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September 4, 2015 / 20 Elul, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘ESTHER’

The Origins of Purim

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

(Originally published in 2011)


Last year, Makor Rishon carried a very interesting, thought-provoking article about the origins of Purim and Megillat Esther. Among other things, the article addressed the following questions:

  1. Why is Esther the only book of the Tanakh not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls? Is there, in spite of this, any trace or hint of it to be found among the scrolls from Qumran?
  2. Was Megillat Esther canonized when it was first written, or was it incorporated into the Tanakh only during a later era?
  3. How was the holiday of Purim celebrated (if it was indeed celebrated at all) in the land of Israel and in the Diaspora during the period of the Second Temple?
  4. Why are the dramatic events described in the Megilla not mentioned in the book of Ezra, which covers the same time period?
  5. Who is the central figure in the Megilla — Mordekhai or Esther? If it is Mordekhai, then why is the book called “the Scroll of Esther”? And if it is Esther — then why did the Jews originally call the holiday “the Day of Mordekhai”?
  6. Why does the Megilla make a point of telling us that Mordekhai was from the tribe of Benjamin, and that he (or his ancestor) was exiled exiled together with King Yekhonia of Judah?
  7. Why did Mordekhai order Esther not to tell anyone that she was Jewish?
  8. How could Esther instruct the Jews of Shushan to fast during the holiday of Pesah?
  9. What does the Megilla mean when it says at the end that when Mordekhai became a great figure among the Jews, he was “speaking peace for all his seed”? Who were “his seed”?

As a public service, the Muqata presents here a full English translation of the article. The text has been supplemented with several additional notes (which appear in brackets or as footnotes) and hyperlinks.

(The original Hebrew article from Makor Rishon can be read here.)


Makor Rishon

12 Adar, 5770 / 26.02.2010

Yoman, pp. 18-19

The Hidden Chapters of Megillat Esther

by Avinadav Witkun

Why was not even one copy of Megillat Esther discovered among the sacred writings found in Qumran?Why does the Book of Ezra fail to mention the tale of Purim, and how could Esther have asked the Jews to fast for her in the middle of the Pesah holiday? Researchers attempt to decipher the secrets of the Megilla in which there is no mention of God’s name or the Land of Israel’s name.

The holiday of Purim and Megillat Esther arouse no small amount of mixed feelings and emotions.It seems that many have a difficult time accepting the holiday’s unusual customs, the Megilla in which the concealed outweighs the revealed, the concealment of God’s name, and the concealment of Zion.On the other hand, the Megilla spins an amazing, dramatic tale, carrying in its wake an abundance of interpretations on the levels of allusions, homiletics, and mysticism.It practically cries out to the reader not to accept it on its plain, initially understood level.In addition, the Rabbinic commentary that spices it up – sometimes to the point of making one blush – intensifies the story, presenting a stormy tract of tangled, political intrigues, loving relationships that touch the heart, and sobering, bitter episodes in the relationship between Israel and the nations.

Cave 4 in Qumran, where the 4Q550 scroll was found

In academic research, by contrast, it has become common over the years to cast doubt upon the holiday’s origins, and to portray it as a late creation, without roots;a creation whose roots are alien to Judaism, whose characters are of dubious authenticity, and whose connection to reality or history is between tenuous and nonexistent.In point of fact, there is no reference to or evidence for the holiday of Purim from the era prior to the Mishna, except for two interesting sources:One is in the book of II Maccabees, and the second is in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls that was deciphered only in the last few years.

Prof. Hanan Eshel, z”l

At issue is a scroll written in Aramaic[1], which was found in Qumran in 1952.Its crumbling fragments were deciphered only recently, but they have yet to receive the public attention they deserve.This is how Prof. Hanan Eshel [z”l] of Bar Ilan University explains it:“[The scroll] tells of details that are documented in Megillat Esther, but as opposed to the Megilla which is written in Hebrew, these are written in Aramaic.We’re only dealing with a portion of the biblical plot of the Megilla.There are no details to be found regarding Mordekhai, Esther, or Haman, but it does relate that the king couldn’t sleep at night, and that his servants would bring him books dealing with the tales of his father, Daryavesh [Darius], in which there was testimony to the effect that a Jew saved the king, but received no reward.Similarly, there is mention there of a man from the tribe of Benjamin”.The scroll, or more accurately, the crumbs that remain from it, is dated to the year 100 BCE, while the tale of the Megilla happens in approximately the year 490 BCE.“But the main part is missing from the book,” continues Eshel.“Where is the miracle?In I Maccabees [7:43], we see that one of the important battles of Judah Maccabee [the Battle of Adasa] happened on the 13th of Adar, a day before Purim.In II Maccabees [15:35], which was written in Greek outside the Land of Israel, it specifies that the battle took place one day before the “Day of Mordekhai”, but in I Maccabees, which was written in Hebrew in the Land of Israel, there is no such reference to this day.It would seem that in the Land of Israel, they were in no hurry to accept and sanctify the story of the miracle of Purim, as opposed to the Diaspora communities, where they accepted the holiday upon themselves”.

Through the eyes of Diaspora Jewry

Dr. Yigal Levin

In Rabbinic sources as well, one can find hints of criticism against the sages of the generation who opposed the pleadings of Mordekhai and Esther.“Write [my story] for [all] generations” [TB Megilla 7a], Esther demanded of the sages, but in spite of this – it appears that until the promulgation of the Megilla in Hebrew, which gave it sacred validity, quite a few generations passed.“We know nothing about the creation of the Megilla itself, or about the creation of the holiday, until the end of the Second Temple period”, says Dr. Yigal Levin of Bar Ilan University.“The earliest mentions are towards the end of the Second Temple period, in the time of Flavius Josephus and the Book of Maccabees.There is an earlier source, in the form of the Greek translation of the Megilla, in a somewhat different form, in the Septuagint of the 3rd century BCE.This is a source in which it’s unclear whether it contains additions, or whether we possess a version with omissions.In the Greek version, the name of God appears, and there is an explicit statement that what happened to the Jews in Shushan was a miracle.We don’t know when the translation was written.

“In the Dead Sea Scrolls, we have not found to this day even a small portion of Megillat Esther itself.There are researchers who ascribe this fact to the idea that residents of the area didn’t recognize the holiday, but in my opinion there’s no need to ascribe importance to things that are not found.Maybe one day someone will enter a cave and find Megillat Esther there.”Either way, says Levin, in spite of the lack of external historical evidence for the story in the Megilla, it is evident that the Megilla – which is saturated with Persian words – provides a rich portrayal of the Persian court in a fairly credible manner.“We assume that King Ahashveirosh was the Persian king Xerxes I, who reigned in Persia between the years 486-465.He was the fourth king of the Persian Empire after Koresh [Cyrus the Great], and not his direct descendant.He is known primarily from Greek historical works of the period, since it was in his time that the war between Persia and the Greeks reached its climax.Ahashveirosh invaded Greece – this is perhaps alluded to in the verse at the end of the Megilla:“And King Ahashveirosh laid a tribute upon the land and the islands of the sea” [Esther 10:1] – but in the end he was routed by the Greeks, in spite of his success in reaching Athens and burning the temples on the Acropolis.The banquet in the seventh year of his reign most likely marked this battle.Interestingly, Greek history also describes him as a hedonistic, weak-willed king, an image consistent with his character in the Megilla.Regarding Mordekhai, we know of someone by the name of Mordekhai who was a minister to one of these kings, but with no indication of his Jewish identity, or any particular importance beyond his being a senior minister.”

According to Levin, one would expect the miracle of Purim to be mentioned in the Book of Ezra, which deals with that period.“The Persian kings are mentioned there, the accusatory delegations sent by the [Samaritan] inhabitants of Israel are mentioned, but the story [of the Megilla] itself is not mentioned.From the perspective of the date, it would have been appropriate to mention the story of the Megilla.It would appear that in that period, they didn’t see a ‘big story’ in the story of the Megilla.Even if they were aware of it in Israel, it may be that they had no interest in mentioning the story.There are other strange details in the Megilla, for example Esther’s request to fast for her on Pesah.It is possible that at that time, after the destruction of the Temple, the festivals were not commemorated in the Diaspora in any special manner.Pesah was completely connected to the Temple.This theory strengthens the perception that this is a story that was written through the eyes of Diaspora Jewry.”

Festival for the founding of a dynasty

Prof. Jona Schellekens

Prof. Jona Schellekens, a member of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Hebrew University, opposes the accepted research that sees the Megilla as a non-biblical, mythical work.“Every year, I sit and listen to the Megilla, and I realize how deep it is, how many levels it has.People get caught up with the surface level, which is not the correct one”, says Schellekens, a demographer by training who is also involved in research of genealogical trees and anthropology.In the periodical Journal of Biblical Literature, Schellekens published his hypothesis opposing the negationist approach to the Megilla prevalent in current research.“To start with, the claim that this is a Persian story, and with Persian pagan characters who underwent conversion, is groundless”, he says.“One can see a clear resemblance to other biblical tales in the Tanakh, and to other characters.This is also what led me to idea that it can be proven that the story was a real, human story, and that is what led to the writing of the Megilla the way it was written.

“The story of Mordekhai and Haman reminded me very much of the story of David and Shaul.It’s about a hero whom they want to kill, about a good, honest man, who looks out for his people but doesn’t receive recognition.I am proceeding from the assumption that at the time these things took place, politics was at play.If Shaul had won, he would have told us that David threatened him by seeking to usurp his dynasty.With the passage of time, King David acquired his legitimacy, and this process was supported, together with other factors, by the biblical story that relates how David could have killed Shaul and inherited his throne, but that he refrained – twice – from doing so.Without a doubt, it was critical to preserve and to tell this story for future generations, in order to oppose the slanderers who questioned the purity of David’s intentions.

“In the time of Haman and Mordekhai, too, there was a political struggle for influence.The Megilla describes the raging emotions of Haman ben Hamedata in a detailed and exceptional manner, and undoubtedly – and this is hinted at in the Megilla – there were those who questioned Mordekhai’s motives:Why are you provoking Haman – [especially] at a time when catastrophes have recently befallen the Jewish people – merely to achieve goals of political influence?Because of this, the Megilla comes and tells us that Mordekhai makes Esther swear that she that she would not reveal that she is a Jew, and that Mordekhai the Jew is her kinsman.In other words, the Megilla is clearing Mordekhai’s name, as someone who did not seek glory for himself.Why would it do this if it weren’t talking about a real, living figure?Only real figures find themselves in this sort of political trouble.Back then, they didn’t live in a democratic society, anyone who rose to a position of authority did so by force, and there were murders right and left, that’s why he required strong legitimization.

“The very fact that it writes that he was exiled together with King Yekhonia of Judah – in other words, that he was not an anti-House of David figure – is significant.On the other hand, his lineage is mentioned, just like the lineage of the House of David is mentioned in Megillat Ruth.He most likely did not have an easy time with a portion of the descendants of David, who did not see him as a legitimate leader, not to mention the fact that he apparently founded a dynasty of Jewish leaders under Persian auspices, as the last verse fairly shouts out, ‘and seeking speaking peace for all his seed’ [Esther 10:3].‘His seed’ is an explicit reference to a dynasty.The founding of a new Jewish dynasty brought with it the establishment of the holiday of Purim, in my opinion.That’s why its ancient name was the ‘Day of Mordekhai’.Ancient practice was to celebrate the days on which dynasties were established as holidays, just as we celebrate Independence Day today.The Jews rejoiced in their new leadership, at least most of them.

“With the destruction of the Persian Empire at the hands of Alexander the Great, the prestige of Mordekhai’s dynasty undoubtedly waned, and consequently, in a later period, the Sages transfer the emphasis from Mordekhai’s leadership to miracle of the salvation, and the ‘Day of Mordekhai’ turns into ‘Purim’.In other words, today we celebrate only a portion of the original holiday, which was appropriate for its time.Indeed, the Sages did not think like we do:They emphasized what was appropriate for future generations and what was necessary from here onwards, and not necessarily the minute historical details or the manner of their development.This is why I reject the idea from current research that sees Purim as being based upon a pagan holiday.This is a genuine Jewish holiday, and there is self-evident proof for this in the Megilla itself.”

Murder in the bedroom

In Schellekens’ opinion, his interpretation is not overly inventive.“According to the philosophy of science, my theory is more preferable than all the others, since it provides the maximum number of answers to the problems arising from the text.Why does it say ‘his seed’ at the end of the Megilla?Why does Esther conceal her Jewishness?I have one assumption that answers all these problems.”The good ending is manifested, according to Schellekens, in the last verse of the Megilla.“The promise of offspring, of descendants, is the greatest blessing of all”, he says.“In many books of the bible, there is a ‘happy ending’.In my opinion, in the past there was a continuation of the Megilla.It’s true that this is only a conjecture, but it’s possible that the continuation was a listing of Mordekhai’s descendants, just like the one that appears at the end of Megillat Ruth.”It may be that those who were loyal to the House of David had difficulty accepting Mordekhai’s prestige and his kingdom in exile, and this would explain the delay in the acceptance of the holiday in Israel.

And what about Esther, the tragic figure who rises to greatness and then disappears somewhere after Mordekhai’s status in the palace is strengthened?Was it really her fate to spend the rest of her days in Ahashveirosh’s harem?“In the end, Ahashveirosh was murdered in his bedroom, 13 years after the biblical story”, mentions Dr. Levin.Perhaps in the spirit of Purim, we can entertain ourselves with the idea that the unofficial ending of Megillat Esther is hidden in this event?Perhaps Queen Esther said her final word there?Is it possible that in this notion there is an echo of the Sages’ statements concerning Esther’s melancholy and covert marital relationship with Mordekhai, and the legend concerning the “devil” bearing Esther’s likeness that would rendezvous with Ahashveirosh at night, at the same time that Esther was being embraced by her beloved, Mordekhai the Jew?If we attempt to find clues to Ahashveirosh’s bitter end in his spacious bed, then we are dealing with a clever devil indeed…


[1] The scroll, from Cave 4 in Qumran, is designated 4Q550.A discussion of it can be found here.

Pray for Netanyahu’s Success

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

The harder President Obama threatens and pushes, the more the the NY Times attacks Israel with articles that verge on the outright antisemitic, and the more the sycophants from left leaning Jewish organizations warn Prime Minister Netanyahu that this isn’t the time for his speech, the more apparent it becomes as to how dangerously close the Obama administration is to letting Iran build the bomb.

We’re at a tipping point.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has not hidden their genocidal agenda for the Jewish State.

It was no accident that in January, an Iranian general and other senior Hezbollah terrorists were on the Golan Heights near Israel’s border, ostensibly helping Hezbollah set up a missile system pointed at Israel. For them, the disintegration of Syria is a convenient opportunity to further their plans to destroy Israel.

If Obama’s deal goes through, with the chilling details that we’ve heard so far, nothing short of outright Israeli military action will stop Iran from acquiring the bomb and forever changing the balance of power in the Middle East – for the good of all radical Islamists.

And while outright solo military action by Israel may destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities, it may also bring about devastating responses for everyone in the region.

PM Netanyahu is going to plead before the American people just days before the holiday of Purim, to rip up this evil decree before it happens.

A long time ago, Queen Esther went before the king at great personal risk and danger, when she saw she had no other choice and no other way to save the Jewish people from a similarly evil decree.

Ultimately, Esther, Netanyahu, and we, the Jewish people, must and will rely on the true King, God, for our salvation from this genocidal threat, even as we take all the necessary “hishtadlut” steps along the way.

And like the Jewish people of yore, we must again pray for the welfare and success of the representative we are sending to plead before the King to save us from evil Amalek.

This Year’s Esther-Award Goes To…

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

It is easy to spot Haman in today’s world. The Iranian Mullah’s with their destroy-Israel infatuation, a few European NGOs who back killers with the slogan of human rights, a PA which teaches its children to hate Jews and to detest life, to name a few…

But who is this year’s Esther?

My vote is with Scarlett Johansson. Scarlett, a world renowned actress, and hidden Esther-like Jew, stood up against EU and UN-types when she said goodbye to Oxfam in favor of the Israeli SodaStream. There was an element of a Purim-like turn around, when Oxfam tried to pressure Scarlett to drop SodaSteram, but this time, it was they who got the cut.

Why did she do it? She could not bring herself to project the Oxfam narrative about Arab oppression because she had seen the factories which employ satisfied Arabs, and hearing from them directly she understood what it would mean to lose their jobs in the name of “liberation.”

In her own words she explained that, “SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’aleh Adumim factory every working day.” She defined Israel as the facilitator of normalcy while undermining the Israel-is–to-blame for everything account.

But what good could come to Scarlett by standing up for truth? On the face of it, very little. She could have gone on happily making movies without having to face the ire of bad guys, who no doubt, have the ability to threaten physical violence as well. Just stay out of it, its not your fight, why do you, a Hollywood starlet, need this Middle East headache?

And that is exactly why Scarlett wins the Esther Award – she did not need this headache, but still she used her position to publicly shame and expose the BDSers. As Mordechai said, “And who knows if for this time you were made queen?”

However, Scarlett’s actions did much more then defend the Jewish State. By said no to the narrative that Oxfam was drawing about Israel, she actually defended the world from accepting a general warped outlook which seeks to portray evil as good and good as evil. In Nazi Germany, it began by vilifying the Jew and extolling the Nazi party. Today, it begins by painting the oppressive Jihadists as freedom fighters, and Israel, the one shining light of hope for humanity in the Middle East, as the most evil force in the region. Experience shows that once these lies are accepted, the world is thrown into chaos and millions can die.

Scarlett bravely said no, and thereby stopped the lies from passing through her. Like Esther, she put herself on the line for truth, and like Mordechai, she would not bow down and give homage to the lies. And while it may have not seem like much, sometimes, just a sliver of courage is enough to put the bullies down, give the world another chance, and encourage a new generation to fight on for truth.

Happy Purim

The Capacity to Change

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Fundamental to the idea of the korban, which we begin reading about this week, is the power to change oneself. After all the term korban comes from the word karov, meaning coming closer to God. Yet change is not easily accomplished. On its most basic level, the process involves a belief that one has the capacity to transform.

This capacity is implicit in the Purim story. Note how Queen Esther undergoes a fundamental metamorphosis in chapter four of the megillah.

When told that Mordechai was in sackcloth, she wonders why. At this point, Esther does not even know the Jewish people had been threatened. She had become so insulated in the palace of the king that she did not feel the plight of her fellow Jew. Furthermore, when asked by Mordechai to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people, she refuses, claiming that the rules of the palace did not allow her to come before the king.

Yet when Mordechai rebukes her, declaring that she too would not be able to escape the evil decree, perhaps the most powerful moment of the megillah takes place. Esther courageously declares that she would come before the king, even if it meant she would perish.

Esther’s Hebrew name was Hadassah. Once she becomes queen, she adopts the Persian name Esther. This name, which means “hidden,” reminds us that at the outset of her rulership she abides by Mordechai’s request that she hide her Jewish identity. But as the narrative in chapter four reveals, she returns to her roots. At a key moment she is ready to speak out powerfully on behalf of her people. Esther provides an important example of how change is possible.

Rabbi David Silber notes that one of the smallest words found in the megillah, dat, is used often and teaches an important lesson about Purim. Dat means law. In Persia, the law was immutable, it could never change. And so when Vashti refused to come before the king, Achashveirosh asks, “according to the law (dat) what shall be done to Queen Vashti?” And when it is decided that a new queen would be selected, the megillah once again uses the term dat – the law of selection. And when Haman accuses the Jews of not keeping the king’s laws, again the word dat is used. Indeed, the decree that the Jews be killed is also referred to as dat.

Even when told of Haman’s plan to destroy the Jews, Achashveirosh declares that he cannot change the prior decree that the Jews be killed. The law must remain. All Achashveirosh can do is allow the introduction of a new dat, a new law that stands in contradiction to but cannot take the place of the first.

Rabbi Silber points out that not coincidentally, when Esther agreed to come before Achashveirosh, she declares, “I will go to the king contrary to the law. Esther had been so transformed that she is prepared to defy the immutable law of Persia.

Pollard’s Wife: Peres’ Comments ‘a Knife in my Heart’

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Imprisoned Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard’s wife, Esther, wrote to President Shimon Peres that he disregarded America’s refusal to free her husband when he recently said, “There is no Israeli request that President [Barack] Obama has not responded to [favorably].”

“Just a week before my husband enters his 29th year in prison, your words, Mr. President, were like a knife in my heart,” Esther wrote. “You sent the message that, as far as you are concerned, my husband does not exist.”

Jonathan Pollard, 59, is the only person in U.S. history to receive a life sentence for spying for an American ally.

President Peres, who spoke at the Ben Gurion Award ceremony in Tel Aviv, was trying to add a calming voice to the growing strife between Israel and the Obama Administration last week, insulted not only Pollard, but also Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he addressed in a condescending manner: “If we have comments we should voice them, but I wouldn’t say that only we know everything,” he said, referring to the disputed between Secretary of State John Kerry and Netanyahu, over how much of the detail of the Geneva negotiations with Iran Netanyahu knew.

At that point, Peres announced that there hasn’t been a request Israel had made which the Obama Administration didn’t respond to, including, as Peres put it, unreasonable requests.

Thirty years after the beginning of his saga, Jewish spy Jonathan Pollard continues to provide fodder for major headlines, at least in Israel and in Jewish publications abroad. Last week intelligence veteran Raffi Eitan, who was Pollard’s contact man on behalf of the Bureau of Scientific Relations (Lakam), revealed that the U.S. had reneged on an agreement it had with the Israeli government, according to which Pollard would only serve ten years.

Eitan told Army radio that the Israeli government had instructed him at the time to cooperate fully with the Americans and turn over incriminating information against Pollard – in return for the American concession in the form of a ten year limit.

But the prosecution broke that deal during the trial, when they asked for a life sentence.

JNS contributed to this report.

Philip Berg (86), the Kabbalah Centre Rabbi

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Rabbi Philip Berg (born Shraga Feivel Gruberger in Brooklyn, in 1927 or 1929), founder of the controversial Los Angeles based Kabbalah Centre, that attracted many movie celebrities to join its ranks, died on Monday at age 86 (or 84).

Rabbi Berg was ordained in 1951, from Yeshiva Torah voDaas

Berg’s Kabbalah Centre introduced a New Age version of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, made famous for it promotion of its version of Kabbalah to non-Jewish celebrities. The Kabbalah Center’s assets are believed to be in the many millions of dollars, acquired from donations, selling red bendels (strings), and pocket Zohars.

Primarily based in Los Angeles, the group has centers in 40 countries.

A few years ago, Rabbi Berg suffered a stroke, and his wife Karen Berg, and their two children began to take over running the business.

Rabbi Berg will be buried in Tzfat, Israel.

‘It Can Be Done’: the Rosh Hashana 1943 Escape of Danish Jews

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

As the final minutes of Rosh Hashanah ticked away, 13-year-old Leo Goldberger was hiding, along with his parents and three brothers, in the thick brush along the shore of Dragor, a small fishing village south of Copenhagen. The year was 1943, and the Goldbergers, like thousands of other Danish Jews, were desperately trying to escape an imminent Nazi roundup.

“Finally, after what seemed like an excruciatingly long wait, we saw our signal offshore,” Goldberger later recalled. His family “strode straight into the ocean and waded through three or four feet of icy water until we were hauled aboard a fishing boat” and covered themselves “with smelly canvases.” Shivering and frightened, but grateful, the Goldberger family soon found itself in the safety and freedom of neighboring Sweden.

For years, Allied leaders had insisted that nothing could be done to rescue Jews from the Nazis except to win the war. But in one extraordinary night, seventy years ago next month, the Danish people exploded that myth and changed history.

When the Nazis occupied Denmark during the Holocaust in 1940, the Danes put up little resistance. As a result, the German authorities agreed to let the Danish government continue functioning with greater autonomy than other occupied countries. They also postponed taking steps against Denmark’s 8,000 Jewish citizens.

In the late summer of 1943, amid rising tensions between the occupation regime and the Danish government, the Nazis declared martial law and decided the time had come to deport Danish Jews to the death camps. But Georg Duckwitz, a German diplomat in Denmark, leaked the information to Danish friends. Duckwitz was later honored by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. As word of the Germans’ plans spread, the Danish public responded with a spontaneous nationwide grassroots effort to help the Jews.

The Danes’ remarkable response gave rise to the legend that King Christian X himself rode through the streets of Copenhagen on horseback, wearing a yellow Star of David, and that the citizens of the city likewise donned the star in solidarity with the Jews.

The story may have had its origins in a political cartoon that appeared in a Swedish newspaper in 1942. It showed King Christian pointing to a Star of David and declaring that if the Nazis imposed it upon the Jews of Demark, “then we must all wear the star.” Leon Uris’s novel Exodus, and the movie based on that book, helped spread the legend. But subsequent investigations by historians have concluded that the story is a myth.

On Rosh Hashanah – which fell on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 in 1943 – and the days that followed, numerous Danish Christian families hid Jews in their homes or farms, and then smuggled them to the seashore late at night. From there, fishermen took them across the Kattegat Straits to neighboring Sweden.

The three-week operation had the strong support of Danish church leaders, who used their pulpits to urge aid to the Jews, as well as Danish universities, which shut down so that students could assist the smugglers. More than 7,000 Danish Jews reached Sweden and were sheltered there until the end of the war.

Esther Finkler, a young newlywed, was hidden, together with her husband and their mothers, in a greenhouse.

“At night, we saw the [German] searchlights sweeping back and forth throughout the neighborhood” as the Nazis hunted for Jews, Esther later recalled. One evening, a member of the Danish Underground arrived and drove the four “through streets saturated with Nazi stormtroopers” to a point near the shore.

There they hid in an underground shelter, and then in the attic of a bakery, until finally they were brought to a beach, where they boarded a small fishing vessel together with other Jewish refugees.

“There were nine of us, lying down on the deck or the floor,” Esther said. “The captain covered us with fishing nets. When everyone had been properly concealed, the fishermen started the boat, and as the motor started to run, so did my pent-up tears.”

Then, suddenly, trouble. “The captain began to sing and whistle nonchalantly, which puzzled us. Soon we heard him shouting in German toward a passing Nazi patrol boat: ‘Wollen sie einen beer haben?’ (Would you like a beer?) – a clever gimmick designed to avoid the Germans’ suspicions. After three tense hours at sea, we heard shouting: ‘Get up! Get up! And welcome to Sweden!’ It was hard to believe, but we were now safe. We cried and the Swedes cried with us as they escorted as ashore. The nightmare was over,” Esther recalled.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/it-can-be-done-the-rosh-hashana-1943-escape-of-danish-jews/2013/08/29/

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