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3 Hebron Purim T O L D B Y M I R I A M S O F E R T O M O S H E R A B B I Many years ago there was a Sephardic Jewish community in old Hebron, where the Patriarchs are buried. Its members had come there after the expulsion from Spain, as well as from other Christian countries where they were persecuted because they were Jews. One day, two distinguished emissaries from Jerusalem came to Hebron to collect money to redeem captives. The emissaries entered the synagogue in the Jewish quarter and told the heads of the community about their mission. “The rabbis of Jerusalem have commissioned us to collect five thousand piasters* from the Jews of Hebron, as the community ’s share in the redemption of captives. Much money is needed for this great mitzvah.” “We cannot give you such a large sum,” replied the heads of the community . “We must be concerned first and foremost for the paupers in our own city. ‘The poor of your own city take precedence.’** Nor can we empty out the community’s coffers.” They tried to bargain and offer the emissaries a smaller sum, but the emissaries held firm and refused to accept less than five thousand piasters . If the community could not raise this amount, then “relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter,”§ and the Jews of Hebron would lose the privilege of participating in the important mitzvah of redeeming captives. The emissaries left Hebron empty-handed. Some time later, the Turkish government sent a new governor to the Hebron district. This pasha§§ was a terrible anti-Semite. During the very first days of his term, he instituted anti-Jewish regulations aimed at extorting money from them in the form of taxes and assessments. But be20 * Ottoman unit of money. ** Bava Metzi’a 71b.§ See Esther 4:14.§§ Ottoman high official. cause he was a serious anti-Semite, he soon tired of extorting money slowly, bit by bit, and devised a plot to drain the blood of the Jewish community all at once and in a large sum. The pasha was an educated man, well-versed in history. He had read about how the Christian rulers of Europe treated their Jewish subjects. He knew that Christian rulers frequently arrested rabbis and Jewish community leaders and held them in prison until the community paid a large ransom for their release. He also knew that there were other rulers who expelled the Jews from their countries and confiscated their property. These methods caught his fancy. He summoned the rabbi and scholars, along with the leaders of the Jewish community, and informed them that he was levying a tax of fifty thousand piasters on the community. They had a month to pay up. If they failed to do so, the leaders of the community would pay with their lives and the Jews of Hebron would be sold as slaves. To keep the community leaders from running away, he gave immediate orders for their arrest and detention. He sent the rabbi and scholars home so they could start collecting the funds. The rabbi and community leaders tried to prove to him that it was utterly impossible for them to pay such a large sum. They begged him to reduce the amount and give them a longer period to pay. But the pasha was adamant and ignored their pleas and entreaties . Only now did the heads of the community realize that God was punishing them, measure for measure. They had not wanted to participate in the mitzvah of redeeming captives. Now, unless they paid ten times as much to the anti-Semitic governor, they themselves would be sold as slaves. Who knew whether anyone would be willing to redeem them? The rabbi and scholars went home, but they did not rest. They assembled all the Jews of Hebron and told them of the pasha’s edict. Then they decreed a public fast and called on the entire community to repent. Perhaps God would have mercy and save them in their distress. As the pasha’s deadline approached, no solution could be seen on the horizon. The Jews prayed, cried, and wept many tears. Finally, on the very last day, they decided to dispatch a petition* to the Patriarchs themselves, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who are buried in the Cave of Machpelah. 3 / Hebron Purim  21  * According to the Hebrew, “to send a pidyon”; however...


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