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    Purim in Dunedin

    Rabbi Jacob Saphir

    Rabbi Jacob Saphir

    The southernmost Jewish community in the world is in Dunedin, New Zealand. The community possesses a M’gillah that was actually written in Dunedin in the 1860s by Rabbi Jacob Levi Saphir of Jerusalem.

    The Ashkenazi community of Eretz Yisra’el had sent Saphir abroad to raise funds for a synagogue. He made contact with Jews in many lands and wrote a travel book called Even Saphir. His adventures are exciting, and in Australia and New Zealand he describes the Aborigines and the Maoris. He writes about the Jews he met and their position in local society.

    He was in Dunedin at Purim time but found that the community had no M’gillah. Using parchment purchased in Yemen for the purpose of writing a Sefer Torah, he started on Wednesday on writing a M’gillah which he finished by Shabbat in time for Purim on the Saturday night. Local folklore claims that he wrote the M’gillah by heart, but it is likely that he had a Tanach with him. 40 people attended the service on Saturday night (Saphir himself chanted the scroll), and there was a minyan the next morning.

    They all appreciated his efforts, though Saphir could not stop them eating non-kosher meat.

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