Sarajevo Purim

The Coexistence of Jews and Muslims – A BiH Example is an upcoming conference (Nov. 7) at GHB Library that marks 200 years since the Sarajevo Purim, a historic event that testifies to the tradition of co-existence in this region.


Namely, it was when Sarajevans rescued their fellow citizens, a group of prominent Jews, including Rabbi Moše Danon, from Vizier Mehmed Ruždi Pasha’s dungeon.

Jewish communities the world over mark Purim as a day to remember when one was saved from some misfortune, but it’s also a symbol of the struggle for survival and a message that one must fight for freedom.

The legend of the Sarajevo Purim tells of how, at the beginning of the 19th century, there lived a Moše Havijo, a Jew banished from his own community because of his rotten nature. He then took Islam, became a dervish and moved to Travnik under the name Ahmed.

Wise pasha

There he caused the people and Mustafa Pasha, the then-vali (governor) of Bosnia whose seat was in Travnik, to turn against the Jews. The vali, however, ended the scheme and ordered that Ahmed stand trial, after which he was put to death. The legend attributes these words to the wise pasha:

- That foul man has tried to persuade me to commit evil, and may God help me to find the truth and root out evil….

The story goes that the dervishes of Travnik mourned for Ahmed, believing in his righteousness and convinced that the pasha had taken a bribe from the Jews, so when the new vali, Ruždi Pasha, came, they begged him to punish the Jews and avenge Ahmed’s execution.

Ruždi Pasha saw an opportunity to extort money from the Jews, so he went to Sarajevo with his entourage and gave the order for 12 prominent Jews and old Rabbi Moše Danon to be brought to him. They were then chained and thrown into the dungeon. The pasha warned the Jews:

- I will give the order for you to be killed in the morning on the first Saturday, but your lives may be spared for 400 bags – 500,000 grosh.

The Jewish community was unable to come up with such an enormous sum so quickly, so a prominent elder, Rafael Levi, sought help from Muslim neighbors, saying:

- The pasha doesn’t care about justice, only about our property. Today he is asking for a ransom of 400 bags of gold coins, and on another day he will transfer our property, and yours, to his treasury, removing it from our country and leaving us impoverished to starve and perish.

The grave in Stolac

Upon hearing those words, the citizens revolted and, led by Ahmed Bajraktar Bjelavski, they went to the pasha’s residence to free their fellow Sarajevans.

Seeing 3,000 angry Sarajevans, the ruler fled to Travnik, and he was soon pulled from service in Bosnia and called back by the Porte.

Once freed, Rabbi Moše Danon ordered that the money collected for the Jews’ ransom be put toward the renovation of the Old Temple. Today, the nearby Sarajevo – Meeting of Cultures sign bears witness to Sarajevo’s multiculturality.

On his way to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage in 1830, Moše Danon died in Vidovo Polje, near the town of Stolac in Herzegovina, where he is buried. The Medars, a Muslim family, maintains the grave of this “miracle worker and savior,” which is visited by Jews from around the world.