear, and they hung it up on the gate of Zuwailah before the eyes of all the people. And it came to pass when King Sulaiman's force entered Cairo, carrying with them the head of Ahmed Shaitan, that the people of Cairo rejoiced with a great rejoicing.
And the Jews saw the salvation of the Holy One, and the wonders which were done to them, as in the days of Haman the Agagite, who had sought to destroy, to kill and to cause to perish all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey - for as the Amalekite had counseled, thus counseled also Ahmed Shaitan to do. But the Holy One brought their counsel to naught, and caused their thoughts to perish, and their violent dealing came down on their own pates. The Jews were assembled, and agreed to fast on the twenty-seventh day of the month of Adar, and to make the twenty-eighth day a feast and rejoicing, and for sending portions one to another and gifts to the poor, for the Holy One had done to them marvels and wonderful things, and had helped them out of the hands of those who had sought their life. The Jews, therefore, who dwell in Cairo ordained and took upon them, and upon their children, and upon all who join themselves to them, to fast on the twenty-seventh day of the month of Adar, and to read this scroll on the twenty-eighth day of it, and to make it a day of feasting and rejoicing.
(1) Sultan Suleiman I Khan "the Magnificent", Sultan of Sultans, the Shadow of Allah on Earth, Caesar of all the lands of Rome (1520-1566)
(2) Constantinople, modern Istanbul
(3) The Hebrew creates a pun - while the name is "Shayitan", correctly, in Hebrew, it is matched to "Adversary", satan, by excising the yud in the name.
(4) Shaitan was appointed they bey of Egypt in the summer of 1523.
(5) Shaitan had expected an appointment as Grand Vizier, and was disgruntled for lack of it.
(6) Shaitan had himself declared Sultan of Egypt in the winter of 1523.
(7) Avraham de Castro, the Jewish master of mint in Cairo, had fled Egypt and escaped to Istanbul to warn the Sultan of Shaitan's treason before Shaitan was ready to engage in open revolt. Shaitan possibly was planning to punish the Jews as a whole for de Castro's betrayal.
(8) This apparently refers to Avraham al-Kurkumani, a powerful Sephardi banker, with interests in Italy, the Netherlands and throughout the Ummah.
(9) This part of the text, using the first person, indicates that the writer was obviously a powerful leader in the Cairo or Egyptian Jewish community; as the Chief Rabbi of Egypt at this time was Samuel Sirillo, this makes him the probable author.
(10) Apparently, this official was bribed by al-Kurkumani.
(11) A general sack of the Jewish Quarter was thus prevented, by promising money in exchange for safety.
(12) Apparently, this was the ransom for the Jews; ransoming the local Jewish community was a perennial moneymaker for beys and dukes the world over, exploiting both the local community and other communities around the world which got together to pay the ransom.
(13) Shaitan was panicking because of Suleiman's gathering armies to crush his revolt.
(14) 23 February 1524
Elessar, Jan 18, 2009