Purim Katan Tiberias

  • 1737 Sheik Daher el-Omar brings peace to Tiberias
  • 1740, el-Omar invites Rav Chaim Abulafia to come to Tiberias
  • 1742/3 Sulaiman Pasha of Damascus lays siege to Tiberias
  • 83 days siege
  • End of siege 4th Elul
  • Sulaiman Pasha’s death 7th of Elul
  • 1743 Al Omari Mosque built Tiberias

Despite the attempts Dona Gracia, to rebuild the Tiberias during the 16th century, the town was almost destroyed by Druze in 1660 and most of its Jews left.

In 1737, the benevolent Bedouin ruler Sheik Daher el-Omar fortified Tiberias and signed an agreement with Bedouin tribes to stop looting the highways and towns.

Tiberias became an autonomous kingdom. In about 1740, el-Omar invited Rav Chaim Abulafia to come and rebuild the town’s Jewish kehillah.

So many Sefat Jews moved to Tiberias to enjoy the protection that the remaining Jews in Tzefas could no longer pay the taxes. The governor of Tzefas demanded that el-Omar return ‘his Jews’ or he would fight to get them back and el-Omar responded by seizing Tzefas. When the Tzefas governor complained of this to Sulayman Pasha al- Azm, the regional governor in Damascus, al-Azm set out to beat Tiberias into submission. This happened in 1742.

Al-Azm’s army arrived on the 9th of Elul 1742 and camped near Rebi Akiva’s kever. Miraculously, despite al-Azm shelling the town for two weeks with cannon balls that could knock down a house, not one house was destroyed from the bombardment. Not even a chicken was killed during the 85 day siege.

The second siege ended on the 4th of Kislev not because al- Azm gave up, but because orders came in from Constantinople that he must send soldiers to guard a caravan of pilgrims on their way to Mecca as they passed through his province. Rav Chaim decreed that the Jews of Tiberias celebrate this day like Purim every year.

Al-Azm’s third siege against Tiberias began eight months later on the 12th of Tammuz, 1743. Many of the Jews fled the city.

The third siege ended after 83 days on the 7th of Elul, again not because of the lack of determination of al-Azm’s army, but because he was infected by a virus that killed him. The enemy army returned to Damascus the next day as Rav Chaim established this day too as a Purim to be celebrated by coming generations.

The Great Mosque was built by Daher al-Omar in 1743. It is generally held that its construction was partly paid for by the town’s Jewish community, presumably grateful to the sheikh for allowing them to return to the city.

The story of siege of Tiberias is recorded by Rav Yaakov Beirav, son-in-law of Rav Chaim Abulafia.

Purim Katan Dates

  • 13th Sivan
  • 4th Tammuz
  • 7th Elul
  • 4th Kislev