Jewish history has several Purims. The most famous (and, perhaps, the least true) is the Purim we will celebrate this Saturday night and Sunday. And then there is the Purim of Frankfort-on-Main, celebrating the deliverance (by the mayor, his troops and the emperor, no less) from mob violence and the ransacking of the ghetto.
And there are others. One of these is rarely mentioned. It took place not long before the time of the Hanukkah story and involves an amazing miracle. Yet rabbis do not talk about it and we do not commemorate it. Why?
First, the story of this Purim as told by Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg in yesterday's Jerusalem Post:
…THE THEME of Purim, the threat of annihilation and ultimate salvation, has played itself out over and over again in Jewish history. In happened, for instance, in Ptolemaic Egypt, according to the Third Book of Maccabees, when Ptolemy IV Philopator turned against the Jews.
After his stunning victory over the forces of Antiochus III at Rafiah in 217 BCE, he visited Jerusalem in triumph and requested to enter the Temple and the Holy of Holies as a mark of gratitude.
To his astonishment, Ptolemy was refused by the priests. Such an insult was not to be borne and Ptolemy took his revenge on the Jews of Alexandria by concentrating them all in the Hippodrome and forcing them to stay there until he had mustered his army and their elephants to trample them to death.
Came the auspicious day and the troops plied their elephants with drink to egg them on to charge into the crowd of defenseless Jews - men, women and children.
As the order to advance was given, the drunken elephants hesitated, turned and stampeded over their tormentors, crushing the Egyptian army underfoot and leaving the Jews standing in wonder.…
Yes, that's right. A lifesaving miracle happened to a huge number of Jews and the story is directly linked to the Temple. Why don't we celebrate this? Let me posit three reasons:
- The miracle happened to Hellenized Jews.
- It happened before there were rabbis (a.k.a, Perushim, Pharisees).
- The Temple Priests were Sadducees. The rabbis, if they existed then, which I doubt, did not want to honor a miracle related to the hated Sadducees.
A great miracle happened to a huge number Jews and few of us have ever heard of it. It is not, to my knowledge, at least, mentioned in the Talmud or the Mishna or in any normative rabbinic source (although I may be wrong about this). That speaks volumes about the existence (or lack there of) of rabbis and the rabbinic movement 200 years before the common era.