Cretan Jews sometimes found themselves facing a united Christian front against them. In preparation for one of the Ottoman Turkish raids on the island in 1538, Heraklion’s community was enlisted by the Venetians to participate in civil defence work that coincided with the fast day of 17 Tammuz commemorating the breaching of the walls in Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

As leader of Crete’s largest community, Rabbi Elijah Capsali initially postponed this assignment until after the religious holiday, and when his efforts proved fruitless, he aimed to delay the fast day while the community’s men continued with their labour. Rumours then spread around the city that the Jews were harbouring Turkish spies, and the Jewish quarter was besieged by an angry Christian mob. Capsali summoned the island’s governor, Zuan Moro, to quell the disturbance, and a massacre of the Jews was avoided.

For Capsali, this episode highlighted his belief that God’s subtle intervention had saved the entire community. As in the narrative of Mordecai and Esther, the theme of salvation also included a benevolent ruler, or in this case the island’s Venetian governor, who intervened on the behalf of the beleaguered Jews. While Capsali did not explicitly refer to Esther or Ahasuerus, his message that God came through for the Jews in their time of need and that their salvation should be acknowledged and celebrated in Crete as the “Purim of Candia” is clear.

Photo 1: © Israel Museum

Photo 2
Source: public domain

Detail from the Candia Pirkei Avot, possibly depicting fortified Heraklion

A Megillat Esther (Book of Esther), Italy, 18th century

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