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Purim Of The Curtains

by Gershon Kranzler

  

Library » Holidays » Purim » The Story | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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You probably think I am joking, and the relationship between Purim and curtains goes no further than a Purim joke. Well, you are wrong. There was really a Purim of the Curtains, originally called “Purim Vorhang,” and like the first Purim of Shushan and the other local Purims celebrated in different countries, it commemorates the miraculous salvation of a Jewish community from the hands of their enemies.

Purim of the Curtains used to be celebrated in the middle of the winter, on the twenty-second of Tevet, two months before our regular Purim. Its story happened more than 300 years ago in the once famous large Jewish Ghetto of Prague, in Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic). As far as we know this is how it originated:

Rudolph of Wenceslav, the governor of Bohemia, was one of those who resented the rise of Jewish fortunes during the reign of Ferdinand II. He considered it a personal affront when a man like the wealthy Jacob Schmieles of the Prague Ghetto was knighted and bore the noble title of Bassevi of Truenberg. But there was little he could do to the Jews of Prague, which in those days counted more than 1,000 people, many of them rich and influential merchants and bankers. For the memory and influence of Chief Rabbi Judah Loew, famous as the “Maharal,” was still felt among Jews and non-Jews. Thus, despite all efforts, the governor was not able to provoke any riots or pogroms of major proportion. But one day in the winter of 5383 (1623) Providence really seemed to play into his hands.

Among the treasure of his palace were heavy gold brocade curtains, artfully woven by a famous medieval master weaver from Brussels. They were considered invaluable, and the governor was responsible for them to the crown. All through the spring, summer and fall, till the middle of winter, they were stored away so that the sun and dust would not harm their precious texture. December came and Chamberlain Hradek, next to Rudolph of Wenceslav the mightiest man in all of Bohemia, gave orders to have all the velvet and brocade curtains and the Persian carpet taken out of storage to prepare the palace for the festival season. Everything proceeded in proper order, for each piece of the precious ornaments and furnishings had been carefully recorded and systematically stored away. At the bottom of the list were the famous gold brocade curtains of the stateroom. As usual they had been placed in the huge iron chest in the cellar that held the most valuable articles of the palace.

The important day came when Hradek himself went down into the cellar to make sure that the servants treated the precious materials carefully. The heavy iron lid of the chest was opened and the yellow glow of the candles showed-could it be possible? -nothing but the bare brown wood of the cedar-lined iron chest. Everyone present gasped, and a cry of horror passed from the cellar through the hundreds of halls and rooms of the palace, up to the battlements of the watchtower. Soon the governor himself heard the shocking news of the missing gold curtains. He ordered an immediate investigation. No one was permitted to leave or to enter the palace. Raging like a furious lion, Rudolph of Wenceslav questioned every one of the employees, from the chamberlain down to the lowest cleaning woman-but to no avail. They all staunchly denied any knowledge of, or connection with, the theft of the precious curtains.

“If they are not back here by tonight,” roared the governor at the frightened servants who were gathered in his office, “I’ll have all of you thrown into prison.” There was no doubt in any one’s mind that he really meant it.


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Purim
A one-day holiday celebrated in late winter commemorating the miraculous deliverance of the Jewish people from a decree of annihilation issued by Persian King Ahasuerus in the year 356 BCE.
Tevet
The tenth month on the Jewish calendar. Falls out in mid-winter.
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Judah
1. The fourth son of Jacob and Leah. He was blessed by Jacob to be the leader of the tribes. Consequently, the Davidic royal dynasty is from the tribe of Judah. 2. The southern part of Israel which was occupied by the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and always remained under the reign of the kings from the tribe of Judah.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.