"Established and Accepted": The Purim of Prague and Jewish Invention of Tradition in the Early Modern World

Degree Year


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Ellen Wurtzel


Early modernity, Jewish history, Prague, Invention of tradition, Purim, Book of Esther, Thirty Years War


This thesis explores a phenomenon known as “invented Purims.” While the holiday of Purim has been celebrated by all Jews across the world for the past two thousand years, in the 1500’s, singular Jewish communities began to invent and celebrate their own Purim days just for their communities. Invented to commemorate some sort of salvation from danger, these local Purims were consciously modeled after the universal Purim holiday. This thesis is centered around a particular Purim day invented in Prague in 1620. However, in order to properly contextualize the Purim of Prague and the practice of invented Purims generally, it also looks at a number of communal Purims invented in the 16th century across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. In looking at the texts written for these invented Purims as well as the larger history of the communities that created them, I argue that these Purims can show us how Jews recorded their local histories in this period as well as how Jewish elites used ritual invention to cohere their communities and assert their power. On a broader level, communal Purims can also tell us that, in both history writing and tradition invention, Jews took sources and traditions from the past and added new elements into them, making them all their own. Though modelling a local holiday after a universal one may seem to reflect a dogmatic adherence to tradition, this was actually a way to innovate and be agents within tradition.

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