Religion & Beliefs

Guess What Today Is?

Betcha don't know what today is! Why, it's Purim of the Curtains, of course. Doy. No, I'm serious. First called "Purim Vorhang" and celebrated in the middle of winter (on 22 Tevet), this Purim happened a few hundred years ago … Read More

By / December 31, 2007

Betcha don't know what today is! Why, it's Purim of the Curtains, of course. Doy.

No, I'm serious.

First called "Purim Vorhang" and celebrated in the middle of winter (on 22 Tevet), this Purim happened a few hundred years ago in the large Jewish Bohemian Ghetto in Prague. Like the Purim we are perhaps a bit more familiar with, it, too, commemorates the rather awe-some saving of Jews from their enemies. Here's the scoop, from Gershon Kranzler of Chabad:

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.

So, you can see where this is all going. Hradek went to the cellar to make sure the servants handles his curtains carefully and ka-blammo, they were gone. The governor hears about it and orders and investigation, all the servants deny having anything to do with it. Hradek says something about maybe we should all go check in those shops that the Jews keep, you know they're always stealing, blah blah. So, the search is on, through all the shops in the Ghetto, and they find the curtains with Enoch Altschul. Enoch is taken and beaten and brought before The Man. Enoch says that he can't admit why the curtains are in his house because he gave his word to a member of that very court that he'd not tell. Mysterious. Noble. More beating and torture. Finally, Enoch is told that by dawn if he doesn't spill the beans, his whole family will be hanged and the Ghetto will be stormed and destroyed. Not good. But, Enoch is a righteous man and did give his word so he wrestles with this. He sits in his jail cell all night and begs for divine intervention. He sleeps a bit finally and wakes suddenly, seeing, or thinking he's seeing, Rabbi Judah Loew who tells him everything will work out.

So, Enoch keeps his cool, even as he is being led out to his own execution.With only minutes to spare, Hradek finally confesses that he stole the curtains to pay his gambling debts, pawned them to Enoch promising kind treatment to all Jews in the Ghetto if he kept the transaction secret but that he'd also had a vision of the Rabbi overnight and knew he had to come clean.

To commemorate the miracle, Enoch Altschul asked the Jews of Prague to celebrate on 22 Tevet. Which brings us up to today. Shehechiyanu.