For many Jewish families of Spanish descent, today is a special holiday called Purim Saragossa. A little known holiday, Purim Saragossa was established based on a miraculous story that even fewer people know.
The story took place in the year 1420CE, in the capital city of the country of Aragon, now a part of Spain. The ruler of Aragon was extremely powerful, with a reign over his country and many surrounding cities that was never questioned, and many Jewish communities existed peacefully under his rule.
In Saragossa, the capital city, the king often held royal parades in honor of various special occasions. The Jewish community there took these opportunities to show their appreciation for the king’s fair rule by meeting the king in the streets with the extravagant silver cases that housed their Sifrei Torah (Torah Scrolls). The scrolls were left in their synagogues for safe-keeping, but these cases looked magnificent and worthy of greeting the king with, and the king was always pleased by the show of loyalty displayed by the Jewish community.
After a few years however, there was a man in the king’s court by the name of Marcus who wasantisemitic. He discovered from sources that the Torah cases were actually empty during these parades and contrived a plot to gain the king’s favor while at the same time eradicating the Jews from Aragon. The king was convinced over time by Marcus that by leaving the Sifrei Torah in the synagogue and only bringing the cases to the parades, the Jewish people were actually making a mockery of the special occasions these parades were meant to celebrate. The king was furious that he had been “fooled” by the Jewish people for so long, and Marcus suggested that the king order the Jews into exile from Aragon or face hanging to rid the country of them. Although the king was irate, he was not a vengeful king and wasn’t convinced that such a severe punishment as hanging was truly deserved…
“I understand they have a powerful G-d. Would He not punish me for hurting His people?”
“The Jews cannot expect mercy or consideration from their G-d. Since they live comfortably under your reign, they have drifted away from their religion and do not obey His commandments,” said Marcus with conviction.
“But if we send the Jews out of our land won’t our country suffer? After all, they pay taxes and are useful citizens.”
“The Jews are really so scattered about the land that you wouldn’t notice their absence very much,” urged Marcus.
“But is it fair to punish all the Jews? What about those who are innocent?” feebly protested the king.
“Your Majesty should know that they are all the same. They all stick together in all they do, and so they are all equally to blame for the disrespect they have shown you. Besides, it is the heads of the community who come out to greet you in the procession, so surely there is no excuse for them,” finished Marcus, with a smile on his face, feeling sure he had won the argument.
“Look here Marcus, I am indeed very angry with the Jews and agree that they must be severely punished, if what you say is true. But I want to be fair to them, for they have so far always shown themselves to be loyal subjects. At the next parade, when the Jews come out to meet me, I’ll have you riding by my side. I give you the authority to open their holy cases and, if they are found to be empty, you may carry out your plan against them. On the other hand, if what you say is untrue, then the punishment will be turned against yourself. Are you prepared to accept that? I do not intend to be made a fool of myself by anyone.”
Marcus was confident in his sources and readily agreed, picturing himself in a position of power at the king’s right hand.
The night before the next royal parade, the shamash (beadle) of the main Jewish congregation in the city of Saragossa couldn’t sleep. Something bothered him deeply about the king’s upcoming visit to the Jewish quarter, and he felt a disaster looming on the horizon. Afraid that he wouldn’t be taken seriously by the congregation, he fell into an uneasy and troubled sleep. He had a dream that night of an old, grey-bearded, stately man appearing before him, directing him urgently:
“Arise! Waste no time. Danger threatens the Jews. Hurry to the synagogue and quickly put the Sifrei Torah inside their cases. But not a word to anyone!”
The shamash woke up with a start and the vision disappeared. He was certain that the old man in his dream had been Elijah the Prophet, known for revealing himself to Jews in their time of need. The shamash rushed to the synagogue to carry out what he saw as a very serious warning without delay. Little did he know that he was not the only one that had received the vision. Every shamash in the city of Saragossa had received the same directions, and all of them had rushed to their respective synagogues and secretly replaced the Sifrei Torah back inside their cases.
The next morning was the royal parade, as was planned. Continuing their tradition, the leaders of the Jewish community went out to meet the king during the parade’s entrance to the Jewish Quarter. Marcus sat at the right side of the king, and as the king’s carriage stopped to greet these leaders, Marcus urged the king to demand that the Jews open their Torah cases. The king did so, and the Jews were horrified at the request. What would the king think when he discovered the cases were empty? But they had no choice, and with sinking hearts they opened up the cases. To their amazement and great relief, the leaders found that the Sifrei Torah were inside, for all to see.
The king was surprised, Marcus was devastated. His look of triumph turned to a look of fear, and he stammered as he tried to produce words that could form some explanation. The king turned to him and let loose his fury. “Traitor! Deceiver! This time you have outsmarted yourself, and you shall suffer the penalty of your own vicious scheme. Have him hanged at once!” The scheming Marcus was killed and received the end he deserved.
The king publicly declared his confidence in the loyalty of the Jews and as a sign of goodwill toward them, ordered that they be free from taxes for the next three years.
When the Jews learned exactly what had happened that day that led to their narrow and miraculous escape, their relief and joy was greater than can be imagined. They thanked G-d for His benevolence toward them, and vowed their renewed devotion to Him. They designated the 17th and 18th days of the Hebrew month of Shevat as days of prayer and celebration. These descendants of the Saragossa Jews celebrate these days as Purim Saragossa even in modern times. During this joyous holiday, a scroll is read publicly that was written following the miraculous event, which recounts all of the details of the story for generations to come.
For more info: See the article at Chabad.org