Years ago I saw videos of the eery parallel between the ten sons of Haman and ten Nazi war criminals at the 1946 Nuremberg Trials. In 1946, ten convicted Nazi war criminals were hanged in Nuremberg on October 16th, the last being Julius Streicher. Newsweek reported that his last words were “Purimfest 1946.” This is interesting because in the book of Esther, Haman’s ten sons are listed with three small letters, Taf, Shin, and Zayin, which represent the Hebrew year 5707, corresponding to 1946-47. Additionally, in Esther 9:13, Esther asks the king to allow the Jews in Sushan to hang Haman’s ten sons again “tomorrow”, though the text has already recorded them being executed. On the spot, the Sages comment that there are two kinds of “tomorrows,” one now and one later. Furthermore, 21 Tishrei, 5707, the day of the hangings, was Hoshana Raba, the day when God’s Yom Kippur judgments are sealed and made final. All of this has compelled some to see the passage as a prophecy about the ten Nazi war criminals.
Did Streicher Actually Say That?
I used to think that the story was too fantastic to believe. But the answer is yes. It was an associated press article, written by the journalist Kingsbury Smith, that was distributed to the majority of newspaper outlets on October 16, 1946, which already was in the Jewish year 5707. Someone graciously sent me the Fremont News version, which was extracted from the paid service newspapers.com. There is now beyond the shadow of a doubt that Streicher said the decidedly weird sounding phrase “Purimfest 1946” right before he was hung.
What’s also cool to note is that October 16, 1946, the date the piece was published, indeed fell out on Hoshana Rabba.
Some Cold Facts
While the parallels are very scary with PurimFest 1946 taking the cake, some facts need to be clarified from a historical/textual context.
- Esther in 9:13 is not asking to kill Haman’s sons again, but to leave them on the gallows as a warning. The exact context was to allow the Jews an additional day to kill more Persian men, and to hang Haman’s ten sons. The day which the names traditionally are muttered under one breath was when Haman’s ten sons were killed, not hung/impaled. So it was moreso to hang/impale the already dead bodies to serve everyone a warning.
- God’s verdicts are only sealed on Hoshana Rabba for the “beinonim,” those who are neither fully righteous nor fully evil, it’s unlikely Nazi leaders were included in this group.
- There are different traditions of large and small letters in the names of Haman’s sons, such as the Yemenites who have no small Zayin. Dr. Emmanuel Bloch (https://hakirah.org/vol28Bloch.pdf) explains this and other myth-busting eloquently that in ancient versions of the Megilla, there were only large letters and not small. The Leningrad codex, one of the oldest Tanach copies in the world, has the names written out as such. Dr. Bloch believes that the small letters becoming mainstream has to do with modern printing being the culprit, with the Orchos Chaim being the text of choice.
To quote (Hakira pp. 137-138):
In any case, the next question to consider is why the latest version, Orḥot Ḥayyim, eventually prevailed over all its competitors. In my mind, the reason is almost certainly the invention of printing.
Following the invention of printing by Guttenberg in the midfifteenth century, the first Hebrew Bibles appeared fairly quickly. In Venice, on the press of Daniel Bomberg, the first edition of Mikraot Gedolot appeared in 1516-1517. But it was the second edition of Mikraot Gedolot, printed on the same press in the years 1524-1526, which had a colossal influence on the diffusion of the biblical text.
The publisher, Jacob ben Ḥayyim ibn Adonijah (1470-1538), devoted immense efforts to clarify the biblical text, based on the manuscripts in his possession, in order to make it available to his readers. The importance of the work provided was widely recognized by the scholarly world of the time, with the result that this second edition of the Mikraot Gedolot served as a model for many editions of the Tanakh, even up to our own time. (Ironically, even Jacob ben Ḥayyim’s text was flawed. As Moshe Goshen-Gottstein notes in an introduction to the reprint of the Mikraot Gedolot (Venice 1525) published in 1972, residual errors were not uncommon. The reference scientific edition today is the Mikraot Gedolot ha-Keter, prepared under the supervision of Menacḥem Cohen (Bar-Ilan University) and based on the text of the Leningrad Codex. It is surprising that Mordekhai Breuer used ben Ḥayyim’s version, instead of the more reliable text of the Leningrad Codex, in his Keter Yerushalayim.) And what was the solution adopted by Jacob ben Ḥayyim? To be absolutely clear, I went to investigate:
Jacob ben Ḥayyim had to choose a solution. For whatever reason, it was the late version of Orḥot Ḥayyim (version 7 above) that served as the basis for the Mikraot Gedolot text: a small tav for Parshandata, a small shin for Parmashta, a small zayin and a large vav for Vayzata. Jacob ben Ḥayyim was perfectly aware that several traditions existed for these verses; he pointed out their existence in the margins left and right of the main text with the aid of a critical apparatus (also reproduced in the image above).
But what happened when the later editions of the Hebrew Bible, based on the text superbly compiled by Jacob ben Ḥayim, omitted the critical apparatus (which, certainly, could only be deciphered by the learned philologists)? Nothing less than the canonization of one unique version, the text of Orḥot Ḥayyim, now rid of all its rivals. And so, it comes full circle: the text of Megillat Esther becomes a detective story, the famous Code of Esther.
Three important remarks before concluding this part: first, the halakhic texts of the past 500 years absolutely do NOT reflect the printed, henceforth triumphant, version of the Book of Esther; in other words, Jacob ben Ḥayyim’s work impacted only the scribes, not the rabbis. All legal works continue to faithfully perpetuate the Talmudic tradition: a large vav, no small letters. ( See Tur, Bet Yosef, Shulḥan Arukh, Arukh ha-Shulḥan, Mishna Berura, etc., all on Oraḥ Ḥayyim 691. Eliyah Rabba 691:9 explicitly notes the discrepancy between the “printed text” of the Megillah and the “halakhic text.” ) Thus, there exists a discrepancy between the halakhic text and the printed text. Secondly, other versions of the text continue to circulate, even if they are now in the minority. ( For example, the Soncino edition of the Book of Esther endorses a version halfway between versions 4 and 7 above, but I have never encountered such a version in any medieval work. I do not know if the editor worked from another version of the large and small letters, or if he deliberately chose to create a hybrid. The critical apparatus suggests that other traditions still existed (small resh for Parmashta). ) Thirdly, the harmonizing effect had by printing the biblical text is a general phenomenon that affected all the books of the Tanakh, including (and most especially) the Pentateuch; I invite interested readers to read the article. (https://users.cecs.anu.edu.au/~bdm/codes/CohenArt/)
- The Taf-Shin-Zayin combination only equals 707 and doesn’t indicate the millennium (5000). On the flip side, Jews traditionally write the year up to the hundreds column, not the thousands. In addition, our dating system “since creation” is also relatively recent. Up until sometime after the Churban Bayis Sheni we wrote dates related to the reign of a king or a revolt (seen in Bar Kokhba coins). Dr. Bloch elaborates (pp.139):
Throughout history, Jews have used many ways to note the passage of time. Thus, in the written Torah, an event in time was often located according to the accession to the throne of the king (“during the year xyz of the reign of King David…”). (See many examples in the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles.) During Talmudic times, the passage of time was generally noted using the system called “Minyan Shtarot.” This method, which was employed mainly to date commercial documents, used the year 311 BCE as its point of departure. ( For an example, see Avoda Zara 10a. And see Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Gerushin 1:27. ) Another method was to count the number of years since the destruction of the 2nd Temple. (This is often the case with inscriptions on the oldest tombstones we know.)
The dating system tracking the passage of time from Creation of the World did exist in Talmudic times. ( See for example Avoda Zara 9b; the same dating system underpins the work Seder Olam. ) But at that time, it was very seldom used. It is primarily since the tenth century that the calendar we know today began to take off, but the other dating systems remained in use for centuries (in Egypt, the calendar was kept according to the Minyan Shtarot until the sixteenth century, and in Yemen until into the nineteenth century).
These few facts are ample enough to demystify the “elongated” vav of the name Vayzata: first, according to certain rabbinical authorities, its size should be perfectly normal and not lengthened. ( Some authorities think that it is necessary to prolong the reading of the vav by singing it more slowly, but without changing its writing (Rabbeinu Yehonathan of Lunel, also mentioned by Meiri, Rosh and Ran); others think that the head of the vav, which is normally curved, must here be drawn straight (Ritva). The ancient manuscripts discussed above show that the practice was not uniform here (the Leningrad Codex does not have a long vav, but other manuscripts do). Here, too, I think that printing has had a unifying effect.) Second, a long vav has absolutely no meaning in the majority of dating systems used by
Jews throughout history. Third, even when one counts the time since the moment of the Creation, the year 5,000 is systematically signified by a heh (whose numerical value is 5), and never by a vav (whose value is 6).
To conclude: the average reader who opens his printed Bible to read Megillat Esther naturally assumes to have the “authentic” text. He has no awareness that this text has a long and tumultuous history. He does not realize that small and large letters are the result of the long historical process that we have just reconstructed. Can we really blame him? Certainly not. But the reality is that the little letters necessary to the claims made in The Code of Esther did not initially exist. They appear in our books only because of confusions and errors of transmission, finally canonized under the standardizing impetus of the printing of the Bible.
Does it matter? Personally, I don’t think so. And while many people might lash out at me for stating the following, I also find it ironic, since just like the Megilla text sizing might have been corrupted over the years, so has Amalek. Timna wanted to marry into Yaakov’s family. Yaakov refused. Timna settled to become one of Eisav’s concubines and her grandson was Amalek. Had Yaakov accepted Timna the outcome might have been different. But many years with a corrupted ideology have led us to deal with an Amalek.
What’s the Context?
Someone on Facebook mentioned that Julius Streicher made the infamous reference to “Purimfest” in his speech in February 1942. The speech was published in the Nazi newspaper “Der Stürmer” on February 19, 1942, in an article titled “The Jewish Murder Plan Against Gentile Humanity.”
Here is the exact quote from Streicher’s speech, as it appeared in “Der Stürmer”: “Das Purimfest 1942 wird in die Geschichte eingehen als das Purimfest des deutschen Volkes.” (Translation: “The Purim festival of 1942 will go down in history as the Purim festival of the German people.”) This quote was later used as evidence against Streicher during his trial at the Nuremberg Trials, where he was found guilty of crimes against humanity and executed in 1946.”
Also, they were very well-versed in Judaism. The first rule of war is “know your enemy” so they did, and very well. They also believed in the intrinsic supernatural power of some religions (just not connected to morality). Otto Rahn, a German rumored to possibly have Jewish ancestry, was trying to find the “Holy Grail”. Not finding, it he wrote a book about his search for it. He received a telegram to meet a VIP in a hotel room. He went & Himmler answered the door! Himmler funded his search & made him a Colonel in the SS so he’d be free to do his thing. The Nazis believed they could harness the power of the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant to make themselves undefeatable.” This was decades before Indiana Jones came out with a movie based on that premise.
So everything makes more sense now. A couple of years before Streicher wrote his piece in Der Sturmer, his memory got jogged as he being among ten “sons of Haman” was sent to the gallows, and in that backdrop did he mutter that incredible phrase! It’s also possible that he was saying it in a sarcastic and derogatory manner, which is in line with the other nutsy things he said while headed to the gallows.