On August 20, 1684, the Jewish population of Padua was spared from complete annihilation. Though angry neighbors stormed through and sacked the Jewish ghetto of this northern Italy city – no lives were lost.
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In celebration of their survival and the damage being confined to property alone, the community began to commemorate the Hebrew date, the 10th day of Av, as a special Purim.
Over the centuries, many “special Purims” have been celebrated locally to mark the deliverance – presumably by Providence – of a particular Diaspora community from annihilation at the hands of Jew-haters. In the case of the Jews of Padua, who called their commemoration “Purim di-Buda” (Buda Purim), the circumstances were particularly bizarre.
“Buda,” of course, is the name of the city on the western bank of the Danube that today, together with “Pest,” on the eastern bank, makes up the Hungarian capital. In the summer of 1684, Buda, which had been in Ottoman hands since 1541, was under siege by the Holy League, an alliance of the armies of Christian Poland, the Holy Roman Empire and Venice.
The year before, 1683, the Turks had been dislodged from nearby Vienna. Now, the eyes of all of Christian Europe were focused on the campaign to liberate Buda from the Muslim yoke.
The Jews of Buda, however, sided with the Ottoman Turks, and fought with them in defense of the city.
On August 20, 1684, word reached Padua, some 800 kilometers to the west, that the Christian armies had been successful in freeing Buda. In their joy at the news – which turned out to be erroneous – the people of Padua immediately recalled how the Jews had assisted the Turks.
The day before had been the 9th of Av on the Hebrew calendar (Tisha B’Av), and the Jews had spent it in synagogue reciting lamentations, as they traditionally did on that day, which commemorates the destruction of the two great temples in Jerusalem. However, the Christians of Padua assumed that the Jews had been praying for the defeat of the Holy League. And now that the Holy League had been victorious (or so the Paduans thought), the Jewish traitors deserved to be punished.
Padua had a large, veteran Jewish population which, even in normal times, was subject to periodic persecution, if only because of its commercial success. Its members had in fact been confined to a ghetto beginning early in the 17th century.
On August 20, masses of Paduans descended on the ghetto and began bombarding it with stones. The Jews within sent a messenger requesting assistance to the doge of Venice, who ruled Padua, but when a gate was opened to allow the messenger to depart, the angry crowd pushed its way in.
No words of explanation (about Tisha B’Av) were effective in deterring the rioters, nor were offers of food and money. The Jewish quarter was gutted. Local authorities threatened anyone who harmed a Jew with execution, but it was only when an order arrived from Venice to permit the Jews to survive that peace was restored.
Hence the celebration of a special Padua Purim, named, confusingly, “Buda Purim.” Much of existing knowledge about this episode comes from the poem “Pahad Yitzhak” (The Fear of Isaac) written by Rabbi Isaac Vita Cantarini, which was published in Amsterdam in 1684.
As it turned out, the rumor about the overthrow of the Turks had been premature. The siege of Buda continued until October 30, 1684, at which point the Christian armies withdrew. Only two years later, when they undertook a second siege, in which some 7,000 Turkish defenders were challenged by a combined Christian force more than 10 times that size, was Buda reconquered, in August 1686.
The successful invading forces were given permission to plunder the city, and proceeded to kill some 5,000 Turks and 500 Jews, half of Buda’s Jewish community. The other half was sold into slavery.