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Purim 1946? Not Exactly

By Ephraim Rubin

Posted August 9, 2002

The claim: We all know the story told in the Book of Esther. Haman the son of Hamdata wanted "to destroy, to kill, and to exterminate" all Jews, but in the end the Jews defeated their enemies. The culmination of their victory was the killing of the ten sons of Haman, whose names the book details.

An intriguing dialogue takes place between Queen Esther and Ahasverus a few verses later: (Esther 9:12-14)

And the king said to Esther the queen: The Jews have slain and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the capital, and the ten sons of Haman...Now whatever your petition, it shall be granted; whatever your request further, it shall be done.

Then said Esther: If it please the king, let it be granted to the Jews that are in Shushan to do tomorrow also as this day, and let Haman's ten sons be hanged upon the gallows.

Esther's request seems somewhat strange. The ten sons of Haman had already been killed, why bother to hang them?

In the writings of the Sages and the commentators, we find several ideas that could clarify this:

On the word "tomorrow," in Esther's request, the Sages comment:

"There is a tomorrow that is now, and a tomorrow which is later." (Tanchuma Bo 13 and Rashi on Exodus 13:14).

In other words, Esther was asking that the hanging of Haman's ten sons not remain an isolated episode in history...

Has it in fact come true?

In answer to this question, let us look at the scroll...which clearly shows, at first glance, that the list of Haman's sons appears on a separate page, written in a prominent, unusual manner....

The left-hand column contains the word v'et (and) ten times. According to the Sages, the word v'et is used to denote replication. Thus, we have to conclude that another ten people were hung in addition to Haman's ten sons.

Which ten others were hung?

For the answer, we must jump 2,300 years forward....Special newspaper editions on October 16, 1946 reported the execution of ten Nazi war criminals found guilty by the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal.

Amazingly, this outcome is hinted at in the Book of Esther!...

[W]e quoted Nachmanides's assertion (the introduction to his commentary on Genesis) that any change from the usual way of writing a word or letter indicates some hidden meaning.

If we examine the list of Haman's sons, we notice that three letters are written smaller:

the taf of Parshandata

the shin of Parmashta

the zayin of Vizata

(The enlarged vav of Vizata may refer to the sixth millenium.)

The three letters together form taf-shin-zayin, the Jewish year 5707 (1946 C.E.), the year that the ten Nazi criminals were executed.

Of the 23 Nazi war criminals on trial in Nuremberg, 11 were in fact sentenced to execution by hanging. Two hours before the sentence was due to be carried out, Goering committed suicide--so that only 10 descendents of Amalek were hung, thus fulfilling the request of Esther:

"let Haman's ten sons be hanged."

Furthermore, since the trial was conducted by a military tribunal, the sentence handed down should have been death by firing squad, or by electric chair as practiced in the U.S.A. However, the court specifically prescribed hanging, exactly as in Esther's original request:

"let Haman's ten sons be hanged."

Though doubts may linger about the connection between the Book of Esther and the Nazi war criminals, the condemned Julius Streicher certainly had none....[as The New York Herald Tribune of October 16, 1946 reported after he ascended to the gallows] "With burning hatred in his eyes, Streicher looked down at the witnesses and shouted: "Purim Fest 1946!"...

If these "coincidences" are not enough, examine the calendar for that month. The date of the execution (October 16, 1946) fell on the Jewish festival of "Hoshana Rabba" (21 Tishrei), which is the day G-d's verdicts are sealed.

This was the very day they were hanged, As we have said, all is hinted at in the Torah! (Dr. Moshe Katz, CompuTorah, pp. 99-107).

Is this true?

Let us start at the beginning. Queen Esther did not speak of what would happen "later," and this was not her intent. The words of Rashi and Medrash Tanchuma that "there is... a tomorrow which is later" refer only to verses in which this meaning is understood in context, like "And when, in time to come, your son asks you, saying, 'What does this mean?' you shall say to him, 'It was with a mighty hand that the Lord brought us out from Egypt, the house of bondage'." (Exodus 13:14)--the command to retell the story of the exodus, which is practiced in all generations--or "in time to come, your children might say to out children, 'What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel?'" (Joshua 22:24)--the speech of the children of Gad and Rueben, who built an altar on the other side of the Jordan so that the lesson of the altar might not be forgotten by their sons in future generations. From the words of the Medrash it is clear that "tomorrow that is now" is not "tomorrow which is later" and vice versa.

Queen Esther definitely referred to the "tomorrow that is now"--it says, on the following day, "If it pleases Your Majesty, let the Jews in Shushan be permitted to act tomorrow also as they did today, and let Haman's ten sons be hanged on the tree" (Esther 9:14). The Jews, according to the story, did continue the massacre the following day, but certainly not over the course of generations. Why the queen wanted to hang dead bodies is a completely different question, the answer to which must be found, it seems, in the ancient principle of "they shall see and fear."

With no cause, no cause at all, outreach professionals are amazed at the sentence of hanging handed down about the Nazis. The sentence of death by hanging was accepted in all the British Empire and in Great Britain itself up through 1965 (when the death penalty was abolished) and in the United States it was hanging, not the electric chair, which was the most common way to carry out death sentences through the middle of the 20th century (Encyclopedia Britannica, hanging). Because the United States and Great Britain were the two leading powers comprising the international tribunal which judged the Nazis, this punishment is not unexpected.

In general, seeking parallels between the Nuremberg trial and the story of the Book of Esther is a most unprofitable business. The Nazis were tried for war crimes--not only for destroying the Jews, but even for instigating wars of aggression--a crime according to international law. Even the charge of mass murder of civilians was not limited to the Jews alone, but included other populations whom the Germans did not care for (Gypsies, for example). The Nazi leaders were tried for very specific crimes which actually took place, but what had Haman's sons done? This mystery has no solution. The Book of Esther, in any case, says nothing on the matter, and the impression given is that their only sin was that of being the sons of the man who planned to kill the Jews.

There is also no hint or mention of the other important details of the Nuremberg trial: the convening of an international tribunal, the organized judicial process, the number of defendants--24 (and not 23, as Dr. Katz says), the number of those condemned to death--12 (and not 11, though only 10 were hanged--Martin Bormann was condemned to death in absentia), the various prison sentences for seven of the defendants, and most importantly--the acquittal of three: Schacht, von Papen, and Fritzsche. The Jews did not habitually acquit their foes: "So the Jews struck at their enemies with the sword, slaying and destroying, they wreaked their will upon their enemies" (Esther 9:5). Not that there's any real reason to complain about the Jews--this sort of behavior did not deviate from the contemporary norm--but searching for parallels between this and the Nuremberg trial is simply ridiculous.

The day of Hoshana Rabba does indeed have a certain significance in Jewish tradition, but it has no connection to either the holiday of Purim or the hanging of the Nazis. According to tradition, "The [fates of the] completely righteous are written down and sealed immediately for life, the [fates of the] completely evil are written down and sealed immediately for death, and those in between stand and wait from the New Year to the Day of Atonement" (Rosh HaShana 16b). The tradition about the date "G-d's verdicts are sealed" is a later tradition (see Responsa "Halachot Ketanot" by Rabbi Yaakov Hagiz, 225), and in any case "G-d's verdicts are sealed" on Hoshana Rabba only for those in between, while the fate of the righteous and evil are already sealed on the Day of Atonement; based on this logic, the hanging should have taken place 11 days earlier--or perhaps the outreach people do not think the Nazi leaders were sufficiently evil?

To remove all doubt, we will add that the sentences in the Nuremberg trials were handed down on Tuesday, October 1,1946, the sixth of Tishrei 5707--an ordinary day which has no special significance in Jewish tradition. Incidentally, the parallel to Purim is solely the inspiration of Julius Streicher --this is the only thing he knew, apparently, which symbolized the victory of the Jews. Thus the Nazi propagandist, even in death, succeeded in leading astray the outreach people and even the "New York Herald Tribune" reporter himself, who reported to his readers that "Purim is a Jewish holiday celebrated in September"!

This brings us to the main point of our discussion, the point which apparently drew the attention of the outreach people and led them to build this whole house of cards. We refer to, of course, those "different" letters written in the names of Haman's ten sons. Let us even ignore the fact that the combination vav-taf-shin-zayin gives us 6707 and not 5707 (the year in the Jewish calendar during which the Nuremberg condemned were hung). The problem begins much earlier. To this very day there are at least three traditions of large and small letters in the names of Haman's sons:

(Keter Aram Sova, Koren edition Tanach)

(Soncino edition Tanach)

(Yemenite manuscripts and Rabbi Joseph Kapach edition Tanach)

According to the Soncino edition, the Nuremberg trial should have taken place 400 years later (an additional small taf), while according to the Yemenites, it should have been seven years earlier (there is no small zayin). It is a pity, a real pity, that God had not seen the words of Esther in their Yemenite version. Those Yemenites are always discriminated against. If we are speaking seriously, of course, one version has no precedence over another; we have no idea how the large and small letters in the original Book of Esther, and all the "hints" the various interpreters find from the size of the letters in the scroll are figments of the imagination. We are left to wonder why the outreach people, who represent themselves as speakers of absolute Divine truth, hide this important fact from the public.